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article imageOp-Ed: Halting the Paris to Nice TGV for a laugh is no laughing matter

By Robert Myles     Feb 3, 2013 in World
Marseille - Yesterday afternoon, Saturday, a gang of youths halted a high speed Paris to Nice train (TGV) in its tracks near Marseille. What was done as a prank could have wider implications for travellers in France.
In a scene more redolent of the Wild West than France’s superfast TGV rail network, a TGV train en route from Paris to Nice was forced to stop just outside Marseille, mid-afternoon Saturday, by a gang of youths waving torches just after the train had left the main railway station in Marseille, Provence.
The high speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), with 150 passengers on board, had pulled out of the Gare Saint-Charles in Marseille on the final leg of its journey from Paris to Nice in south west France when it was brought to a halt. A gang of youths waved red coloured torches, easily mistaken for a genuine warning sign of danger used by railway workers, to get the train driver's attention.
The driver spotted red torches on the track ahead and was halted the TGV. Passengers on the train then looked on in alarm as dozens of youths attacked the doors of the train in an attempt to gain entry. One of the passengers put in an emergency call for police assistance via their mobile phone.
The incident happened at Bel-Air located in the 11th arrondissement of the city of Marseille. The gang of youths were unable to breach the TGVs locked doors. Some ran off and others fled on scooters with the police giving chase. Such was the seriousness of the incident that a local detachment of French riot police, the CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) were called in as backup for local gendarmes. Sud Ouest reports that nine youths were subsequently arrested and are presently in custody pending further enquiries. La Provence puts the number of arrests at twelve.
French railways have now launched an enquiry into the incident. An SNCF (French railways) source told La Provence,
“The doors were locked. They could not have gained entry. Theft doesn’t appear to have been the motive behind this idiotic act, more likely bravado or to video the incident.”
After police interviewed passengers, the train continued on its journey to Nice two hours late. The halting of the Paris to Nice TGV caused further network disruption and five other trains on the rail network were delayed.
Stopping the Paris-Nice TGV mid-journey might have more the flavor of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid about it, rather than Al Qaeda, but nonetheless, the incident has raised security concerns in France given the involvement of French forces in Mali.
France is rightly proud of its TGV network, one of the most comprehensive in Europe, if not the world. TGVs interconnect with most major French cities and offer a generally reliable and speedy alternative to flying or driving between major population centres.
Attacks on TGVs have been few and far between and this is believed to be the first time a TGV has been halted by would be railway highwaymen. Surely this can't be all Provence has to offer its bored youth on a Saturday afternoon?
The last major incident on French railways occurred in late 2008 when an anarchist group launched a coordinated series of attacks on French TGVs bringing chaos to the network.
More significantly given the current situation in north Africa, in 1995, an Algerian terrorist group, the Groupe Islamique Armé, attempted to blow up a TGV line near the city of Lyon. Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, reporting on rail terrorism in May 2011, the Pacific Standard refers to the Lyon incident as one with ‘al-Qaeda-like aspirations.’ It quotes from a study by the Mineta Transportation Institute writing on the attempt to blow up the TGV line near Lyon,
“The psychological effect of an explosion on the train would have been enormous. France’s TGV was the first high-speed rail system in Europe and today remains a source of national pride.”
The Marseille incident may have been a group of youths thinking they were having a merry jape. However in the current climate, the most worrying aspect is not that the Paris-Nice train was waylaid for a couple of hours, but that this stupid act of brigandry is likely to put ideas into the heads of more sinister characters who don’t have the welfare of French railway travellers at the top of their mission statement.
All it has done is contribute to putting at risk the relative freedoms we all currently enjoy in France to go about our daily business, including train stations, eating our own sandwiches, drinking our own cans of Coke, keeping our shoes firmly on our feet and thinking body scanners are something only to be encountered in hospitals.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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