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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le rapport Spinetta: scénario catastrophique pour le ferroviaire

by Clotilde Mathieu

The Spinetta Report, a Catastophic Scenario for the Railways

Translated Monday 9 April 2018, by Henry Crapo

The ex-president of Air France dropped a bomb on the public service and on the SNCF: its transformation into a privatizable company, opening up of competition with private industry, closing of rail lines, an end to statutory rights of rail workers ... We explain the dangers.

Article published in l’Humanité on 16/2/2018

The prime minister signaled the start of the battle for the railways, making public on Thursday the mission report entrusted to Jean-Cyril Spinetta to prepare for the "overhaul of rail transport." With 43 proposals, the report of the former boss of Air France is a real bomb dropped on the public service and the nationalized company. For the government, it represents "a complete and lucid diagnosis", whereas for the CGT cheminot and SUD rail, it signals the end of the "public railway system". End of the statute, transformation of the SNCF into a privatized public limited company, opening to competition and closures of lines, abandonment of the freight to the private sector ... the concerns are great. "These proposals must now be the subject of a thorough review by the government and a dialogue with all those involved" said the Prime Minister, promising that "a first phase of consultation will take place starting next week "with the actors, including the trade unions," to hear their reactions to this report ".

For the CGT cheminots, these recommendations "constitute an unprecedented attack on public rail transport and on those who, every day, make the choice of the train, whatever the region or the territory. (...) The government is preparing to confiscate the nation’s railway public enterprise. The Unsa ferroviaire union anticipates an "earthquake for the railway sector, its employees, its users (...) to the detriment of the public service".

1. The virtue of competition, an indisputable dogma

For Jean-Cyril Spinetta, openness to competition is not open to debate. Even if "the French system still does not seem ready for competition", it is now necessary to define "the conditions for success" of the opening of the passenger transport market, planned from 2019-2023 for the TER and Intercités (subsidized by the State and the regions), and, from 2020, for the TGVs (which depend directly on the SNCF). Because, promises, the former CEO of Air France, "opening to competition will provide part of the answer to the difficulties of the French rail system." On the condition, he insists, that competition is "prepared and organized", unlike what happened for rail freight, which he cites as a counterexample. To accept the dogma of privatization as a virtuous model is therefore here the precondition. Because no way toward improvement of the system, other than in the framework of a call for competition, is envisaged. However, according to the CGT cheminots, this is not inevitable, the government having the power to refuse it (see Humanity February 8).

To organize the transition to competition, the authors of the report advocate two systems. In the case of regional lines, these would be grouped in batches, and several operators would respond to a call for tenders. The selected operator will be on this portion in a monopoly situation. For the TGV, the report opts for free access competition (or open access), where several different operators can exploit the same line.

2. 9000 km of lines to be cut in the name of profitability

The report proposes to refocus the rail network on "its domain of relevance", namely the urban areas and the TGV between the main French cities. Jean-Cyril Spinetta focuses on the small lines, arguing that they "cost 1.7 billion euros per year", or 16% of public funding in the railway sector, "for 2% of travelers ". Thus, "every kilometer traveled by a traveler costs 1 euro to the community", insists the report. The report therefore recommends a complete audit of the network, so that the SNCF can select the lines to be cut. Then ask the regions to resume these lines or not. In a statement, they said on Thursday that "they oppose their closure by the state and their unilateral transfer to the regions."

The authors of the report believe that "the economy linked to the closure of the small lines for the system would amount to at least 1.2 billion euros annually (500 million euros in infrastructure and 700 million on the running of trains) ". An amount that could be redeployed to "the busiest part of the network". The users concerned by the closures will simply have to find other ways to get around ...

3. "Voluntary departures" and termination of railway status

Mandatory transfers, end of the status for new entrants, voluntary departure plans: railway workers are clearly being fined. Here again, liberal dogmas take precedence over any search for alternatives. Faced with future competitors, anticipating future social dumping, Jean-Cyril Spinetta targets agents. "In the search for an increase in the competitiveness of the company", the authors of the report, citing the cases of Orange and La Poste, advocate that it is "put an end to recruitment to the status of new" hired . The status of a railwayman would be extinguished "naturally" in thirty years. Still, for the former CEO of Air France, the measure is not enough. He suggests redefining a "new social contract" at the SNCF, to allow a "change in status". Even worse, for a "rapid competitiveness gain", Jean-Cyril Spinetta suggests the abolition of 5,000 posts, by resorting for two years to the "procedure of voluntary redundancy plans". "Attacks on the social conditions of unacceptable railway workers! "Responding the CGT railroads, Unsa railway estimated for its part that these recommendations are to" stigmatize employees (...) dedicated to public service. "

In the context of the opening to competition of the TERs, transfers of personnel are envisaged towards the new operators. The railwaymen concerned may refuse, but on the condition of accepting a new assignment, on pain of being considered as resigning.

4. Unclear recommendations on the debt problem

SNCF’s debt increased by 15 billion euros between 2010 and 2016, reaching nearly 45 billion euros at the end of 2016, the report said. And, every year, it grows by 3 billion. Added to this is the $ 1.5 billion in loan interest paid annually to financial markets. For the report, "debt processing is a prerequisite and necessary for a return to balance of the infrastructure manager". Jean-Cyril Spinetta believes that the State should take back "a share" of the liabilities of SNCF Réseau. The report, however, remains particularly unclear. For unions, debt is the result of state policies. "It’s not up to railroaders to pay the price today," said CFDT general secretary Didier Auber.

5. The SNCF changed into a privatizable public limited company

The SNCF is, since the 2014 railway reform, made up of three public establishments of an industrial and commercial nature (Epic): the leading Epic SNCF, SNCF Mobilités (the trains) and SNCF Réseau (the rails). To comply with the European requirements, Jean-Cyril Spinetta wants to "make SNCF Mobilités" a public limited company "wholly owned by the State". A weak guarantee, because this SA will be privatizable, if a new law so decides. But the former senior official does not stop there and also advocates the transformation of SNCF Network. Because the status of Epic to have a lower interest rate and a higher debt capacity, it would be an incentive to over-indebtedness. Even if, in view of the financing needs, it would undoubtedly be more interesting to benefit from the advantages of the status of Epic.

A Plan worthy of Thatcher

"This report is an attack without precedent upon the public rail system in France. It in no way responds to the needs for mobility or for ecological measures that will be proved to be urgent in years to come." Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the PCF

Photo: Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

For the regional lines, they will be regrouped into package deals, and several operators can respond to an offer to provide the services.

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