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19.10.2019 Europe

More travel disruption for France as unplanned rail strike digs in

REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
LISTEN OCT 19, 2019
REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

France faces a second day of travel chaos this Saturday as railworkers pursue an unplanned strike, after last ditch talks between the management of the national rail company SNCF and unions broke down without agreement.

Nine out of ten high-speed TGV trains and one in two regional trains are expected to run late this Saturday, with SNCF warning similar stoppages to the day before, which marred the start of school holidays.

Thousands of passengers were left in the lurch on Friday when workers from the national rail company walked out over safety concerns.

Unions maintain that rail workers are entitled to use their right to opt-out, after 11 people were killed in a train crash on Wednesday, which has laid bare SNCF's staffing shortages.

According to unions, the train driver, who had 70 people on board, had to manage the situation on his own, despite the fact that he was injured in the accident.

Opt out or cop out?
"The right to opt out, is railworkers way of saying: Hang on, something very serious is going on," Philippe Martinez, head of the hardline CGT union, told AFP.

Some commuters took to Twitter to express their support for the railway workers, who "put their safety and that of passengers first before profit"; but others have called the strike irresponsible, particularly during one of France's busiest travel periods of the year.

"This is totally unacceptable. This is an unplanned strike which does not respect the law on how public strikes are done," Guillaume Pepy, President of SNCF, told AFP.

Against the law
"First of all, there needs to be talks, and then each person must put in writing their intention to strike. This law was not respected," he said and added, "there is no serious danger on any of our SNCF trains."

Nonetheless, there was further disruption in store for passengers of SNCF's Ouigo budget trains, after all their trains were cancelled on Saturday.

The rail company has vowed to get them running again "as quickly as possible." In the meantime, train travelers will be reimbursed by 23 Wednesday October.

Elsewhere, Intercity and some regional lines are also "very disrupted", SNCF is warning.

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