Paris — Hundreds of thousands of commuters and regional travelers in France faced cancellations or delays Tuesday after hundreds of electrical cables on the Paris rail network were deliberately set on fire, according to the French rail authority.
The Gare de l’Est station in Paris was hardest hit and was all but shut down for the day. That station serves the French capital’s eastern suburbs and links Paris to towns and cities in eastern France and neighboring countries, with a daily footfall in the hundreds of thousands.
SNCF, France’s state-owned national rail company, said a fire was discovered by an employee in the early hours of Tuesday morning and he raised the alarm.
At first the company thought it was an accidental fire and that the shutdown would last only a few hours, but then it became clear that the clusters of cables that power the signals for the entire Paris rail network had been deliberately targeted.
A police investigation was underway into the sabotage. Investigators have said the vandals broke through protective casings and set fire to clusters of cables, damaging some 600 cables in all.
By Tuesday afternoon, SNCF was warning that the damage and disruption caused by the fires was so significant that normal services still might not be restored on Wednesday.
In the Gare de l’Est, passengers milled about, unsure of how to organize their onward travel. Departure boards showed high-speed TGV trains to the eastern cities of Strasbourg and Reims, and destinations in Germany and Luxembourg all cancelled.
Regional trains from the station were also cancelled, and the commuter line to Paris’s eastern suburbs was at a standstill.
French Transport Minister Clément Beaune told reporters it was “a scandalous act of vandalism” that should be punished “severely.”
He said investigators had found traces of gasoline “at two key points” at the site of the fire.
The incident was “quite extraordinary, very serious,” Beaune said.
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