Transport disruption looming for France

K+N Maersk

That regular problem facing the transport infrastructure of Western Europe has reappeared; the French rail strike.

The end of last week and the beginning of this week saw unofficial strikes cripple the rail network across France. They were triggered by a train crash that the trade unions said highlighted the danger of lower manning levels on trains. However, the underlying issue that is creating tension within SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer français) is arguments over pay and, above-all, pensions.

Already the workers on the Parisian metro and light-rail systems have planned a strike to take place over Christmas and the likelihood now is that the staff on the wider SNCF network will join them. For the trade unions this has the attraction that the whole of France’s public and mass transit transport system could be brought to a halt.

The implications for freight are unclear, with SNCF no longer having a total monopoly on the provision of freight trains. However, SNCF effectively provides the rail network and it is hard to imagine that major strike would not have a serious impact on all aspects of French railways, including freight services.

The possibility is that the disagreements over pension reform will spread beyond just the already disgruntled railway workforce. The French government is attempting to make substantial changes to the wider pension system in the public sector. This is perceived to be a controversial issue and, in France that probably means strikes. It would not be too difficult to imagine that these could spread to other areas of transport infrastructure such as air traffic control, which even in good times is vulnerable to industrial action. In the worst case it is possible that road freight could be affected. The Gilet Jaune and strikers around for example, Calais, have shown themselves capable of obstructing road traffic and this would be difficult to rule-out if French politics once again becomes violent.

Source: Transport Intelligence, October 22, 2019

Author: Thomas Cullen