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Blog Posted in avatar   Johnny Summerton's Blog

A French train journey (almost) "without end"

By Johnny Summerton
Posted Dec 28, 2010 in Travel
Passengers on the 4295 night train from Strasbourg to Portbou and Nice on Sunday took a trip they're unlikely to forget in a hurry.
It was, as the national radio station RTL called it, a "journey without end". And even if that was perhaps a little bit of journalistic hyperbole at its best, it certainly must have seemed that way to those on board.
The train was supposed to leave the eastern French city of Strasbourg on Sunday for its 12-hour trip to Portbou, a town on (the Spanish side of) the French-Spanish border, and the city of Nice on the Côte d'Azur (obviously it was scheduled to split at some point).
Instead the 600 passengers arrived at their destinations with a slight delay of just 12 hours following what French national railways SNCF admitted had been "a succession of exceptional incidents".
In other words a series "cock-ups" with the weather playing a handsomely helping hand.
From the start the outlook wasn't particularly propitious as the train was late in setting off, but quickly what was to become something of a leitmotif for the whole trip clicked into motion (or rather lack thereof) as after just 150 kilometres the train stopped in Belfort to change drivers as the one who had been been aboard the train as it left Strasbourg had been working for three consecutive days (poor thing) and security regulations stipulated that he had to be replaced.
Except his stand-in was in Lyon - 342 kilometres away - and he only arrived at six o'clock in the morning.
When the 4295 eventually continued its journey, it wasn't long before it stopped for a second time as a regional train had broken down ahead of it just a few kilometres along the line at Montbéliard.
Another two hours were added to the trip in Tournus in Burgundy where the train was forced to come to a halt because of a problem with its own engine.
"We've done 300 kilometres in 17 hours," Ralph Lydi, one of those on board, told journalists by 'phone (the whole journey was followed by reporters from the comfort of the studio and of course covered in real time on Twitter).
"Some food was handed out but the drinks machines are no longer working and we have the impression that SNCF is just making fun of us," he added, saying that there had been little or no information provided as to what was happening.
Of course all good things - and bad - must come to an end, and the train eventually chugged in to Lyon at five o'clock on Monday evening, where those bound for Nice switched trains while those going south-west remained aboard.
SNCF apologised for what has been called the "hell on wheels journey" (BBC hyperbole this time) and (hurrah) as Didier Cazelles, a director of the company told TF1 news, offered all passengers a full refund and a free return ticket, which is probably exactly what they want!
While SNCF has put the whole sorry tale down to a combination of technical problems and weather conditions, the unions have a rather different interpretation of what happened.
"What the passengers have gone through is symptomatic of the cutbacks that SNCF has been making both in terms of rolling stock and personnel," Julien Trocaz of the Sud-Rail union told RTL radio, seeming to imply that the weather had not played any sort of role.

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