Eurostar trains to and from Paris were almost empty on Thursday December 5. Travellers had clearly decided to avoid any complications ensuing from the major strike starting in France today.
All public transport systems in France were affected by the ‘unlimited’ strike starting on December 5. Many trains were cancelled, others were running at drastically reduced levels. Commuters found other ways to get to work or stayed at home.
Roads and pavements approaching Gare du Nord were noticeably emptier at 8.30am than the usual morning rush hour. There had been reports of traffic jams at 6.30am, as people tried to avoid the traditional rush hour by leaving earlier.
On the famous Paris boulevards, there were no buses, few taxis, possibly more bicycles than cars and no children crowding the pavements on their way to school, as many schools closed for the strike.
Apart from the eerie absence of people, life went on, with many cafés and bakeries already open.
In front of Gare du Nord, where there is normally a static queue of people trying to get a taxi, instead there was a queue of taxis with green lights on their roofs, all trying to find clients.
Inside the station, there were more security personnel than travellers. Many of the rail tracks were empty.
Eurostar had announced that every second train had been cancelled until at least Tuesday. Sixteen trains were cancelled on Thursday, 21 trains were cancelled for this Friday.
There were no queues at check-in desks for Eurostar’s 10.13am train to London. Indeed, there were barely any passengers.
“I travel this route regularly and, normally, you would be queueing all the way down the stairs before the train,” said one English passenger. “It is really strange that there is no one here. Where is everyone?”
Eurostar staff confirmed that very few passengers were booked on their remaining trains. Out of a capacity of 850 passengers, only 197 were booked on to the 10.13am train and it was the same on all of the trains for the rest of the day. The peak was the 3pm train with roughly 300 passengers booked.
“People just expected them to be too full, for it to be too much hassle,” explained Eurostar worker Luis. “They didn’t think they would be able to get here or they would be stuck here, so they just didn’t book.”
But travel to and from Paris was not difficult for everyone. A Spanish passenger had landed in Charles de Gaulle airport from New York at 7am that morning, had taken an RER train into the city without any problems and was now boarding her Eurostar to London.
“I was worried this would be a nightmare, that trains would be overcrowded or that my Eurostar train would be cancelled at the last minute," she said. "But this has been the easiest travel I have ever had!”