France hit by train strike after airport action

PARIS (AP) - After two days of air traffic controller strikes, French rail workers walked off the job on Thursday to protest a reorganisation of the national rail and train companies.

Up to 70 per cent of train journeys in France were cancelled on Thursday. The action began on Wednesday night, affecting overnight international travel, and ends on 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 cancelled 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 privatisation of some transportation services that were long in state hands.

The French government defended the rail reform. Mr Frederic Cuvillier, junior minister for transportation, 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 Mr Denis Robert, trying to get home to the southern city of Montpellier from Paris.

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