French travellers scramble ahead of Christmas weekend train strike

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Some 200,000 holidaymakers in France on Wednesday scrambled to book alternative travel for their Christmas break as the national rail operator announced the cancellation of major services due to a strike.

SNCF has now cut more than a third of scheduled trains for Christmas weekend when millions of French are expected to travel for family gatherings.

The worst-affected services are the high-speed TGV lines, the mainstay of long-distance rail travel in the country. Franceleading to a rush to fly, rent a car and share a car.

“I understand their request but do they have to strike during festivals?” Isabelle Barrier, whose train to southwest Toulouse has been cancelled, told AFP in Paris.

“They don’t care about humans! If they want to attack, I understand, but not on Christmas weekend!” Emilio Quintana, a father struggling to find tickets to Marseille, told AFP.

Christophe Fanichet, SNCF’s travel department boss, apologized to travelers on Wednesday and called the ticket-checker’s strike action – launched without union support – as ” scandal” and “unacceptable”.

Government spokesman Olivier Veran agreed: “You must not go on strike at Christmas.

Facing the high inflationaryAccording to the SNCF, ticket agents are asking for an additional salary increase in addition to the negotiated 12% increase that will be in effect for two years.

Annual inflation is at around 6.0 percent in France, lower than in most other European countries, which are also facing strikes in the public sector.

Neighboring Britain has suffered a wave of layoffs among railway workers, nurses, passport control officers and ambulance drivers.

According to the SNCF website earlier, half or more of the trains scheduled for the weekend were canceled on main lines such as Paris to Rennes, western France, or Paris to Bordeaux, in the southwest.

Half of the routes to Spain have been cut and a third to Italy. The rail operator promised free re-bookings, including more expensive ones, but most TGVs were fully booked on Wednesday.

It also offers to give away vouchers worth double the original fare to those whose trains are cancelled. This applies to those who manage to exchange their tickets.

But travelers queuing at train stations say it’s not much consolation for a ruined holiday.

Mathilde, a 38-year-old Parisian whose train to Bordeaux was cancelled, said she wanted to board another train even without a ticket.

“I could try to get on a train, although I’m not sure that would work,” she said, adding: “I don’t expect SNCF to be very understanding.”



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