A German Railways train is seen parked at Hanover Station. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte

Berlin - A sixth German rail strike in the last 10 months caused widespread disruption for commuters and companies across the country on Wednesday when 3 000 train drivers walked off the job to back their claims for higher pay and negotiating rights.

The 66-hour strike began with freight trains on Tuesday afternoon and was expanded to passenger travel from 2am (00h00 GMT) on Wednesday morning, idling trains across the country, especially in Berlin, Frankfurt and Mannheim, German rail said.

Leaders of the two sides blamed each other for the strike, which German industry leaders said could cost businesses up to 100 million euros per day. About a fifth of the freight in Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is transported by rail

The GDL union, which represents about one in 10 of railway operator Deutsche Bahn's nearly 200 000 workers, wants a 5 percent pay rise and a reduction in the working week to 37 hours from 39. It is also fighting for the right to negotiate on behalf of other employees including train stewards.

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said that only about 244 of the usual 805 trains were running. Strikes in Germany are relatively unusual due to a system of collective bargaining between unions and employers which are usually settled at the negotiating table.