BERLIN (Reuters) - Millions of passengers were left stranded across Germany on Saturday after train drivers began a 50-hour strike that halted two thirds of long-distance trains in a dispute over pay and negotiation rights.
The GDL drivers' union started their action at 2 am on Saturday morning for passenger trains. They return to work on Monday morning. Freight train drivers started their strike 11 hours earlier on Friday afternoon.
The drivers' second national strike in a week hit at the start of week-long, half-term holidays in nearly half of Germany's 16 federal states.
Germans this week have also faced strikes by pilots at Lufthansa's Germanwings due to a long-running dispute over an early retirement scheme.
Railway operator Deutsche Bahn [DBN.UL] said about one third of long-distance trains were running and that it had introduced a replacement timetable to minimize disruption. It regretted the delays for passengers but blamed the union.
"This scale of strike action at such short notice is completely irresponsible and borders on the irrational," said Ulrich Weber, head of personnel at Deutsche Bahn to Bild daily, adding that the strike cost the firm at least 1 million euros ($1.3 million) per day.
GDL announced the strike on Friday.
The union is seeking a 5 percent pay rise for 20,000 drivers and a shortening of the work week to 37 hours from 39. Another central issue in the dispute is its demand to also set wage deals for around 17,000 train guards and other personnel, also among its members.
Deutsche Bahn, which says it will negotiate only with the larger EVG union for those categories of employees, made a new pay offer on Friday, but the union rejected it and said it would press ahead with the strike.
Local connections in Berlin and many other cities were also disrupted. Platforms in some stations were packed with people trying to rearrange their trips, many with luggage.
"This is making my trip very difficult," said Christine Hardtmann, a mother of two at Berlin station, holding tickets to go to Hanover. "Generally I have sympathy for strikes, but this one is very long and the timing is particularly bad."
(1 US dollar = 0.7839 euro)
editing by Jane Baird