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SNCF staff announce strike across France amid 20-hour delay

SNCF staff are to strike across France on Thursday, September 17 - amid delays of up to 20 hours on TGV services last night.

Workers’ union CGT-Cheminots announced the strike plans on Friday August 28. It was quickly supported by other unions, FSU, Solidaires, and youth organisations. The strike is set to begin from 20:00 on Wednesday September 16, and last until 07:55 on Friday September 18.

But economy minister Bruno Le Maire has already responded with bafflement at the plans.

Speaking to news network France Inter on August 29, he said: “I am having trouble understanding why they are calling for an SNCF strike when we have just wiped out €35 billion of SNCF debt, and that, within the ‘relaunch plan’ - which the Prime Minister will explain in detail next week - there will be massive investment in rail transport.

“I am simply asking the question: What will this SNCF strike achieve? What are the objectives? For what reasons is the CGT calling a strike for SNCF, and what is this going to improve for the cheminots [rail workers]?”

Prime Minister Jean Castex is to reveal more on the imminent ‘relaunch plan’ on Thursday September 3.

Read more: France hits 700,000 tests - but rentrée ‘relaunch’ delayed

Speaking about the plan, Mr Le Maire said: “Consumption restarted in May and June. We have everything we need to succeed, and we are going to get there.”

However, the minister acknowledged: “I am not saying that we will have results that will allow us to avoid all bankruptcies [but] we will spare no effort on the part of the state. The economic state of companies is my most immediate concern.”

The SNCF strike comes as the company announced it had been struck by serious financial trouble due to the Covid-19 crisis, and confirmed that its Eurostar arm had been further disrupted due to the surprise UK quarantine of August 15.

Services across the Channel have been operating at less than 20% their usual capacity, Eurostar said.

Read more: UK quarantine: Eurostar cuts services by 80%

20-hour SNCF delays in the southwest

The SNCF strike announcement also comes hours after major delays of up to 20 hours were declared last night (Sunday August 30), affecting thousands of train passengers in the southwest of the country.

A dozen SNCF TGV trains were blocked between Dax and Bordeaux (Nouvelle-Aquitaine) due to a series of electricity breakdowns. SNCF said: “A new major electrical feed defect has just occurred between Dax and Bordeaux and requires a diagnostic test and consequent repair.”

Delays of 20 hours were announced, affecting thousands of passengers, some of whom tried to sleep on the floor while waiting for the train to move. One passenger tweeted that they had not been given any food or water despite being stuck on the train “all night”.

One traveller, Grégory, spoke to news service FranceInfo, saying; “They announced that we would arrive in Paris at 09:13, so therefore with almost 20 hours delay on the original timetable.”

He joked: “I hope that we will at least break a record [for the delay].”

Another passenger named Marjolaine, who was delayed by more than three-and-a-half hours on a TGV Inoui from Bayonne, said that they had been given “a small bottle of water”, but no food.

She said: “It was food, only a small bottle of water, it was hot with our masks and they kept us on board even when they could have let us off. We didn’t know if we were going to die first of hunger, thirst, Covid, or lack of hygiene…

“We had no information, and no meal; everything had been given out before we got on, when the train was already blocked.”

The train stopped several times en-route, and finally went backwards to take passengers back to Biarritz at 03:00.

Trains were still blocked on the line in the morning, especially the TGV 8538, in the Landes - with service not expected to restart properly until Tuesday morning. Transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said today (Monday August 31): “SNCF will reimburse tickets to up to 300%.”

This amount was higher than that given earlier in the night on Twitter by SNCF, who had said they would refund tickets up to 200%.

Mr Djebbari said that the lines would reopen on Tuesday morning, but that the “work to do was significant” across 60 km of track.

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