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Sri Lanka train strike leaves tens of thousands of commuters stranded

The Station Masters’ Union launched the action to demand that vacancies be filled and other administrative issues be resolved.

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Police officers patrol a railway station in Colombo, Sri Lanka, during a train strike

A railway union strike stopped most trains across Sri Lanka on Wednesday, leaving tens of thousands of passengers to brave the few dangerously overcrowded trains that were still running or be stranded at the station.

The Station Masters’ Union launched the strike to demand that vacancies be filled and other administrative issues be resolved.

Hundreds of scheduled train journeys were cancelled on Wednesday due to the strike, leaving the very few trains that ran jam-packed with passengers.

Sri Lanka Train Strike
Passengers had to brave dangerously overcrowded trains or were stranded at stations (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

Local TV stations showed people risking their lives to get to school and work, barely hanging on to the sides of the train while balancing on footboards made slippery by the rain.

Some passengers opted to just go back home.

Anura Samantha, 43, who works as a clerk at a retail shop in the capital, Colombo, said he decided not to go to work because of the strike.

Another passenger, named only as Samantha, who travels daily from Gampaha, a suburb about 20 miles (30km) north of Colombo said: “It’s really disgusting. I waited for about one hour, but couldn’t get into a train. Buses are also crowded. Now, there is no time to go to work. I will take leave today.”

Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena condemned the strike, saying the union launched the action in an arbitrary manner when the government was taking steps to resolve the issues they raised.

Sri Lanka Train Strike
A passenger wipes sweat from his forehead as he waits for a train in Colombo during the national rail strike (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

During a similar strike in September, two passengers were killed while travelling on packed trains.

One was riding on the roof of a compartment when his head hit an overhead railway bridge, and the other succumbed to injuries after he fell from the train’s footboard.

Sri Lanka’s train services are substandard, with poorly maintained compartments and tracks because of years of mismanagement and a lack of proper planning.

Frequent and sudden strikes have exacerbated the situation, with most trains experiencing delays.

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