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Tourist season under threat? No end in sight to paralyzing French train strike

Published time: June 15, 2014 09:26
Edited time: June 15, 2014 12:48
Travelers wait at the Gare Saint Lazare train station in Paris during a strike by SNCF railway company workers, on June 15, 2014. The strike is expected to affect train services for the next two day. (AFP Photo / Miguel Medina)

Travelers wait at the Gare Saint Lazare train station in Paris during a strike by SNCF railway company workers, on June 15, 2014. The strike is expected to affect train services for the next two day. (AFP Photo / Miguel Medina)

A French workers’ strike has entered its fifth day and is likely to continue next week. The protests have already brought some of the worst disruptions to the rail network at the beginning of the tourist season.

The famous high-speed TGV has reduced the number of trains operating between cities to one in three trains. Those arriving at Paris' international airports also have trouble getting into the city.

People crowd a platform after a commuter train arrived at the Gare du Nord railway station during a nationwide strike by SNCF employees in Paris June 13, 2014. (Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes)

Thierry Lepaon, the leader of the CGT Union (General Confederation of Labor), the first of the five major France’s confederations of trade unions, called on President Francois Hollande to find a way out of the situation by the end of the weekend.

However, the strike turns out to be "extendable," as protesters dub it, even despite calls from Hollande along with Prime Minister Manuel Valls to end it immediately.

"There comes a moment when we must know when to end an industrial action and be conscious of everyone's interests," Hollande said on Friday, "A dialogue has been opened and it must now be completed."

'Worst in years': France hit by nationwide train strike (PHOTOS)

The rail strike started late Tuesday and since then spread across the country and above. The rail operator SNCF (National Society of French Railways) said not only TGVs, but regional trains were affected. Only one in two trains to Spain were due to run.

Only 10 trains featured on the arrivals and departures list against around 45 on normal days in Gare d'Austerlitz, one of the six large terminus railway stations in Paris, added the SNCF official.

The protests set off just week ahead of France's National Assembly starts to consider a bunch of reforms to solve the debt crisis of rail network and services. The reforms plan to open up France’s rail services to competition and to unite SNCF with RFF (French Rail Network) which had over 32 billion euro in debt at the end of 2013.

Travelers watch an information board announcing the trains that will be running, at the Gare Saint Lazare train station in Paris during a strike by SNCF railway company workers, on June 15, 2014. (AFP Photo / Miguel Medina)

The rail sector's debt counts more than 40 billion euro ($54 billion), and would likely grow to 80 billion euro by 2025 if nothing was done to resolve the crisis, said Frédéric Cuvillier, a Junior Minister for Transport and the Maritime Economy.

However, the unions claim the reform to bring together SNCF and RFF won’t help to resolve the issue.

"The rail workers will not go back to work without written guarantees from the government for a modified reform," Gilbert Garel, general secretary of union CGT cheminots, told France Info radio.

Regional trains stay at the platforms of Lille's train station, northern France, on June 13, 2014, on the third day of a national strike by French SNCF railway company employees. (AFP Photo / Philippe Huguen)

Meanwhile, commuters don’t like the way rail services express their disagreement with the government.

"We want the unions to find other ways of putting pressure on the SNCF other than holding passengers to ransom. We are innocent people in all of this. The government and the SNCF are not," Jean-Claude Delarue, from rail users group SOS-Usagers told the Local. "Conditions are really very bad for commuters, especially in the Paris region. It's abominable."

A traveler walks on a platform at the Saint-Charles station on June 13, 2014 in Marseille, on the third day of a national strike by French SNCF railway company employees. (AFP Photo / Boris Horvat)

A worker of the French rail firm SNCF and CGT union member takes part in a demonstration at the Saint-Charles station to protest the railroad reform planned by the French government, on June 13, 2014 in Marseille. (AFP Photo / Boris Horvat)

Protesters hold a banner behind a burning flare reading "For CGT, Austerlitz will never be the Waterloo of public service" during a demonstration by striking employees of the French state rail company SNCF near the Transport Ministry in Paris on June 12, 2014. (AFP Photo / Bertrand Guay)

Travelers walk on a platform at the Saint-Charles station on June 13, 2014 in Marseille, on the third day of a national strike by French SNCF railway company employees. (AFP Photo / Boris Horvat)

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