Some 48 percent of train drivers are taking part in the strike, which has been dubbed "Black Tuesday" by the French press.
For a total of 36 days of strike that was set to last until the end of June, the rail workers were expected to alternate between two days of strike action and three at work. The strikes of 1995 paralyzed France and forced prime minister Alain Juppe to pull the reforms - a defeat which ultimately prompted Juppe to quit.
Macron has already faced down the unions over easing labour laws.
On 22 March, tens of thousands of teachers, nurses and other workers joined rail staff on strike - a sign of widespread opposition to Mr Macron's plans for state sector liberalisation.
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"I want to be very clear ... the strike action will no doubt be widely adhered to and his going to make the lives of a lot of people very hard", he said in a radio interview. According to an Ifop poll published by the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, only a minority of the public supports the strikes, but the number has been increasing.
A senior SNCF manager, Alain Krakovitch, told Le Parisien that only 12% of high-speed TGV trains would operate on Tuesday, and the low-priced Ouigo service would be at a standstill.
Thalys trains between France, Belgium and the Netherlands should be running normally. One in every three trains to Germany was to operate, while the Eurostar service connecting London, Paris and Brussels was down to three out of every four trains, the SNCF said.
SNCF workers fear they could lose job-for-life guarantees, automatic annual pay rises and a generous early retirement policy.
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The unions say the debt was caused by excessive investment in TGV trains at the expense of everyday connections and accuse Macron of paving the way for privatisation.
Start on Tuesday, the unions will certainly strike 2 in each 5 days for the complying with 3 months to transform their rage at Macron's brand-new reforms.
What remains unclear is whether Macron might offer further concessions to get the unions to back down before the strikes bite.
SCNF said the strike would affect 85 per cent of France's high-speed trains and 75 per cent of regional trains.
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"We have been asking for the same thing for several weeks - that the government completely reconsiders its plan", Philippe Martinez, head of one of France's biggest unions, the CGT, told France Inter radio.Staffs at Air France, garbage collectors and some energy workers are also staging separate walkouts on April 3 in a growing atmosphere of social strife 11 months after 40-year-old Macron came to power.