NewsA train strike in France complicates Christmas trips for...

A train strike in France complicates Christmas trips for 200,000 travelers

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At the Gare de Lyon in Paris, Nicolas Flach, 44, says he will miss Christmas Eve dinner with his family. He had it all organized. He was going to travel with his two children to Marseilles on Saturday and a few days later, they would return home.

But his plans vanished because of the train conductors’ strike, which has pushed thousands of French people to have to look for alternatives at the last minute to visit their relatives during this holiday period. France’s national railway company (SNCF) expected a peak of 800,000 passengers over the weekend. Now he calculates that a quarter of them, some 200,000, will not be able to take their train due to unemployment.

The railway company has announced the cancellation of a third of the trains on Friday and two out of five on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and Sunday, when Christmas is celebrated. The strike is also expected to continue on the last weekend of the year, also complicating New Year’s Eve and New Year. These strikes coincide with “the worst time of the year,” criticized the government spokesman, Olivier Veran, on Thursday. The Executive asks that the strike be called off and that the company’s management “find a solution in the next few hours,” claimed the Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire.

The mobilization has been called by a part of the 10,000 reviewers who work for the company. Organized in a Facebook group, the collective asks for a salary increase and for the problems they claim to be facing to be recognized, such as the reduction of staff to serve an increasingly numerous clientele.

The strikers claim to be independent of the unions, although they had to rely on them to spread the strike call. The two large unions of the SNCF, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and SUD Rail, have not made an explicit call to strike, but have maintained the call for this weekend and next, thus leaving each member the choice whether or not to join the movement.

“I don’t understand this strike,” the general director of the SNCF assured this Thursday on RTL. The management “gave everything to avoid” this demonstration, he insisted. The company has recognized the difficulties it has had in dialogue with the reviewers’ group since November, after those workers held a first weekend of strike, at the beginning of December. Reviewers have rejected the proposals from the company, which has indicated it is willing to increase its wages by 5.7% this year and 5.9% in 2023.

Changing the ticket represents a real headache for travelers. On these dates, most means of transport are already full and the travel alternatives are becoming more and more reduced. The Blablacar car sharing platform, for example, indicated on Wednesday that reservations had doubled after the strike announcement. In the case of Flach and her two children, her Saturday train has been canceled and she has only managed to find another on Monday at 5.50.

The strike is “out of step with the times”

At the Paris station customer service office, an agent was trying to organize the line of travelers waiting to change their tickets or get a refund on Wednesday. Together with his wife and his daughter, Pascal Ravel, 55, he had arrived in Paris to spend a few days and was scheduled to return to Marseille on Friday. But, as in many other cases, his train was cancelled. “If we can’t find another, we don’t even have a place to sleep,” lamented the man. Behind him, a piece of paper taped to a door informed travelers that the trains had already been cancelled.

A few meters away, Monique and Jean Pierre Janaszewicz, 63 and 68 years old respectively, said they planned to travel to Rennes, in the east, to spend the holidays with their children. In the end they had decided to go by car, but they could not get the company to reimburse them online for the train ticket they had previously purchased. The strike “is not in step with the times,” lamented the woman. “They ask us to take the train, to save fuel, to take care of the ozone layer, but then there is a strike,” she pointed out.

“I want to apologize on behalf of the company. It is unacceptable. The French need a breather,” the executive director of the SNCF passenger division, Christophe Fanichet, told the FranceInfo radio station on Wednesday. This official announced that the company would offer a “200% refund” to travelers whose trains have been cancelled, and indicated that the strike will cost the company “several tens of millions of euros”. The company also offers vouchers worth double the original ticket price to travelers with canceled trains.

At the moment, the most affected trains are those that go to the north and those that connect the different cities of the country without going through Paris. A quarter of the lines between the capital and eastern cities will also be cancelled, as well as a quarter of the low-cost high-speed Ouigo trains.

Regarding international routes, the company has reported that half of the scheduled trains will operate on the Paris-Barcelona line. The routes to Italy and Switzerland will also be affected.

It is not the first time that a transport strike has been called on these dates. In 2019, another strike in the sector against the pension reform also altered Christmas trips. In 2021, other strikes affected routes between the south and east of the country.

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