Commuters in Germany faced turmoil on Wednesday as the country went on a three-day national rail strike, compounding travel disruption in Europe’s largest economy, as protesting farmers continued to block roads and highways.
The rail strike affected both cargo and passenger trains, forcing Deutsche Bahn (DB), the principal rail operator, to cancel thousands of trains, according to a press statement issued Wednesday.
DB stated that approximately 80% of long-distance services will be disrupted, with regional lines affected to variable degrees. During the strike, which will extend until Friday, rail services will operate on a significantly curtailed emergency schedule.
“The strike by the train drivers’ union GDL has had a massive impact on train services in Germany,” DB spokesperson Anja Broeker said in a video statement put on the company’s website Tuesday night. “We regret the restrictions and hope that many people who were unable to reschedule their journey will get to their destination.”
DB stated that the strike would disrupt the travel plans of millions of commuters and asked them to postpone or cancel all non-essential travel in Germany.
It is the third and greatest walkout by the drivers since their union began negotiations with DB and other carriers in November of last year. Germany’s GDL union is asking a reduction in shift workers’ working hours from 38 to 35 hours per week, as well as a monthly wage boost of $606.62 (555 euros) and a 3,000-euro inflation compensation bonus.
DB, the rail operator, has given flexibility in working hours but has refused to lower them without a wage cut. The statewide rail strikes come as German farmers have vowed to intensify their nationwide protests against the government’s proposed cuts to fuel subsidies.
Farmers have been blocking multiple roads and highway entrances across the country with their tractors since the beginning of the week, as well as holding rallies in towns and cities, causing significant traffic delays.
On Monday, over hundred farm trucks descended on the German government district near Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate in protest.
According to German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, the administration thinks the cuts announced in December will save €920 million ($1 billion). A German government official told a press briefing on Monday that, despite the demonstrations, the administration does not intend to change its plans.
Last week, a group of German farmers attempted to express their outrage by delaying Economy Minister Robert Habeck from exiting a ship in northwest Germany. Habeck, who was traveling on his own, was stuck on the ferry for several hours.
The FarmersAssociation’s President, Joachim Rukwied, criticized the event in a Friday news release, calling such blockades a “no-go”.
A gathering organized in collaboration with the German freight sector has been scheduled for January 15 in Berlin, while several protests are planned throughout the country.
Authorities have expressed concern that Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is using the farmers’ protests to forward its own agenda.
CNN has seen footage of tractors and vehicles carrying protest flags and posters from the far-right AfD. The AfD’s signs on tractors protesting automobile subsidy cuts say “our farmers first” and “Germany needs new elections.”
Björn Höcke, the controversial leader of the AfD in the Eastern German state of Thuringia, issued a call on his Facebook page, saying, “Fellow citizens, we will see you on the roads!”
The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution has designated the lawmaker as an extremist.
The AfD, which has been hitting record highs in surveys and is routinely outperforming the three main parties in the German government coalition, is hoping to make significant gains in three state elections this year.
However, in its own party manifesto, the AfD pushes for the repeal of agricultural subsidies while also supporting the protest, citing it as evidence of German displeasure with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ coalition administration.