A railway union strike in Sri Lanka leaves tens of thousands of commuters stranded

A union strike launched by railway employees has stopped trains across Sri Lanka

July 10, 2024, 5:39 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- 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 kept 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 canceled Wednesday due to the strike, leaving the very few trains that ran jam-packed with passengers. 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 of the passengers opted to simply go back home.

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

“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 a leave today,” said Samantha who travels daily from Gampaha, a suburb town about 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Colombo.

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

During a similar strike in September, two passengers were killed while traveling on packed trains: One was traveling 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.