Tue Nov 22nd, 2005 at 09:21:17 AM EST
A timely diary as the SNCF is on strike again today. See my explanations as a comment below. --Jérôme
I have bad experiences with SNCF, which date back to a bike trip I took together with a friend of mine, when both of us just turned eighteen. We biked from Geneva to Marseille and wanted to continue by train to Toulouse. First, it turned out that the one and only connection which enables us to do that would depart around 5am!
So we managed to catch this train. We were met with a generally unhelpful staff who would rather sit around and chat than answer our questions or help us, as we and fellow travellers struggled with our bikes.
Today's announcement of yet another strike (which is the 5th or 6th of this year, depending on the source) brought back this memory of mine.
Starting today, between one third to two third of the scheduled trains will not run. According to the article, the given reason is the union's fear of a privatization of SNCF. Mr de Villepin, premier minister of France, assured in an interview last sunday that "if it is needed, we will take the initiative to show that the risk of privatization of SNCF is absurd". To this, secretary general of the biggest implicated union, CGT-Cheminots, replied that "there needs to be some substance on the table". He's convinced that only a strike will allow him to be heard.
I must admit that I am appalled by all the strikes in the railway sector. Being Swiss, each time there's a strike in France or Italy (or even the Netherlands), we'll hear from the delays, because of the international trains ending here. Don't understand me wrong, I think the right to strike is a very essential tool for unions to assure that the bosses don't get too rich.
But here, the boss is the government, and the clients are all the millions of passengers who can't count on a reliable train system. Do the clients get what they pay for in the case of SNCF? I ask this question not to advocate privatization (which I don't), but I think a little bit less arrogance of some of the unions would do.
I actually wanted to compare some numbers, but they have been very hard to come by. I could not find any data on punctuality; I gave up looking for any financial data because I'm not versed enough to interpret them anyway.
I found an interesting figure in the number of employees required to move a passenger for a kilometer. SNCF has 238.000 employees which allow for 74.35 billion passenger-kilometers (PK), thus 3200 employees for a billion PK. The german railway company DB gets about the same value, but moves about double the ton kilometers of freight! The Swiss SBB, as a reference value, needs only about 2200 employees (The data is from the respective company's websites).
Now, as a fan and daily user of public transport, I hope this strike will be over soon, and the people of SNCF can go back to work and make a reasonable good railway system even better!