German rail travellers were hit on Saturday by delays and disruptions on one of autumn's busiest travel weekends as the train drivers' union began one of its largest strikes in recent years.
Only about a third of traffic on major lines was running, the Deutsche Bahn said in a statement, adding that service would be assured on around 30 percent of regional and city lines.
Launching its biggest strike since 2008, the GDL union called on its members to walk out from 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) on Friday on freight services and from 2:00 am (0000 GMT) on Saturday on long-distance and regional passenger services.
The stoppages -- on traditionally one of the busiest weekends because of a school holiday -- are due to last until 4:00 am (0200 GMT) on Monday.
The union accused national rail operator Deutsche Bahn of stone-walling in talks over its demands for a five-percent wage hike and a shorter working week of 37 hours.
Deutsche Bahn slammed the new industrial action -- the fifth in recent weeks -- as excessive, accusing GDL chief Claus Weselsky of putting his own "delusions of omnipotence" and "thirst for power" before the interests of the train drivers and passengers."With its 50-hour strike on a holiday weekend, GDL and its chairman Claus Weselsky has lost all sense of proportion," the company said in a statement.
"GDL is running amok," it added, pointing out the strike's impact on autumn school holidays.
Holidays were starting this weekend in seven of Germany's 16 regional states, while in four other regions, the vacation period is coming to an end or still running.
- 'Absolutely irresponsible' -
"Strikes at such close intervals and on such scale are absolutely irresponsible and bordering on irrationality," the rail company's human resources director Ulrich Weber told Bild tabloid.
Deutsche Bahn said it had put on standby night trains with sleeping berths to help stranded travellers in Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, although there had been little demand for them on Friday-Saturday night.
The magnitude of the industrial action was surprising in a country where warning strikes rarely last more than a day. The last time Deutsche Bahn was hit by an industrial dispute as serious as this was in 2007-2008.Berlin is working on legislation to stop small groups of employees from paralysing large parts of the country's infrastructure, such as rail and air travel, after several airline strikes. A draft law is expected in November.
GDL accused management of issuing "nice-sounding statements with no substance".
The union also wants to represent other groups of employees within Deutsche Bahn, not just the drivers, but conductors, catering staff, dispatchers and other staff as well, a demand which management rejects.
In addition to the rail strikes, travellers in Germany have also been hit recently by repeated walkouts by pilots of airlines within the Lufthansa group.
This week, the pilots of Lufthansa's low-cost subsidiary Germanwings walked off the job for 12 hours on Wednesday, grounding hundreds of flights and thousands of passengers.