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French commuters hit by train strike, taxi protest

French commuters on Wednesday faced travel chaos with a major train strike against proposed reforms to contain the rail sector's soaring debt and a protest by Parisian taxi drivers over rival car services.

PARIS: French commuters on Wednesday were hit by a major train strike against proposed reforms to contain the rail sector's soaring debt and also a taxi drivers' protest over rival car services.

The 24-hour rail strike began on Tuesday evening, but its main impact was felt on Wednesday with train links to other countries also hit.

Trade unions behind the protest extended the strike by another day after a meeting.

It is now due to end on Thursday evening, unless union representatives and transport minister Frederic Cuvillier reach an agreement after talks late on Wednesday.

The state rail operator SNCF said only one high-speed TGV train out of two or three was running and regional trains were also affected. But it added that traffic would be slightly better on Thursday despite the strike.

In the busy Paris region, services were down to a third on average. The affected trains included ones running from the suburbs through Paris to the city's Charles de Gaulle airport.

Eurostar trains to and from London ran normally, while three out of four Brussels- and Amsterdam-bound Thalys trains were operational.

Trains to Germany were unaffected, but only one of two trains to Spain ran.

A company official at Paris's Austerlitz station said only 10 trains featured on the arrivals and departures list at 9:00am (0700 GMT) against around 45 on normal days.

The action takes place just one week before France's lower house of parliament examines proposed reforms aiming to tackle the rail sector's soaring debt.

Cuvillier said Tuesday the sector's debt stood at more than 40 billion euros ($54 billion), and would likely soar to 80 billion euros by 2025 if nothing was done to stem it.

The unions which called the strike, however, feel that the measures included in the reform will not help rein in the debt.

The problems for commuters were exacerbated by a protest by taxi drivers in several European capitals, including Paris and other French cities, against what they see as unfair and illegal competition from app-using car services such as Uber which have shaken up the taxi industry.

Hundreds of taxis blocked the entrances and the exits of two main Paris airports -- Charles de Gaulle and Orly -- before snaking their way towards the city, blocking arterial highways and causing traffic jams.

Taxis also caused traffic jams in the southern city of Marseille, and drivers protested in Nantes in the west, Rennes in the northwest and Rouen in the north.

California-based chauffeur car company Uber is the main target of the drivers' ire, but it is only one of many new smartphone-dependent car services seen as bypassing strict regulations faced by licensed drivers.

In France, there are now an estimated 10,000 vehicles and motorcycle taxis run by such non-traditional firms.

Drivers are only allowed to pick up passengers through prior reservation, not by hailing them in the street. Most notably, these operators do not have to shell out some 240,000 euros ($325,000) for a licence required by official taxi owners.

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