In this file photo taken on April 8, 2018 a high speed TGV train stands at a platform at the Gare Montparnasse train station in Paris as French rail workers launched their latest two-day strike today over plans to overhaul the heavily indebted train operator SNCF, the biggest test yet to French President's drive to reform the country's economy. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Some 200,000 holidaymakers in France were scrambling Wednesday for alternatives to their cancelled trains as a rail strike caused mayhem in the run-up to Christmas.

National rail operator SNCF cut one third of scheduled trains for the Christmas weekend at a time when millions of French people traditionally travel for family gatherings.

The worst affected services were high-speed TGV lines, the mainstay of long-distance rail travel in France, SNCF said.

According to the SNCF website, half or more of scheduled trains were cancelled for the weekend on key itineraries such as Paris to Rennes, western France, or Paris to Bordeaux, in the southwest.

The rail operator promised re-bookings free of charge, including for more expensive seats, but most TGVs were already fully booked on Wednesday.

It also offered to pay out twice the original ticket price to people unable to rebook, but travellers queueing at railway stations said that was not much of a consolation for a ruined holiday.

“I understand their demands but do they have to go on strike during the festivities?” said Isabelle Barrier, holder of a ticket from Paris to Toulouse, in France’s southwest, standing in line for a refund after her train got cancelled.

“It’s hard on children and families,” she said, adding that she would now travel a day early by coach, a trip of eight hours. “It’s quite annoying,” she said.

SNCF’s travel division boss Christophe Fanichet earlier Wednesday called the strike action by travel inspectors - launched without union backing - “scandalous” and “unacceptable”.

“You don’t strike at Christmas,” agreed government spokesman Olivier Veran.

Demand for air tickets has surged four-fold since the strike was announced, according to travel site Liligo.

Carshare platforms and car rental companies also reported a sharp increase in bookings.

Mathilde, a 38-year old Parisian whose train to Bordeaux was cancelled, said she was tempted to get on another train even without a ticket.

“I might try to force my way onto a train, although I’m not sure that will work,” she said, adding: “I don’t expect the SNCF to be very understanding.”