Berlin: Millions of travellers have been hit by one of the largest railway strikes in Germany which crippled train services across the country.
More than 70 per cent of train services were cancelled yesterday, the first day of a two-day strike, making it biggest since 2008.
The strike has been called by the locomotive drivers' trade union GDL to press its demands for higher salary and improved working conditions.
The strike, which is the second within a week, forced the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB) to drastically reduce or to shut down its regional train services, long-distance trains, suburban railways, city shuttle services and freight train services in several regions.
Hundreds of travellers stranded at the main railway hubs in Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich have been offered the possibility to stay overnight in some of the sleeping cars of the railways, the DB said in a press statement.
The state-owned rail operator said it expected further disruption in its services today and this to continue until the strike ends tomorrow early morning.
The DB has worked out a special railway schedule for the duration of the strike and offered stranded passengers the possibility to get a refund of their tickets or to make fresh reservations without additional costs, the statement said.
The GDL held a nine-hour strike on Tuesday in support of its demands for a five per cent pay hike and a two hour reduction in locomotive drivers' weekly work period of 37 hours.
Last Friday, the DB management made a new offer to the trade union, which included a five per cent pay hike in three stages over a period of of 30 months and a one-time payment of 325 euros.
But the GDL rejected the offer and decided to go ahead with the strike on the grounds that the DB management did not agree to its demand for a mandate to negotiate on behalf of train conductors, catering staff and other railway personnel.
GDL chairman Claus Weselsky said yesterday night in a TV interview that his trade union will refrain from further strike at least for a week to give the DB management time to "take necessary preparations."