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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: 2018, année à hauts risques pour le rail

by Clotilde Mathieu

2018, a Year of High Risk for the Railway

Translated Friday 19 January 2018, by Henry Crapo

Opening the railway to competition with private operators, to debt, malfunctions, elimination of salaried positions in the SNCF. While the Minister of Transport demands an audit, the CGT union organises its mobilisation.

According to the CGT, the government intends to use the December malfunctions as pretext for « putting an end to the public rail system ».

photo: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Yesterday, at the close of the "working meeting" between the Minister of Transport and the management of SNCF Mobilités and SNCF Reseau, called in following a series of repeated malfunctions that affected the Paris rail terminals in December, Elisabeth Borne demanded two things. To Guillaume Pepy, president of the first company, she demanded a technical audit of the major French railway stations, which should be completed by the end of March, along with "propositions for actions, especially for prioritary investments in the major railway stations, propositions for the end of April 2018. To Patrick Jeantet, director of the second company, "a complete diagnostic of the collection of electricity supply systems, of signals, and of computer posts in all the major Paris stations (...) and also in the main stations in the region." This is a "smokescreen" according to the CGT, which interprets this sequence of actions as "one more act in a theatrical event in the vaudeville tradition". This is so because, as Cédric Robert, responsible for communications for CGT railwaymen explains, "the objective is none other than to create an environment propitious to the stigmatisation of the SNCF, of the railway workers and of their positions, and to push further the opening of the rail market to competition with private industry, all the while waiting for the report assigned to the former head of Air France, Jean-Cyril Spinetta. This report, due the end of January, has for mission to define "the French model of rail traffic", which will in turn be the object of an orientation of mobilities promised for April. "The conclusions will offer no surprises", assures the CGT, which fears that the government will make use of these malfunctions "to get rid of the public train". And calls upon "all railway workers, railway users’ associations, the railway users themselves, and all those wishing to defend a public rail service of good quality" to participate in a major day of demonstration, the 8th of February in Paris. The union makes it clear that "This is a question for a true public debate". The government is preparing a new opening to competition with private industry of the regional rail system, TER. But the entry of new actors in a system "already in difficulty, complex and saturated, does not presage future improvements in the system", assures Cédric Robert.

In the last ten years, 30,000 positions have been destroyed

In addition, the overall reduction of salaried labor and increase of sub-contracting will continue. In the last ten years, 30,000 jobs have been lost, the unionist declares. The SNCF plans to eliminate another 2000 positions next year. The railway workers’ salaries have been frozen for four years already. These "efforts", explains the management, have permitted the company’s earnings to "take off" this year, declares "Les Echoes". While it is difficult to estimate the figures for net earnings, now just a month and a half prior to the closure of the acounting period, the economic daily newspaper estimates that the operational margin, which permits one to measure the profitability of the enterprise, should be some 2.6 billion for SNCF Mobilités, as compared with 2.28 billion in 2016. These are choices that "explain a large part of the problem", judges Phiippe Martinez, yesterday morning on France Info. The general secretary if the CGT proposes "to hire new workers, because we have lost job classifications in all domains." In maintenance, in 2017, half of the work is sub-contracted", notes Cédric Robert. "All this has a cost", he affirms, before recalling the reforms of 2014, which split the SNCF into three distinct "Epic" enterprises, SNCF (main Epic), SNCF Reseau, SNCF Mobilité, in order, so they said, to reduce the debt. These "reforms" had the effect of accentuating the difficulties, by "making more complex the relations among the various different services of the enterprise." As for the debt, which has only continued to swell, and has now exceeded 40 billion euros. I should even reach 63 billion in 2026, if one is to believe the contract for multi-annual performance signed recently with the state. This is a debt that the state has promised to undertake in exchange for a reform of the statute of railway workers, in particular endangering their retirement options.

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