French train strike disrupts travel amid autumn school holidays

Eric Gaillard, REUTERS | A passenger waits at Nice railway station during a nationwide strike by French SNCF railway workers on October 18, 2019.

French rail services ground to a halt in parts of the country Sunday as workers walked off the job for a third day in a dispute over train staffing levels, stranding holiday travellers.


Services in the Paris suburbs, the northeastern Champagne-Ardenne region and the southern Occitanie region, which includes Toulouse and Montpellier, were particularly affected.

The state railway company SNCF said most services would return to normal on Monday.

The industrial action began on Friday after a train in northeastern France slammed into a truck at a level crossing, injuring 11 people.

The train driver was himself among those hurt but being the sole employee of state railway company SNCF on board had to help take care of passengers.

Unions said the incident highlighted understaffing on trains, notably the absence of ticket inspectors on some lines.

Since Friday, staff have been exercising their “right to withdraw” their labour—a clause that allows workers to walk off the job in case of “clear and present danger to their life or health”.

SNCF’s management has accused the workers of abusing that right on a busy weekend for train travel, at the start of the mid-autumn school holidays.

It argues that some train lines have not had ticket inspectors for decades.


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