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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

Arson forces Paris’s Gare de l’Est train station to shut for day

A passenger walks past a platform entrance with screens displaying a message during the shutdown at  Gare de l'Est
A passenger walks past a platform entrance at Gare de l'Est, which was brought to a standstill during the early rush hour. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The French rail operator SNCF has filed a legal complaint over vandalism and arson after a fire broke out at a signals point, forcing Paris’s busy Gare de l’Est station to cancel all trains on Tuesday.

The commuter station, which also serves long-distance trains to eastern France, Germany and Luxembourg, was brought to a standstill during early rush hour after an incident that was at first thought to be accidental.

The station initially hoped to resume services at 10am but SNCF announced a shutdown saying the signalling malfunction was caused by arson.

“According to early findings, we can say this was a fire set deliberately on the electrical cables,” a spokesperson told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

She said all trains had been cancelled for the day. High-speed services to Nancy and Rheims, as well as to Frankfurt in Germany, were among those affected.

The fire began under an area of track in Vaires-sur-Marne outside Paris, where about 50 cables were damaged. It was not yet clear if it was sabotage or an attempted theft of cables, but it was complex to fix, an SNCF spokesperson told the daily Le Parisien.

A police source told AFP that a box containing electric cables for signal points was opened in the early hours of the morning and a fire was lit inside.

The transport minister, Clément Beaune, said a “malicious act” had caused the signalling problems and he was sorry for the impact on passengers.

He told Franceinfo radio: “Unfortunately we do regularly see malicious acts on cables, on platforms, in order to take material with a bit of value.” He said there must be a firm legal response because these incidents “impact people’s everyday lives”.

About 41 million people used the Gare de l’Est in 2019, according to SNCF data.

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