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SNCF strike: rail switchers, these invisible people essential to train circulation

2024-02-22T19:11:57.273Z

Highlights: SNCF strike: rail switchers, these invisible people essential to train circulation. At the call of SUD-Rail, the second union in the profession, these key rail traffic agents are preparing to strike on Friday February 23 and Saturday February 24. If the consequences should be minimal for travelers - the management of SNCF Réseau assures Le Figaro that the traffic will be "normal traffic, with some localized disruptions" The movement highlights these shadow professions, very often unknown to the general public.


Their mobilization starting this Friday should not cause too much disruption for travelers, but it lifts the veil on the importance of these agents in the operation of railway machinery.


“Guarantor of the smooth running of trains throughout France”

.

This is how the SNCF portrays the profession of switchman.

A sober summary, but oh so eloquent.

Without them, not a car moves.

And the switchers understood that well.

At the call of SUD-Rail, the second union in the profession, these key rail traffic agents are preparing to strike on Friday February 23 and Saturday February 24 to demand additional hiring and increased bonuses.

If the consequences should be minimal for travelers - the management of SNCF Réseau assures Le

Figaro

that the traffic will be

"normal traffic, with some localized disruptions"

, the movement highlights these shadow professions, very often unknown to the general public .

“When a user gets on a train, he does not think of us who are on duty and ensure his safety,”

observes Vincent Pinot, 27 years in the profession

, “we are invisible, but essential

. ”

Much less known than their colleagues in the sky, rail switchers nevertheless have a relatively similar role: that of guide.

Their mission consists of

“pointing”

the trains, that is to say, giving them a direction thanks to the

“pointers”

(also called

“pointers”

in common parlance), these removable parts of the rails which allow a train to move. to change of way.

They are also responsible for the various traffic lights.

Attached to the railway infrastructure manager SNCF Réseau, they carry out security operations.

“When operating signals and switches, you ensure not only the regularity of trains but also the safety of rolling stock, passengers and employees who work on the tracks

,” presents the job description.

“But behind the generic term of switchman there are in reality other professions: rail switcher, traffic agent, traffic technician and regulator.

All work for the same goal, but with different degrees of qualifications, responsibilities and scales

,” specifies Vincent Pinot, for his part traffic agent in Amiens and federal secretary SUD-Rail.

Also readTaxes, ticket prices, hindrance to mobility: “With the strike, the SNCF user pays three times”

Day and night work

Far from the folkloric image of westerns and switch posts with mechanical lever arms along the railway tracks, the modern switchman no longer gets his hands dirty (except when they have to grease the needles) but works from a signal station from where he remotely operates the points.

There are nearly 9,000 of them spread across approximately 1,400 signal stations, covering the entire French rail network.

In the most recent stations, agents only have to type computer keys to activate this or that needle, while there are still levers to be activated mechanically in the oldest ones.

And despite the gradual grouping of small signal stations into large centralized network control centers (CCR), there is no risk that artificial intelligence will steal the show from them, assures Vincent Pinot, because if “

pre-recording of journeys are provided by IT today, there is always a need for a human who can take over at the slightest delay, incident or technical problem on the tracks

.

As traffic never stops - freight trains and roadworks follow daytime passenger trains at night, SNCF Réseau constantly needs switchers on duty to monitor traffic in real time.

This is why the switchers are required to work at night, their working hours following 3x8s.

“Treasing working hours”

, judge Vincent Pinot.

For its part, the SNCF instead tries to reassure its future recruits:

“Working staggered hours allows you to better manage your rhythms of life”

.

Without succeeding in convincing the unionist.

“Night work kills more quickly, the body wears out more quickly.

Over an entire career, the loss of lifespan is of the order of 5 to 8 years

,” he says bitterly.

Also read “SNCF, the strike of shame”: Agnès Verdier-Molinié’s rant

“Without us, nothing works”

If the profession of switchman is accessible from the baccalaureate, candidates must pass a battery of medical and psychotechnical tests before joining the SNCF internal training school.

“Many fail the entry tests

,” remembers Vincent L., a traffic officer at La Défense,

“it’s above all a security profession so the requirements are high because the risks are high

. ”

On the remuneration side,

“the all-inclusive starting salary (weekend and night bonuses in particular) amounts to 28,200 euros gross per year”

, says SNCF Réseau,

“and an operational executive at the end of his career managing a team of switchers touches 56,700 gross per year

.

Note that since January 2023, the network manager has put in place, under pressure from the unions, a bonus known as specific traffic compensation of 60 euros per month.

Bonus that SUD-Rail would like to increase to 300 euros per month.

For his part, Vincent L., with his twelve years of experience and part-time working established at 80%, declared 24,153 euros in income for the year 2022.

Due to their roles, switchmen are essential to the movement of trains and therefore have Herculean blocking power.

“Without us, nothing works

,” laughs Vincent L. Before continuing:

“my colleagues in other branches of the SNCF often tell me that if the switchers went on strike as much as the others, the demands would be obtained infinitely more. quickly"

.

However, rail switchers don't really have a striker streak.

At least nationally.

Local demands and blockages are relatively common but disruptions on a French scale are negligible.

The fault of the compartmentalization specific to the profession.

“I very rarely meet colleagues other than those at my signal station.

There is not a lot of mixing like in other railway professions"

, notes Vincent L. An observation shared by Vincent Pinot

"with the distance of the switching stations, it is difficult to meet each railway worker and to merge the demands”

.

This is why this weekend, the disruptions will be differentiated depending on the region.

“Depending on the switching stations, the rate of strikers is 20% to 80%

,” says the SUD-rail spokesperson.

Anticipated walkouts by SNCF Réseau which plans to replace the strikers with supervisors in order to limit disruptions, at least during the day.

“Travelers should be impacted very little,” recognizes Vincent Pinot, “but management will never be able to fill in the gaps overnight.

Road work will therefore be suspended during this time, because no worker can work without the watchful eye of a switchman to ensure their safety.

Management will thus lose several thousand euros if they refuse dialogue

,” he smirks.

Source: lefigaro

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