Freight services seize up as German rail strike bites

16th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

16 November 2007, Berlin - Freight services seized up across Germany as a train drivers' strike went into its third day Friday, with economists warning of long-term damage to the economy.

16 November 2007

Berlin - Freight services seized up across Germany as a train drivers' strike went into its third day Friday, with economists warning of long-term damage to the economy.

The vast Maschen goods yard at Hamburg, Germany's largest and Europe's third-largest port, was blocked with idle trains. Roads in the area were clogged with container trucks.

Port spokeswoman Christiane Kurt said the yard was still clearing backlogs from the two-day goods strike at the end of last week.

Luxury carmaker Audi shut its Belgian assembly near Brussels as components from Eastern Europe were unable to get through, although chemicals giant BASF said it was able to continue production.

The GDL union representing some three quarters of the 20,000 train drivers warned it could call an unlimited strike as early as next week, targeting freight services as well as regional and long-distance passenger trains.

"Things are grinding to a halt all over the place," Volker Trier, an economist for the DIHK German chamber of business, said. The GDL strike was casting a shadow over the economy currently at the tail-end of a boom, he added.

Hagen Lesch, an economist for the IW economic research institute, told the Bild newspaper that in a national unlimited strike the GDL could hold out for up to 12 weeks.

The east of the country, where the GDL is particularly well organised, was worst hit by the freight strike, which began midday Wednesday.

State-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn (DB) described the situation as "increasingly critical," with only the most basic supplies, such as coal for power stations, getting through.

But there was no sign of movement from the company on the GDL's key demand of a separate wage contract from that struck with two other unions representing the bulk of DB's workforce.

GDL boss Manfred Schell appeared to indicate some movement on the issue when he told national television that, if DB conceded the 31-per-cent wage hike the GDL has demanded, he would accept their offer.

Schell stressed that an unlimited strike was a serious possibility. "If nothing changes, what else remains to us?" he asked.

Railway expert Thomas Berndt warned that the rail network could lose customers permanently, noting that rail currently carried only a quarter of goods transported in Germany.

The GDL was "sawing away at the branch it is sitting on," the economics professor at Erfurt University told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"The loss of confidence could be more serious in the long term than the short-term economic damage," Berndt said.

Passenger traffic was also hit. GDL passenger train drivers ceased work early Thursday, forcing many of the 4.8 million commuters using the urban and regional networks every day to switch to their cars or to stay at home.

Regional passenger services were worst hit in eastern Germany, where only 20 per cent of trains were operating, while in the west the figure was closer to half.

Around a third of long-distance trains were running, while urban services varied widely from city to city, with Berlin badly hit.

The strikes on both freight and passenger services was due to end early Saturday.


Subject: German news

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