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article imageFrench train chaos for vacationers as key station still crippled

By Hélène MASQUELIER (AFP)     Jul 30, 2018 in Travel

Thousands of people hoping to hit beaches along France's Atlantic coast were still facing train cancellations and delays Monday as workers struggled to restore electricity to Paris's Gare Montparnasse after a fire on Friday.

Only half of the scheduled trains in and out of the station, a main departure point for holiday destinations, were expected to run on Monday, a spokesman for the state rail operator SNCF said.

Hundreds of trains were cancelled over the weekend, one of the busiest of the summer, stranding thousands in sweltering stations across western and southwestern France.

Electricity supplies won't be back at full capacity until Tuesday afternoon "at the latest", grid operator RTE said -- after drawing the government's ire over the weekend when it warned power might not be fully restored until Thursday.

The outage began shortly before noon on Friday when traffic at Montparnasse was completely shut down by a fire at a high-voltage substation outside Paris.

Some trains were up and running by Friday afternoon, but dozens were cancelled while others had to be re-routed throughout the weekend, often with hours of delays.

The cause of the blaze remains unknown, though RTE ruled out arson.

The SNCF is urging people to postpone trips if possible, while offering to reimburse travellers who opt instead for the company's carpooling service Idvroom.

Montparnasse has suffered a series of service cuts in recent years, in part the result of insufficient network investments in recent decades.

The latest power outage comes nearly a year to the day after an electrical problem at an SNCF signalling station paralysed traffic for three days just as thousands were hoping to start their holidays.

Last December, the station was totally shut down for a day after a computer glitch during an IT update to signalling systems.

The government has promised 3.6 billion euros ($4.2 billion) of infrastructure spending over the next 10 years as part of an SNCF reform plan pushed through this year -- which prompted weeks of strikes by rail workers.

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