Frankfurt - Travellers relying on Germany's extensive rail network will face massive cancellations and delays beginning Wednesday after one of the country's two engineers' unions agreed to strike Deutsche Bahn (DB), the state-owned railway. The strike will also affect S-Bahn service in Berlin because it's operated by DB.

The union, the Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer, or GDL, announced the strike Tuesday after 95 per cent of its members approved the move. The strike will begin Tuesday at 7pm with freight trains, GDL head Claus Weselsky said during a press conference. Its workers in passenger and rail infrastructure will then strike for 48 hours from 2am Wednesday to 2am Friday, he said.

DB says it's willing to meet the union's demand for a 3.2 per cent wage increase - equivalent to a similar raise for public sector workers - but in two stages, Martin Seiler, DB's head of human resources, said. Wages would be bumped up 1.5 per cent on 1 January and then 1.7 per cent on 1 March 2023 with the agreement lasting until 30 June 2024. The union wants a new contract negotiated after 28 months.

"We will also include S-Bahn Berlin in the labour action," Volker Krombholz, chairman of the GDL's North-East district, said. Before corona, the DB subsidiary carried more than one million passengers per day. Kromholz said the action would also affect regional rail, which includes busy lines such as the RE1 to Potsdam, Brandenburg an der Havel and Frankfurt (Oder). 

Just the start

"We are ready for further action," he said, though the union's executive board would have to decide on timing and length.

Berlin's public transport company (BVG) plans to announce later today whether and in which areas there will be additional services for passengers during the strike.

"GDL leadership is escalating at an inopportune time. Particularly in a system-relevant sector such as mobility, it is now important to sit down at the negotiating table and not burden our customers," DB's Seiler said. "Especially now, when people are traveling more and using the railroads again. GDL top management is ruining the upswing that we urgently need following the massive corona damage."

About a third of all S-Bahn trains still ran during the union's last strike in 2015 because the GDL doesn't represent all the engineers. Operations then were concentrated on the outskirts and the surrounding areas. However, no S-Bahns ran through the city centre or on the ring.

Jens Wieseke of the passenger association IGEB expects the situation will be the same this time around: "BVG can fill the gaps in the city centre."