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Belgian rail strike disrupts passenger service

Belgian rail workers have walked off the job in a 24-hour strike, affecting domestic and international train services. The full impact of the walkout was expected to be felt during the morning and evening rush hours.

The company that operates Germany's passenger rail service, Deutsche Bahn, said its high-speed ICE service between Cologne and Brussels would be severely disrupted.

The trains are to run as usual between Cologne and Aachen, on the German side of the border, but Deutsche Bahn said it would lay on buses to take passengers from there to Brussels. Deutsche Bahn advised passengers that the bus ride could take up to two hours. Regular ICE service on that route isn't expected to return to normal until Thursday morning.

Both France's high-speed Thalys and the Eurostar, which runs between Brussels and London, said they would cancel service to the Belgian capital for the 24-hour period. Eurostar said it would run a reduced schedule between London and Lille in France.

Dispute over rail system reform

The CGSP trade union called the strike after talks with the Belgian government about how the country's passenger train service is organized broke down. The CGSP says it fears government plans to consolidate the current three rail companies into two could result in worsening working conditions for its members. The union says a single company should control the rail grid and train services, similar to the system in place prior to the previous reform to Belgium's rail system in 2005.

The federal minister of public enterprises, Paul Magnette expressed regret at the union's decision to "leave the negotiating table." In an interview with the newspaper La Libre Belgique, Magnette said the strike would have an impact not just on passengers but also on the Belgian economy.

pfd/ch (dpa, AP, AFP)