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Paris: Gare de l’Est trains to remain severely disrupted after ‘act of sabotage’

Trains in and out of one of Paris' biggest stations will remain severely disrupted on Wednesday after an act of sabotage halted all services.

Paris: Gare de l'Est trains to remain severely disrupted after 'act of sabotage'
The station's name and the logo of French national rail operator SNCF are seen at the entrance to the Gare de l'Est train and metro station in Paris (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Traffic from Gare de l’Est, which serves routes to Germany and eastern France, and is a key local train commuter hub for the capital’s eastern outskirts, was cut for the entire day on Tuesday, except for a handful of local services, operator SNCF said.

Although services will restart on Wednesday, SNCF says only around one third of normal services will run – anyone who has a train booked is advised to check the SNCF website or SNCF Connect app for updates. 

A fire broke out at a signals point in the small hours ahead of the Tuesday morning rush hour, in what was first thought to be an accident but which subsequently turned out to be arson.

“This was a fire started deliberately,” a spokeswoman for SNCF told AFP.

There was no immediate indication as to who the perpetrators were or what their intention was in targeting a small but crucial piece of infrastructure.

Transport minister Clément Beaune said 48 bundled cables had been destroyed, housing 600 individual electrical cables.

“It’s an act of deliberate vandalism,” Anne-Marie Palmier, head of SNCF’s Paris region network, told reporters at the station.

The operator filed a criminal complaint with police.

Prosecutors in the eastern town of Meaux said they had launched a criminal investigation against persons unknown for deliberately causing damage and endangering the lives of others.

The fire was discovered near the regional station of Vaires, east of Paris, where 48 cables were damaged after their protective casing was forced open, she said.

A railway worker discovered the fire and called police at 4.30 am.   

The cables’ function was to transmit data to signalling posts. “Safety conditions can no longer be guaranteed,” Vaires said.

Dozens of network specialists were on site to repair the damage, Beaune said.

Among the fast TGV trains cancelled were the services to the eastern French cities of Colmar, Nancy and Reims; to Frankfurt and Stuttgart in Germany; and to Luxembourg.

Some TGV departures, however, were diverted to the nearby Gare de Nord station, SNCF said.

Passengers unable to travel were invited to re-book their journeys or have their tickets reimbursed.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it home today and I have to work tomorrow,” said Sylvie Rousseau, 58, who lives in Nancy. “It’s going to be a bit stressful.”

Gautier Milewski, a 27-year-old bookseller, said he could see the bright side of the situation.

“It’s important not to let this spoil your day. It’s an adventure and I like adventures,” he told AFP.

Beaune told reporters that what he called “a scandalous act of vandalism” should be punished “severely”.

The minister said investigators had found traces of petrol “at two key points” at the site of the fire.

The incident was “quite extraordinary, very serious”, he said.

Gare de l’Est is the fifth-busiest station of the French capital’s seven railway hubs, after Gare Saint-Lazare, Gare du Nord, Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse.

Nearly 28 million people used Gare de l’Est last year, according to SNCF data.

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PARIS

‘Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets’ – French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Police in the capital are planning a massive operation to clean up Paris' chaotic and grotty Gare du Nord station - described by the local police commander as "full of drunks, crack dealers and pickpockets".

'Drunks, drug-dealers and pickpockets' - French police crackdown at Paris Gare du Nord

Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.

And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.

But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.

Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.

A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.

Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).

The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.

However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”

The station – through which 700,000 people pass every day – has long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.

However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics. 

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