SNCF Fret train service in France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Strikes in France to impact rail freight operations

SNCF Fret train service in France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rail freight in France is to suffer disturbances due to a wide-scale strike by the transport industry on Thursday and maybe also Friday. The strikes are held to voice against the reforms of the pension system. A similar protest movement grasped the industry last year from April till end of June.

On Thursday, 245 demonstrations are being held throughout the country in France. In Paris, the big demonstration starts at 2pm at the Paris-East train station. From there, the demonstrators walk to Place de la Nation, reports the French medium BFMTV.


The strikes are joined by employees from SNCF, the French state-owned railway, Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), which runs the French capital’s public transport system along with air traffic controllers, airport ground staff, and trucking carriers. Collectively, they form the basis of the transport of goods and people, in France and across its borders.

The impact on the rail freight sector is expected to be significant. Freight services within France are partly cancelled, as well as routes to major cities in Belgium, Italy and Germany. As a result, companies will shift their consignments to the road, which is already congested. Timing is far from ideal, as the season holidays have led to an increase in demand for freight transport.

Long strikes

The strikes are held on Thursday and may continue until Friday. However, some have expressed concern that this may take longer, as it did last year. Similar strikes where held for three months, starting in April and lasting till the end of June, every two out of five days.

In response, lobby organisation UIRR warned of a strong correlation between prolonged strikes and the contraction of rail freight’s market share. It said that it is due to frequent strikes in France that the country shows a relatively small rail freight market share. “In 2003 the market share of railways was still 18 per cent, whereas by 2016 it dropped to below 10 per cent.


The strike actions are directed against the government’s plans to reform the pension system. In the pension system, the state subsidises more than forty pension funds from various professional groups that are all organised differently. Macron, just as his predecessors had tried in vain, wants to streamline and reform the complicated and for many pensioners very generous system.

Last year’s strikes were a response to President Emmanuel Macron’s announced plans to draw up a new social contract with the railway staff members, who must benefit from the same working conditions as all the French. Macron’s plans were eventually approved.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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