A view from across the Channel

I have spent much of the previous fortnight in France: two days in the north, and ten in the south. During that time there was a four-day national rail strike.

My impressions were that firstly, there was more tension and anxiety in both the north and the national press than found amongst people in the south. Secondly, strikes have become fairly commonplace and although services were badly affected, the French have an obligation to keep at least a skeleton service running to connect the major cities.

For us this meant that despite the cancellation of both of our trains (Avignon to Lyon; Lyon to Lille) we were able to get a replacement train (Avignon to Lille), and the timetable for the replacement trains was made available on 7pm the previous day. So we could find a workaround with minimal fuss and the only ones caught out were those unaware the strike was happening and with absolutely no French. (At one point standing on the platform at Avignon TVG, a member of our group found himself becoming a temporary Information Point for those needing a translation of the tannoy announcements into English.)

The first day of the strikes was the worst because it also overlapped with an Air Traffic Control strike, removing an alternative means of travel for both rail and air passengers. By Saturday things were quite manageable and it was just a case of checking the route the evening before, and building in more travelling time in case of delays.

The rail strike was held in protest over the approach likely to be taken in the upcoming merger between SNCF and RFF, which French MPs will be debating in the coming week. Those who took industrial action were hoping to force a full merger, with the government covering the current debts. I doubt it will prove a significant factor in the decision-making process, but it was at least good to see strikes carried out in such a reasonable manner, with travellers given enough information to find a workaround and the staff who were working remaining polite and helpful throughout.

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2 thoughts on “A view from across the Channel

  1. Indeed! There also seemed to be a consciousness that the right to protest should be balanced against the likelihood of just making life difficult for the average person. I overheard a conversation between an Englishwoman and a Frenchman on the train: she expressed surprise that the service we were on was running at all, and his reply was along the lines of “But of course we have to maintain a minimal service connecting the major cities; we’re not savages!”

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