Germany facing travel chaos as train drivers strike

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BERLIN, Oct 12 (Reuters) German train drivers begin a full-day strike early today which is likely to cause serious disruption to transport and affect millions of passengers.

The GDL union, representing some 34,000 drivers, will begin walkouts on regional services at 2 am (midnight GMT), escalating a heated wage dispute with national rail operator Deutsche Bahn that has dragged on for months.

Deutsche Bahn board member Karl-Friedrich Rausch said the union's move was ''incredible'' and that the GDL was solely to blame for ''the foreseeable chaos'' in short haul travel.

Deutsche Bahn would have no chance to come up with alternative scheduling plans, Rausch said.

The GDL said yesterday it was resorting to strikes because Deutsche Bahn had not improved its pay offer.

The union says its train drivers are underpaid compared with counterparts elsewhere in Europe.

It has rejected agreements reached between Deutsche Bahn and two other larger rail unions for pay increases of 4.5 per cent and wants a separate deal with raises of up to 31 per cent.

''We would withdraw the 31 per cent demand if Deutsche Bahn would discuss a separate agreement,'' GDL said yesterday.

Rail strikes are relatively rare in Germany but passengers faced some disruption due to industrial action over the summer and GDL drivers held a three-hour strike last Friday.

A survey for Stern magazine showed on Wednesday that 55 per cent of Germans sympathise with the strikers.

GDL boss Manfred Schell met Deutsche Bahn chief executive Hartmut Mehdorn in Berlin last evening to try to resolve the conflict, but no deal was forthcoming.

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman said after the meeting the rail operator would submit a new pay offer by Monday.

Deutsche Bahn, which the government wants to partially privatise by 2009, is Europe's largest rail and transport firm.

It serves over 5 million passengers daily on some 28,000 trains.

Deutsche Bahn hired replacement drivers and managed to keep some trains running after last Friday's GDL strike.

Reuters DKS VP0450

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