The French Rail Strike: What You Need to Know
By the time you read this, a general rail strike will have begun in France, a massive shutdown that's certain to wreak havoc on travelers who are already in -- or about to travel to -- the country. Here's the latest strike information:
A domestic rail strike -- called by workers to protest planned cuts in pension benefits -- began at 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday. As of now, it is officially scheduled to last only through the entire day on Thursday, although Marion Fourestier of the French National Tourist Office says it's possible that "full train service may not be back to normal until around Friday at 4 p.m." And even that scenario is far from definite; strikers are expected to vote on a continuation of the walkout daily.
"This strike will include international trains to/from France, domestic trains and the Paris Metro," reads a statement posted Wednesday on the Web site of Rail Europe), a North American subsidiary of SNCF, the French national railway system. Chris Lazarus, a Rail Europe spokeswoman, says "we're advising people not to travel" on Thursday, and notes that the situation in Paris will be "quite severe."
There won't be a complete shutdown of domestic service, Lazarus says, noting that a tiny number of trains, including a small percentage of high-speed TGVs, will continue to run. The SNCF Web site contains detailed information on strike-affected service, but as of Wednesday afternoon, none of that information was in English.
Fourestier recommends that travelers already in France consult someone on staff at their hotel who can monitor Web sites and help with what no doubt will be a fluid situation. (For travelers holding tickets on domestic railways, refunds are being offered. Refund information as well as updated news on train service can be obtained at the Rail Europe Web site or at 888-382-7245.)
As for the RATP, which controls the Paris Metro and the suburban RER trains, service is normal today but almost completely shut down on Thursday. Cancellation of RER service means that the trains tourists normally take from Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will not be running, and travelers will need to get creative. According to the airline, no strike of Air France employees is planned, which means that Air France coach buses from the airports to the Paris city center will continue to run ). Round-trip fares range from 14 to 22 euros, depending on the airport and destination within Paris, and passengers from all air carriers are welcome.
The news is only a bit better regarding international trains. Eurostar trains will continue to run from London to Paris via the Chunnel, but several trains have been canceled, and a statement on the Eurostar Web site says the rail company is "advising all travelers not to travel if at all possible on Thursday 18 October. Travelers who choose not to travel will be able to exchange their tickets for travel within the next 60 days."
"Apparently [Paris city] bus service is going to be reduced to 15 percent of normal traffic," says Fourestier, who suggests travelers consider alternatives if and when they make it to Paris. For one, there is the recently introduced Velib bike-sharing program, a service that's made more than 20,000 bikes available all over the Paris metro area. For another, bateau mouches should still be running on schedule, so you might want to think about taking a Seine river boat shuttle to your destination (information: www.batobus.fr).
And finally, keep in mind that "Paris is still Paris," says Fourestier. You'll be in one of the most walkable cities in the world -- certainly not the worst place you could be stuck.
Anyone leaving for France in the next day or so? Anyone already there? How are you coping?
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