Rail traffic in Germany faced major disruptions early yesterday as passenger train drivers joined freight services in a strike that rail operator Deutsche Bahn called the biggest in its history.
On main line tracks, about two-thirds of trains were running, most of them high-speed trains. In the west of the country, half of the regional trains were operating, and in the east about 10 percent, Deutsche Bahn said.
Commuters in the cities of Frankfurt and Stuttgart faced traffic chaos as only a third of the suburban trains were running. In Berlin, there were 20-minute to 40- minute delays on commuter trains.
German train drivers on freight services on Wednesday began the strike, scheduled to last 62 hours, and passenger train services joined the stoppage at 1:00GMT yesterday.
Services are not expected to resume until 1:00 GMT tomorrow.
The government said it feared the strike could have a dramatic impact on Europe's biggest economy and made an urgent appeal to the train drivers' GDL union and Deutsche Bahn to return to the negotiating table.
Germany's main industry lobby group, the Federation of German Industry, urged GDL to end the strike and return to negotiations. It argued that many companies have no alternative to rail transport.
"GDL is provoking major economic damage," the group's head, Juergen Thumann, said in a statement. "A strike of this length by a small professional group is irresponsible."
Deutsche Bahn board member Norbert Bensel said the strike, "the biggest in our history," was costing the operator 50 million euros (US$73.4 million) a day.
The strike over the union's demands for a 31 percent pay rise represented a new peak in a dispute that has lasted three months.
GDL said it believed its campaign of strikes was starting to wear down Deutsche Bahn.
But Bensel said Deutsche Bahn was standing firm in its refusal to grant the drivers either a pay rise above the 10 percent it has offered or a separate contract from other rail workers.