Rail workers across France launched a fifth round of strike action this week in opposition to a planned overhaul of the heavily indebted state-run rail operator SNCF and wider efforts to liberalize the transport sector. The nationwide strike is set out for 3 months and could cost rail-dependent industries, including automotive, metallurgy, chemical and agriculture, more than EUR 1 billion.
Customers with an interest in rail traffic or these industries in France should monitor the situation closely as they may be impacted in three ways. First, rail shipments are expected to be delayed for a longer period due to the extent of the strike. Resulting congestion at rail yards and production plants will prevent operators from moving goods due to limited services. Second, about 50 trucks are needed to replace a freight train. Companies may not find enough available trucking capacity to keep supply chains running, driving up prices for road freight. And finally, industrial actions in other sectors such as aviation and sea ports may have additional impacts on the rail sector.
To mitigate the impact to some extent, customers are advised to carefully assess shipment capacity needs, set cut-off times and determine budget requirements to decide whether to stick to rail or use road and/or barge transportation. Barge connections can be an option between Marseille and Lyon or between Paris and Le Havre. Also, customers may want to consider trucking goods to neighboring Switzerland or Germany for further onward transportation via rail or barge to European destinations. Alternative ports such as Antwerp in Belgium or Genoa in Italy are easily accessible from northern or southern France and have a well-established European network of feeder and short sea services.
Between April 3 and June 28, SNCF employees affiliated with the four main unions are expected to stage intermittent strike actions for two out of every five days. This has already caused widespread train cancellations of freight trains during the first four rounds of strikes in April, as Fret SNCF, the cargo branch of SNCF, controls 60 per cent of the French rail freight market. More than 77 per cent of rail workers participated in the first round of strikes when only 15 per cent of rail freight trains were able to circulate normally. Similar impacts can be anticipated during further strike action.