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Berlin to Bonn, DB passengers idled as strike continues

German commuters face a second day of rail disruptions. Early Wednesday, 3,000 train drivers walked off the job to back their claims for higher pay and negotiating rights.

The German state-owned rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, has canceled hundreds of commuter and long-distance trains for the second day as part of a strike by the national rail drivers' union. Both the 20,000-member GDL and DB, which has about 200,000 employees within Germany, have blamed each other for the breakdown in talks that led to the strike, which has created traffic jams in Berlin and across the country.

"Our message to passengers is: They should protest against the railway's board because they're the ones to blame for this," GDL union leader Claus Weselsky, often criticized in the media for months of repeated strikes, said on Wednesday.

Germany's rail network carries about 5.5 million passengers a day. DB also transports about a fifth of Germany's freight - over 620,000 tons each day. Economic institutes have warned that a prolonged strike could wind up costing companies 100 million euros ($107 million) each day.

'We want calm'

Announced Monday

, the strike began

with freight trains on Tuesday

and expanded to

passenger travel at 2 a.m.

(0000 UTC) on Wednesday, idling trains across the country and, according to DB, especially in Berlin, Frankfurt and Mannheim. The carrier ran about a third of its long-distance service on the stoppage's first day. In a statement released Wednesday, the company also announced that it had canceled up to 85 percent of local trains in some regions.

GDL has planned for the stoppages to last until Thursday evening on passenger services and until Friday morning for freight traffic. DB has set up special telephone hotlines to handle queries from passengers, who will also be able to change their tickets free of charge or receive money back.

"We want to reach a solution," DB personnel chief Ulrich Weber said Wednesday on public television. "We want calm to return to the company."

GDL negotiators want a 5 percent pay rise and a 37-hour working week rather than the current 39. They also want the right to negotiate on behalf of other DB employees, such as train stewards.

The GDL has launched seven rounds of industrial action in 10 months, and at one point last fall the unions representing German pilots and train drivers worked to

keep their strikes from overlapping

.

Following a series of walkouts before Christmas, the conflict between unions and management

appeared to ease

. Earlier this week, however, GDL accused DB of not responding to its demands.

mkg/bk (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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