The French rail strike – now in its sixth day- is a pain. Nobody likes seeing their train cancelled. High school exams are being disrupted too. But why are the railway workers on strike?
They are protesting against the railway reforms of the Government of President Francois Hollande and PM Manuel Valls.
The Government claims its reform will ‘unify the railway family’ that is today divided into two separate companies: SNCF which is the train operating company and SNCF which maintains the tracks. It is Europe that years ago demanded this separation.
Paris is lying
The government plan does not aim to bring together the two companies. It aims, on the contrary, to further break up the public service by creating a third structure (the government’s plan is to preserve the two companies as separate within a single holding structure). To bring together SNCF and RFF Europe the Government must disobey Europe, but it refuses to do this.
An absurd system
This separation is absurd. It separates the activity that costs the most (maintain and build tracks) from activity that brings in revenues (the trains). It is an aberration. RFF, weighed down by debts, is failing in its mission to maintain the tracks. The railway workers want a reform that brings real unity of strategy and action for the entire public transport system.
Competition more expensive, less effective
For years, the EU and government have pushed SNCF and RFF to be ‘profitable’ and to be managed like private companies not public services. The result: the companies spend billions abroad instead of investing in modernising an aging railway system in France. For passengers the consequences are disastrous: closure of train stations, fare hikes and the replacement of trains by buses. In France, competition has already been applied to rail freight since 2005. The result? Freight has moved off the rails onto the road.
Competition hits safety
A year ago, on 12 July 2013, 7 people died following a derailment of a train in the commune of Bretigny in the southern suburbs of Paris. The inquiry that followed found that the reason for the derailment was poor maintenance of the tracks
And wastes money
Merging the two companies would avoid problems in the future such as a high-profile mix-up in May, when SNCF acknowledged that it had ordered 2,000 trains that were too wide for many station platforms. The embarrassing error arose after the RFF transmitted faulty dimensions for its train platforms to the SNCF, which was in charge of ordering the trains.
What should happen?
The reforms should bring about a profound rethink of transport policy in general, including with the aim to boost the environment. The railway workers are fighting so that people in France can travel better, at lower costs and above all, safely.
Sources: Parti de Gauche, France 24, BBC