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Americans set to ban French railway firm from bidding on £4 bill


France's state-owned railway is set to be banned from bidding for a £4 billion contract in the USA because of its role in the World War II Holocaust, it emerged today.

SNCF runs some of the fastest and most efficient lines in the world but has a dark history which saw it transport thousands of Jews to their deaths in German concentration camps.

Now senators in the US state of Maryland have proposed a bill which would make it illegal for the French to apply for prestige projects.

Keolis, a rail company which is majority-owned by SNCF, wants to bid for a £4 billion plus contract to build a 12 miles light railway in America over 35 years.

The proposed service would run between Montgomery and Prince George counties, but more than 50,000 locals have signed a petition opposing the involvement of SNCF.

Senator Joan Carter Conway told Le Monde: ‘The persistent refusal of SNCF to take responsibility for its role in the Holocaust remains an insult to its victims.’

She and other senators want SNCF to pay compensation to Holocaust survivors before they are allowed to do business in the states.

Alain Leray, head of SNCF in America, in turn said his company would analyse the proposed bill for ‘possible discrimination’. 

Mr Leray insists that his company has as much right as any other to operate as a successful business in the USA.

Four years ago, SNCF issued a public apology in Florida over its wartime conduct after bidding for a rail contract to connect the cities of Orlando and Tampa.

And last August Senator Chuck Schumer introducing a measure that opened SNCF up to compensation suits in US courts.

SNCF has continually argued that it is immune to legal action over the Holocaust thanks to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Mr Schumer said: ‘Survivors and family members of those who perished have long attempted to hold SNCF accountable for its active role during the Holocaust, but so far the company has succeeded in cloaking itself in foreign sovereign immunity, evading jurisdiction in United States courts.’

Mr Schumer added: ‘The Holocaust Rail Justice Act would finally enable survivors and family members to hold this French rail company accountable in a court of law for sending thousands to their death during World War II, and allow survivors and family members an opportunity for justice.’

More than 70,000 French Jews were transported to Nazi death camps during the wartime Occupation, together with other groups considered enemies of the Third Reich.

Many were rounded up by French policemen and then placed on to SNCF trains at stations such as the Paris suburb of Drancy.

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