November 8, 2008 / 4:49 PM / 11 years ago

Rail chaos in France after sabotage on lines

PARIS (Reuters) - Thousands of French rail passengers faced delays or cancellations on Saturday after four acts of sabotage on high-speed rail lines disrupted traffic, authorities said.

Vandals using hooks fashioned out of iron rods snagged overhead electric cables in four separate locations on three high-speed lines, the Interior Ministry said. It was not clear if their actions were coordinated.

Two incidents took place on the high-speed rail line between Paris and the northern city of Lille, forcing Eurostar trains to Britain and Thalys trains to Belgium and the Netherlands to be diverted to a regular line and causing delays.

Several French high-speed TGV trains were also delayed by several hours. State rail company SNCF said traffic was getting back to normal by late afternoon.

The Interior Ministry said two other high-speed lines, one linking Paris to the east and one from Paris to the southeast, were targeted by vandals. Details of traffic disruption were not available.

French high-speed TGV trains are usually very punctual, but they have suffered a series of incidents in recent months. Some appeared linked to infrastructure problems, but Saturday’s problems were the second serious case of vandalism this month.

On November 1, thousands of passengers in western France suffered long delays or cancellations when overhead power lines failed, apparently shot out by a vandal with a gun.

SNCF said on Saturday it would take legal action against those responsible for sabotaging the electric cables. Justice Minister Rachida Dati said she had ordered prosecutors to launch criminal investigations into the incidents.

Secretary of State for Transport Dominique Bussereau said he had asked police to boost security at rail installations.

In a separate problem, Eurostar trains linking London to continental European cities have been disrupted for the past two months since a fire on a freight train in the Channel Tunnel shut down one of the two undersea rail lines.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon, editing by Angus MacSwan

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