Steer clear of Western Europe this week. The halt on air and train travel highlights a failure between the state and transportation companies to adequately negotiate before passing the burden on to locals and visitors alike.
After two days of air traffic controller strikes, French rail workers walked off the job Thursday to protest a reorganization of the national rail and train companies.
Up to 70 percent of train journeys in France were canceled on Thursday. The action began Wednesday night, affecting overnight international travel, and ends Friday morning.
Commuter traffic around Paris is especially hard hit, with only one in three trains guaranteed. The national railway company, SNCF, tried to limit cancellations and disruptions to high-speed links to London and other international destinations.
The strike came just as an action by air traffic controllers protesting an EU plan to simplify the continent’s patchwork airspace was ending. Thousands of flights around France were canceled over the past two days, but traffic was returning to normal Thursday.
But the woes of air travelers are not over: Tourists trying to get to or from the Paris airports by train are now running into the rail strike.
Like the air traffic controllers, SNCF workers are protesting a plan linked to EU-wide policy that involves privatization of some transport services that were long in state hands.
The French government defended the rail reform. Frederic Cuvillier, junior minister for transport, said in a statement that it would result in more modern infrastructure and more reliable train service and that the state would remain a “strategic” part of the new system.
Hundreds of people packed on to platforms at Paris’ Gare de Lyon train station, many looking up at information screens urging them to delay their trips because of the strike.
“I think that there are wrongs on both sides, from the employees and the employers, but we are always left as fools. We are in the middle of it all and we wait. What can we do? Nothing,” said Denis Robert, trying to get home to the southern city of Montpellier from Paris.
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Photo credit: Passenger sits on the ground and reads a newspaper in front of an empty platform, at Saint-Charles railway station, in Marseille, southern France, Thursday June 13, 2013, as French rail workers are on strike to protest a reorganization of the national rail and train companies. Claude Paris / AP Photo