A Week Asleep

photo: cafe au depart saint lazare

No 'departs,' because of the train strike on
Saturday's Fête du Travail.

Paris Area Hit By SNCF Strike

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 3. May 1999:- After Saturday's Fête du Travail (see below), this morning's commuters are being treated to an expanded rail strike in the Paris region. Radio reports say less than half the scheduled trains are running.

In addition to the inconvenience to today's travellers, this strike against the SNCF is worth mentioning because it may be the last chance for rail workers to have their say about coming changes - which could mean the strikes could continue - perhaps until summer.

Apparently the SNCF management realizes this, because it has given radio reporters more details about how it runs its daily operations - possibly in the hopes that frustrated users will not vent their anger in the 'wrong' place.

Every day, a certain number of trains are scheduled, and each has a number. For example, train 3456 is supposed to leave the Gare Saint-Lazare at 08:12 to go to Versailles. The train is sitting at the platform ready to go, but it isn't until 08:11 that the SNCF learns that it has no driver - which is a bit late to warn travellers that the train will not run.

Usually, the half-dozen unions involved work out in advance which trains will actually make their trips and they inform the management, and if there is time, this emergency schedule posted.

But during the course of a day, some trains may be dropped and others added. The result is that the management doesn't really know if a train will make its journey until it leaves the station. Its passengers know just as little too.

Commuter traffic in the Paris region is very complex. It involves moving millions of people in and out of the capital each day. The further away from downtown users live, the fewer options they have for alternate routes or other means of transport. Some routinely have three or four-hour round trips to complete, and cutting a third or two-thirds of scheduled trains can mean great increases in commuting time - as well as much time lost from work.

For today, the Paris station supposed to be least affected is Montparnasse. At the moment, the strikes are concentrated in the Paris region, the west and the north. Generally, TGV trains are least affected and the London/Brussels-Paris 'Eurostar' trains usually continue to run full schedules.

The SNCF also mentioned that the strikes affect freight trains. These do not, as a rule, use commuter tracks, but they are part of a whole network - and often carry perishable goods - so they do add to the general foulup.

If you happen to get caught up in this, there are a couple of things to remember. The strikes are not total; some trains will be running. Neither the SNCF nor local passengers will know in advance - for certain - which trains will run. For the duration of the strikes, road traffic around Paris will be an absolute mess.

For the moment, Paris' métro, which is operated by the RATP, is not affected - which means getting around Paris via underground routes will not be difficult.

Siesta Ends With the 'Fête du Travail'

Paris:- Saturday, 1. May 1999:- My International Labor Day starts off the with SNCF train strike before I get anywhere. How, I wonder, can anybody get to Paris to march in the 'Labor Day' parades if the trains are not operating?

My local station-master, who is not on strike - who is not even having the day off for the 'Fête du Travail' - just gets off the phone when I arrive at the station. As I am looking at the list of trains scheduled to run, he says it's all been changed and deletes part of the list. The part he deletes are the trains 'not running.'

He says one train is making round-trips from here to Saint-Lazare and back. The station-master says there may be more trains later in the day. I decide not to buy a ticket; in solidarity with both the strike and 'Labor Day.'

It is also a counter-forecast day; not cloudy and overcast as predicted at all and it is even warm. The skyphoto: round building boul haussmann is blue. This is my fifth 'Labor Day' and the first one like this since my first one in 1995, which was muggy, and ended in murder.

As it is a rare train, it stops at every station. I take the time to read yesterday's Libération; about the Jacques and Lionel popularity show and about French hunters being told about the constitutional reality of private property by the International Court.

Fairly typical Haussmannian splendor beside the May Day parade route.

Unlike Le Parisien, the various lead items often occupy two pages, and are meaty reading. Reading Libération does not leave one with a lot of left-over questions. Arrival at Saint-Lazare coincides with completing the dreary story told by refugees who have managed to arrive in China from North Korea.

With the way the week worked out I have to get the standard 'Café'- 'Bistro'-'Scene' photos plus a couple of poster shots, so I am not even certain I will have shots to spare for the combo CGT-CFDT parade which is supposed to start at Place de la République and come across the Grands Boulevards, to the place in from of the Saint-Augustine church, just to the west of Saint-Lazare.

I see smoke up that way and head towards it. Some guys with a CGT van are setting up a sausage grille and they verify to all who arrive, that this is the destination of the 'Labor Day' parade. Their estimation of the time of the parade's arival varies between one and two hours.


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