Sri Lanka Deploys Troops As The Railway Workers' Strike Worsens

Commuters wait on a platform at the Fort railway station during a trade union strike by locomotive drivers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
Commuters wait on a platform at the Fort railway station during a trade union strike by locomotive drivers in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's government deployed army troops at railroad stations as railway employees continued with their strike that paralyzed train services across the country for a second day Wednesday, a day after two passengers were killed while attempting to travel on a packed train.

Tens of thousands of passengers have been greatly inconvenienced because of the strike. Hundreds of scheduled train journeys were canceled on both days and only a few trains operated.

Passengers were seen risking their lives to get to school and work on the few trains that were operating, Some people were seen traveling on the roof of train compartments, and many were seen barely hanging on to the footboards while braving rain.

Two passengers were killed while traveling on packed trains on Tuesday. One was killed when his head hit an overhead railway bridge when he was traveling on the roof of a compartment while the other succumbed to injuries after he fell down from the train's footboard.

The strike was launched by the Sri Lanka Locomotive Operating Engineers Union, which includes engine drivers. They are demanding that authorities resolve a number of issues, including the recruitments process and promotions.

Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena condemned the strike and the trade union, saying the union launched the strike in an arbitrary manner when the government had taken steps to hold discussions to resolve the issues. He described the trade union as a terrorist organization and said the union was responsible for the two deaths.

Trade union activist S.R. Senanayake urged the government to take swift measures to provide solutions to the demands put forward by them, warning that the strike could continue.

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.

Military spokesman Brig. Ravi Herath said armed troops were deployed “to provide security for the public, railway passengers, employees of the railway and also to protect the government property.”