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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: SNCF: au train où va la privatisation

by Marion d’Allard

SNCF: On a Train To Privatization

Translated Thursday 1 August 2013, by Henry Crapo

The derailing at Brétigny-sur-Orge has placed back on the table the question of the present condition of the railway network and the security of its installations.

In a vast public relations operation, the management of the RFF and SNCF, quick to furnish a cause for the much publicised crash, found, in a "splint" in Brétigny the ideal culprit. The obsolescence of railway equipment had been pointed out, but the RFF and SNCF repeatedly made reassuring announcements. Jacques Rapoport, president of the RFF, assures that "there is no relation between the age of equipment and its security", while Guillaume Pepy, president of the SNCF, affirms, for his part, that the security of the railway network "has not deteriorated during the most recent decade".

Book-keeping interests

Nevertheless, since 2003, rampant liberalization of the French railway, and the race, in particular, toward sub-contracting, in order to satisfy purely book-keeping interests, has had real consequences on the level of safety of railway installations. In a communiqué entitled The splint that hides the forest [1] the CGT railway workers in Lyon denounce "railway accidents of which the causes are known, and which are the result of organizational choices, lack of means, and economic orientations of the management of the SNCF". In Lyon, the railway workers have been fighting for more than two years against an accident-prone economic strategy. "For ten years already, the pressure on railway workers, and in particular the reduction of manpower, have created veritable failures in safety of circulation," affirms the CGT, which "demands an emergency program" in the region. And for good reason! The union points to a series of accidents blameable on non-respect of security regulations on the part of private enterprises engaged in work on the rail network.

In the first semester, alone, of 20013, the CGT is not lacking in details. In February, "on a work site in Portes-lès-Valence,a private enterprise installed a safety perch over the catenary, without authorisation. This perch was carried off by a train circulating on that track." In June, " a train derailed south of Lyon-Part-Dieu. An axle broke, with 100 persons on board", with no victims. In July "in Givors, a freight train entered a track occupied by a machine belonging to a private company, parked without informing the control." To these instances, are added the fall of poles for catenaries, as in March 2012 in Montluel (Ain), the installation not having been inspected since 2006. Or again, the deformation of tracks due to work done without respect for the norms of security, as in April of the same year, where "circulation had to be interrupted in emergency on the LGV South-East line after an inspection of the track, its integrity no longer assured due to work carried out by a private company several days earlier", explains the CGT, in a communiqué entitled in the form of a warning: "The recourse to sub-contracting contributes to rendering the system fragile, in the use of poorly equipped and poorly trained manpower, and also through the dilution of responsibility behind cascades of contractual relations."

3000 Posts Eliminated In calling for sub-contractors, the RFF, which delegates nearly 85% of its activities, must necessarily pass through the SNVF, which is charged with preparing the contractual offers for bids. There are three categories of sub-contractors. The offshoots of the SNCF, such as Sferis, which takes charge of safety on the work sites (created in February 2012), has already marked up 19 million euros in business; family enterprises, most often specializing in work on the tracks, and finally the offshoots of major building trades groups, in the image of Colas Rail, which has constructed several LGV, an offshoot of the Colas group, itself an offshoot of Bouygues Construction. Some domains of intervention particularly favoured for private sub-contracting, that of work on the tracks remains the most "profitable" for the SNCF. It is a domain of high risk in which operate more than 50% of private enterprises operating on the rail network.

In three years, from 2007 to 2010, the management of Infra SNCF, charged with management, exploitation and maintenance of the network, has cut 3000 statutory railway jobs, profiting private enterprises, there where, in the same period, business jumped by 15%.

[1[l’Éclisse qui cache la forêt

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