For some, French ski vacation goes downhill

It usually is a pleasant five-hour trip. This past weekend, because of the French train strike, it turned into a 12-hour ordeal. At this Alpine resort, where part of the 1992 Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held, the ticket salesman advised taking a bus to the valley town of Moutiers, another bus to Chambery, and then trying to make an express TGV train back to Paris.

Sound complicated? It was.

The quaint one-room train station at Moutiers was beseiged with hundreds of angry and anxious vacationers. All of a sudden a bus arrived. ``I'm going to Chambery,'' the driver announced.

A mad rush ensued. Skis and baggage went flying. Once the bus driver sorted out the mess and pulled out of the parking lot, he became snarled in a huge traffic jam. Thousands of other skiers who usually take the trains had driven to the resort and were clogging the two lane road. It took three hours to go 62 miles.

At Chambery, riot police had cordoned off the train station to keep strikers away.

The TGV (the high-speed ``train `a grande vitesse'') to Paris, scheduled to leave in two hours, never arrived. Instead, a regular train came to take the skiers to Lyon.

As the train pulled into the Chambery station, another mad rush ensued. The police turned their attention from the strikers to the passengers.

Once order was restored, the train pulled out of the station wthout any problems. It began picking up speed. A few minutes later it screeched to a halt.

``Don't ride with the scabs,'' the strikers shouted. They blocked the route with their bodies. ``Let us go home in peace,'' passengers shouted back.

Apart from the verbal taunting, the situation remained calm - and blocked. The strikers stayed on the tracks. The passengers stayed in the train.

About an hour and a half later, two squadrons of police arrived. Without using any violence, they convinced the strikers to withdraw.

At Lyon, a special TGV was waiting. It whizzed back to Paris uneventfully. Disaster had been avoided. No one was injured.

Given the rawness of the emotions surrounding the weekend's return from vacations, though, tolerance like that cannot be counted on to last much longer.

[Wire services said Monday that the state-run railway authority reported an increasing drift back to work, with half of the 600 scheduled mainline trains expected to run.]


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