National train strike hits France

2014-06-11 10:20
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Paris - French commuters faced traffic chaos on Wednesday amid a national train strike called by trade unions in protest against a proposed railway reform aimed at containing the sector's soaring debt.

The 24-hour strike began on Tuesday evening, but its main impact will be felt on Wednesday with train links to other countries also hit, according to the SNCF state rail body.

Only one high-speed TGV out of two or three will run, and regional trains will also be affected, particularly in the busy Paris region.

Eurostar trains to and from London will run as normal, while three out of four Brussels- and Amsterdam-bound Thalys trains will be operational.

Trains to Germany will be unaffected, but those going to Spain will be disrupted.

"The number of strikers will be high, notably among ticket collectors and drivers," more than half of whom have said they are prepared to observe the strike, said SNCF human resources director Francois Nogue.

Soaring debt

The state rail firm advised passengers to put off their travel if possible, and for those travelling in by road to consider car-pooling.

Traffic was already noticeably heavier than normal on the streets of Paris late on Tuesday.

The strike takes place just one week before France's lower house examines the proposed railway reforms aiming to tackle the sector's soaring debt.

Transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said Tuesday the railway sector's debt currently stood at more than €40bn, and would likely soar to €80bn by 2025 if nothing was done to stem it.

The unions which called the strike, however, feel that the measures included in the reform will not help rein in the debt.

The problems for commuters in the French capital Wednesday are exacerbated by a protest by taxi drivers in several European capitals, including Paris, against what they see as unfair and illegal competition from app-using car services such as Uber which have shaken up the taxi industry.

Strict regulations

From London's black cabs to taxis in Rome, Paris, Berlin and Milan, chaos is expected in key European cities as traditional cabbies protest a rise in unlicensed drivers and chauffeur services that are chipping away at their client base.

California-based chauffeur car company Uber is the main target of the drivers' ire, but it is only one of many new smartphone-dependent car services seen as bypassing strict regulations faced by licensed drivers.

In France, there are now an estimated 10 000 vehicles and motorcycle taxis run by such non-traditional taxi firms.

Drivers are only allowed to pick up passengers through prior reservation, not by hailing them in the street. Most notably, these operators don't have to shell out at least €240 000 for a licence required by official taxi owners.

"Tomorrow I'm coming in on two wheels," said Didier, 34, who works at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

"With the taxis also on strike I can weave between the cars."
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