French PM defends "ambitious" rail reform as traffic chaos looms

Aaron Brown
April 4, 2018

On "black Tuesday", only one in eight high-speed trains is operational and one regional train out of five is expected to run.

Major disruption for 4.5 million daily train passengers as stoppages will occur for two days out of five every week.

Despite the walkouts, three-quarters of Eurostar trains to London will run.

Although the cancellation of worldwide lines only affected 25 per cent globally, there were no journeys scheduled on Tuesday to Spain (Barcelona-Paris, Barcelona-Lyon, Barcelona-Toulouse and Madrid-Marseille).

Three-quarters of Eurostar trains to London and Brussels will run Monday and Thalys trains towards Belgium and the Netherlands will operate nearly normally, but there will be none at all to Spain, Italy or Switzerland.At Air France, where staff is striking for the fifth time to demand a pay rise, managers said 75 percent of flights would operate. At the capital's Gare De Lyon, a woman had to be helped off the tracks after falling due to overcrowding. We haven't done anything.

The railway workers leading the charge this time do not appear to have the same level of public backing, but Santinelli is optimistic.

"I was really positive this morning, but now - you should have seen what happened on the train. Children. This isn't normal", Fleris said. Then-Prime Minister Alain Juppe had proposed restructuring SNCF and raising the retirement age for train drivers. Concerned that a major portion of its transportation system is not going to operate, the government is warning these union members not to interfere with strikebreakers. But French workers are fighting back through political strikes, like the US teachers' strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

The police charged the crowd and ordered the demonstration dispersed.

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All in all, it was one of the worst days of industrial strife in France since Macron was elected president almost a year ago.

The strike is set to be a major test of President Emmanuel Macron's ability to push through reforms.

A meeting with train union representatives was scheduled for Thursday.

Air France unions have called for a strike over pay on Tuesday, although the company said it expected 75 percent of flights to operate as usual.

Some energy sector workers walked out today in protest against the planned liberalisation of the power sector, but there was little impact on power output.

"We're striking for several reasons, but at the top of the list is the government wanting to open up the service to competition", the spokesman for rail union Sud Rail, Eric Santinelli, told CNN.

Macron says the SNCF, saddled with 46.6 billion euros ($57.5 billion) of debt, needs to make major changes as European Union countries prepare to open passenger rail to competition by 2020.It is 30 percent more expensive to run a train in France than elsewhere in Europe, according to his government, which wants to strip new SNCF hires of special rail workers' status guaranteeing jobs for life and early retirement.

A coalition of 12 left-wing parties, ranging from the Greens to the Maoist Communist Party of French Workers (PCOF), has been formed to resist "the breakup of the SNCF", a precursor to the government's goal of breaking up the organized public service sector in France.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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