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Rail strike hits first day of exams

Students promised priority treatment as dispute that has crippled France’s rail network drags on into a sixth day

15 June 2014

TENS of thousands of students have been promised priority treatment on France’s limited railway service today, as the strike that has crippled France’s rail network since Tuesday drags on into a sixth day.

Workers at SNCF have voted to continue the strike over rail reform fears that has already taken thousands of trains out of action on TGV, intercity and regional services.

But the government has refused to back down on the plans that are at the heart of the battle of wills between the government and two railway unions.

To make matters worse for more than 2,000 passengers over the weekend, two of the TGV trains that were running between Nice and Paris were severely disrupted by a power cut. One train took 17 hours to reach the capital from the Riviera.

Luc Chatel, acting general secretary of the opposition UMP urged the government to scrap the plans.

The former education secretary told RTL that he believed the proposed reform bill due to be discussed in Parliament tomorrow was “a bad text”.

And CGT secretary general Thierry Lepaon, has written to President Francois Hollande, pressing him to open "real negotiations" with the union over reform plans.

But Prime Minister Manuel Valls has refused to pull the debate. Instead, he insisted that it was time for the unions to end their strike, calling it “not useful or responsible”.

Meanwhile, SNCF has mobilised 10,000 workers to make sure that the strike, the longest in France since 2010, does not stop students from sitting the first of their baccalaureate exams - philosophy - that begin today.

Students were due to get priority places on packed trains and buses, while it has been reported that exam centres have agreed to allow late-arriving students make up for lost time.

Lists are available online at www.sncf.com/fr/assistance-exams, or by calling a toll-free hotline, 0805 200 440.

As well as students, beleaguered commuters are bearing the brunt of the strike. According to traffic monitoring service Sytadin, more than 310km of tailbacks were recorded in Ile-de-France at 8am.

And SNCF has said that it will once again run a reduced service. Two out of three TGV services will run in the east of the country, while a 50% service will operate in the north and west of the country, and one in three scheduled TGVs will run in the southeast.

Once again, four out of 10 intercity trains will run today, and one in two TER services in Ile de France - though rush hour was sue to be heavily disrupted, with only a 40% service operating.

Photo: Paul Beattie

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