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German train drivers start strike, negotiations continue

Representatives of Germany's Deutsche Bahn and its train drivers continue last-minute talks to prevent the strike from affecting passenger services. Freight train drivers started their strike on Tuesday afternoon.

Just over a week after the longest railway strike German history, train drivers' union GDL started a new walkout Tuesday - without even setting an end-date for the latest round. While the freight services went into strike mode in the afternoon, passenger trains were set to follow in the early hours of Wednesday.

The GDL union said only that it would announce the end of the walkout 48 hours in advance. However, the current strike was likely to last even longer then the six-day protest that ended on May 10, according to GDL chief Claus Weselsky.

Although the freight services have already been disrupted, German railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the union were still racing to reach an agreement on salaries and working conditions, with the passengers' strike scheduled to start at 2 a.m. local time (00:00 GMT/UTC) on Wednesday.

Germany's 'reputation' at stake

The railway is a crucial component in Europe's largest economy, with 620,000 tones of freight transported on cargo trains daily. In addition, some 5.5 million people take the train every day.

"With the ninth strike within 10 months, GDL is putting at stake the good international reputation of Germany as a logistics hub," Germany's BDI industry association said, estimating the potential for damage at up to 100 million euros ($111 million) per day.

The steel, engineering and automobile sectors could suffer the most, economists say.

Ulrich Homburg, in charge of passenger transport for Deutsche Bahn, also warned Tuesday of huge economic damage both to the company and the Germany as a whole.

"The trust in the whole railway system is shaken," Homburg said.

Permission to cause a standstill

German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, have urged the two conflicting parties to enter mediation. In addition, the government is working on changing the laws by which smaller unions such as GDL can bring work to a standstill.

Andreas Scheuer, a senior member of Bavaria's conservative CSU, which is part of the ruling coalition, called for mandatory meditation to be imposed upon train drivers, air traffic controllers and healthcare workers seeking to strike.

"Because Germany needs to be kept running," he said to Focus Online, asked why he'd support such a measure.

Similar strike actions have hit German flagship airline Lufthansa, particularly its pilots, in recent months, while many of Germany's kindergarten (or "Kita") daycare staff are currently in the second week of an open-ended strike.

dj/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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