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Talks drag on as French rail unions and government lock horns on services' future

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Talks drag on as French rail unions and government lock horns on services' future

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Signs of a possible compromise have come out of talks between French rail unions and the government as strikes continue, with the prime minister telling leaders he expects the debt-ridden SNCF rail company to reach financial breakeven by 2022. and promising to make announcements on the issue before the end of May.

"For us, there is no debate, the strike will carry on. Today, the positive aspect of this meeting is that we are meeting with the person who makes decisions, so we are maybe finally going to get answers to the questions we've not stopped asking over the past month and a half or two months," said the CGT union's rail worker division head, Laurent Brun.

France's rail network struggles with debt and consumer demands to maintain sometimes loss-making services on its vast network.

"We have no precise amount regarding the taking over of the debt. We have a schedule that will stretch from January 1, 2020 to 2022, with a gradual and substantial take over, which would enable the financial breakeven of the SNCF by 2020," said the UNSA union railway workers Secretary-General Roger Dillenseger.

Railway deregulation, say government critics, is a front for a planned privatisation of French railways, which they say has failed in Great Britain and Germany and led to higher prices and lower safety standards.

They also criticise how the Macron government has presented its case and insist that failing to maintain the railways' public service ethos will lead to cuts in services, more rural isolation, and job losses. They are arguments that have found an echo on the streets.