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France strikes cause travel chaos for rail and airline passengers

Many Eurostar trains cancelled, and the overnight sleeper train from Paris to Milan is replaced by a bus

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 03 April 2018 09:43 BST
Why are there railway closures on Bank Holidays? Simon Calder explains

Travellers heading to, from and through France face chaos from Monday evening as strikes disrupt rail and air links.

Railway workers are staging a series of two-day stoppages in protest against planned labour reforms by the national rail enterprise, SNCF.

The strikes, from 3 April to 28 June, are each separated by three days of working normally. But the effects will be felt from the evening of Easter Monday.

International overnight trains between Paris and Milan are being replaced by buses. The trans-Alpine journey of around 500 miles is likely to take at least 12 hours.

The operator, Thello, offered “our sincere apologies for the inconvenience caused by this strike over which Thello has no control”.

Eurostar passengers are also feeling the effects. The cross-Channel train operator’s French drivers are employed by SNCF. As a result 29 services from London to Paris and Brussels for Tuesday and Wednesday have been cancelled — representing around 25,000 seats.

The firm is telling prospective passengers on Easter Monday: “Our services from the continent to UK and vice versa are fully booked today. Please come to our stations only if you have a confirmed seat.”

Eurostar is also urging travellers whose trains are running on Tuesday and Wednesday to arrive at the departure station an hour before departure, rather than the usual 30 minutes, “for a smoother departure experience”.

The maiden commercial rail journey from London to Amsterdam on Wednesday is expected to operate normally.

Green light: the first commercial Eurostar train from London St Pancras to Amsterdam is not among the 29 cancellations by the cross-Channel rail operator (Simon Calder)

The normal Disneyland Paris service is being diverted to the Gare du Nord in the French capital on Tuesday and Wednesday. Eurostar is deploying staff at the terminus as well as the Disney station, Marne la Vallee, to help passengers and distribute tickets for RER suburban trains.

SNCF expects to run somewhere between one in five and one in eight of normal long distance services. On some lines, replacement buses will run, but a huge amount of capacity will be lost.

Rail workers in France, known as cheminots, have generous guarantees on employment protection and pay rises, and are typically able to retire in their early fifties.

A union leader has described the dispute as “an intense and long-lasting conflict”. It has echoes of a bitter strike in 1995 over modernisation plans. The then-prime minister, Alain Juppe, backed down after much of the French rail network was brought to a halt.

Red alert: French Railways' strike calendar for April, May and June 2018 (SNCF)

Travellers hoping to fly to or within France could be thwarted by a strike by Air France pilots and cabin crew. It is the fourth stoppage in six weeks.

The dispute centres on a pay demand of 6 per cent which the unions say is necessary to make up for lost ground. Air France has offered 1 per cent and some other benefits.

A strike on Good Friday by the French airline’s staff led to one in four flights being cancelled, including multiple services from Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh to Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Air France is inviting passengers booked to travel on Tuesday to switch to another travel date. The impact of the strike is likely to continue into Wednesday.

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