BERLIN - German train drivers will launch a wave of strikes from Thursday, the head of the GDL union said on Monday, ramping up a long-running dispute with the national rail operator and setting the stage for nationwide travel disruption.

The first strike in passenger rail transport is to begin at 0100 GMT on Thursday and last 35 hours, GDL head Claus Weselsky said, adding that information on further strike action would follow.

"With this, we begin a so-called strike wave," he told reporters.

Weeks-long talks between GDL and Deutsche Bahn broke down last week.

The last national rail strike in late January was set to be the longest in the state-owned company's 30-year history, but ended prematurely as the economic slowdown in Germany led to pressure on GDL to return to the negotiating table.

GDL is insisting on a reduced 35-hour working week for shift workers at full pay - a demand that has been rejected by Deutsche Bahn, which accuses the union of refusing to compromise.

Weselsky said the length of the first in a wave of strikes was a conscious decision to reinforce the union's demand: "35 hours so that everyone in the country realises what we are about, namely the 35-hour week."

(Reporting by Rachel More; editing by Matthias Williams)