24-hour strike halts Belgian rail services


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The Independent Online

A 24-hour strike by Belgian rail workers has paralysed train traffic throughout Belgium and the Eurostar service to London and Paris.

The strike, which started late yesterday, reached its peak during this morning's rush hour when tens of thousands of commuters had to take to traffic-choked roads to get into the capital Brussels and other major centres.

Many workers had taken precautions and even though long traffic jams were reported, they were not as bad as initially feared.

Eurostar cancelled services to the Belgian capital, as did Thalys, a joint service by Belgian, French, Dutch and German railways.

Rail workers are fearful their employment conditions will be undermined under a new plan to revamp and streamline the three companies overseeing train traffic in Belgium.

Unions want to go back to a single company controlling the rail grid and train traffic, saying the numerous and lengthy delays of the past could be blamed on managerial disorganisation.

Philippe Peers of the CGSP trade union said: "In Brussels, the strike is a success, around 80%-90% of the people are on strike.

"Many of the stewards as well are on strike, so I can tell that there will be not a single train in Brussels."

Rail services are expected to resume later today and be back at full service by tomorrow morning.

Georgina Saldena, a Mexican tourist heading for Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, said: "Until today, we thought we had to go there by train. There is no sign, nothing that says that we have to come here to take a bus."