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The Train Strike and How I Dealt With It.

Most reading the France section know about the train strike and if you are going to France soon you are certainly concerned. But Take Heart!

Here is what happened to me:

I had booked and paid for tickets on the TGV from Paris to Torino more than a month before my trip. Then found out later my train was on an announced strike day. Deciding there was nothing to do about it, and locked in to my stay in Florence in an AirBnb I decided to wait to see what happened.

I got an email two days before my train from SNCF telling me my train was cancelled and I could rebook or refund my ticket and to call a given number. I decided to wait until I was back in Paris.

When I got to Paris I went to the ticket office at Gare D’ Lyon and talked to a customer service person who told me to just show up the next day and talk to the manager at the gate. Not trusting this advice I went back two hours later got back in line and started over. I was told again that my train had been cancelled and that the only train going to Torino was in the afternoon at 14:41, and that there was probably no space on that train, that ai should just rebook another day.

Instead I asked to take a number and sat down to wait. In only about 15 minutes...there were 17 people ahead of me when I sat down... my number was called. As it turned out I got two 2nd class tickets and one for Jake my pooch for the afternoon train I was repeatedly told was impossible. Now my original tickets had been First Class. But I was happy to get on.

At the platform I approached the SNCF man at the gate and asked if there might be room in First Class after all...more room for the dog... Well everyone was very helpful and quite nice and i did get two seats together in First Class.

The moral of this story...long as it is...is to IGNORE what you are being told and go directly to the Ticket office. Politely but firmly insist on getting a number and go through the process. There will be SNCF people at the door to the ticket office to answer questions and turn a lot of people away but if you persevere I think you stand a good chance of getting your ticket and getting on a train.

Now I understand that the situation may be different for internal France trains but I think the same strategy may pay off.

Good Luck!

Posted by
2065 posts

Thank you for the excellent advice, Arthur (I guess that's your name).

For those of us who are jet lagged and perhaps confused using a ticket machine, is the ticket office the way to go? I'm guessing they are not at every metro stop.

Posted by
6911 posts

Don't confuse the train system with the metro system. Metros are not on strike and they don't deal with long haul trains. Go to an SNCF office or an office at a train station. And the OP is giving great advice here; when in a bind like this see a real person who has the power to fix the problem or at least give you a straight answer.

Metros have service windows; these folks may nor may not speak English, usually not much. They can deal with problems you have with ticket machines and in a pinch load a Navigo Decouverte with a credit card. They do not sell tickets or handle money for the most part. A metro person if s/he speaks English might be able to help you with RER commuter trains that are on strike; even on strike though, they are running,just not as often.

The metro machines have an English option and are pretty easy to use so try that first for local travel.

Posted by
7205 posts

Just show up on strike day with your ticket and get on any train going to your destination with room for you. Strikes are strikes and nothing operates in a normal fashion. Same thing in Italy. I can't count the number of times I've showed up to board my train and my particular carriage number isn't even on the train. I've learned to just get on, take an empty seat and show my ticket when asked. Never a problem.

Posted by
2198 posts

aarthur,
I was in Paris in the last two weeks. We had tickets on the Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam on 4/23, a strike day. On the Sat. before that day, we walked to the local SNCF store, took a number, waited and received good news that our train was going to run as scheduled. It gave us a different feeling for Paris, more like a local. Interesting! Mission accomplished! I agree with you, go to he source and get the information you need.

Posted by
546 posts

Tim, while your way MAY work it would not have at Gare D’ Lyon where the ticket for your cancelled train would NOT work in the ticket validation machine that must be cleared to access the train platform. I know this because my friend Mary tried with the wrong ticket. The gate would not open. This would leave you discussing the matter with officials as your train departed.

Now I agree with you they may let you through but it was my experience here that there was a concerted effort being made to divert as may people as possible to non strike days.

I any case it is my belief that if you have a valid ticket in your hands for a train that is actually leaving you have far less to worry about.

Posted by
5697 posts

Not sure I agree that there was a "concerted effort" to move people to non-strike days -- seemed more like many tourists panicked when they found they had tickets on a strike day and rushed to change dates to avoid any chance of stoppage. SNCF sent me an email when my specific train was indeed cancelled, I went to the nearby SNCF Boutique and got tickets for an alternative train on the same day (with seat reservations) and all went on as re-scheduled. We have reservations on another strike date in about a week -- will keep an eye on SNCF and see what needs to be done. But I DO agree that it's much easier to have tickets in hand for a train that's running than to have to negotiate at the platform.

Posted by
546 posts

Just to clarify something that maybe wasn’t clear in my OP, when I referred to the SNCF exerting a concerted effort to divert people to non strike days I was referring to what was happening at the doorway to the ticket office at Gare D’ Lyon. They were positioned at the doorways to take questions and turning many away from getting a number to deal with an agent.

Listening to many of the conversations taking place in English it was apparent that many were getting the same answer I got the first time around. And most people just accepted that answer and walked off.

My experience the day my train left showed me that the answer they were giving just was not workable and made me glad I didnt just accept it.

Posted by
16885 posts

[I] talked to a customer service person who told me to just show up the next day and talk to the manager at the gate.

On a strike day, your existing ticket would be valid on the alternate train (which could be earlier or later), but with no guarantee of an actual seat.

Not trusting this advice I went back two hours later got back in line and started over. I was told again that my train had been cancelled and that the only train going to Torino was in the afternoon at 14:41, and that there was probably no space on that train, that I should just rebook another day.

*Probably" means that they had not yet looked up seat availability and were making an educated guess about a route with limited service. Once they looked for seat availability, they luckily found some. By going through this extra step, you actually secured a seat assignment (for a 5.5-hour ride). For a shorter train ride, or a route with more departures operating, or for travelers willing to accept the risk of standing up on the train, some people would not bother with this step.

The gate [at Gare de Lyon] would not open [without a timed ticket]. This would leave you discussing the matter with officials as your train departed.

A strike day is definitely the wrong time to be running for a train at the last minute. Plan for possible crowds, delays, or needing assistance. These automated ticket gates are a relatively new thing, but are now an extra step for reaching your long-distance trains in some major city stations in France.

Posted by
1377 posts

Laura-When did the ticketed gates get installed? I was there a year ago and no gates, must be relatively new?