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17. 04. 12. - 15:59

Fuel price hikes boost BB passenger figures

Federal Railways (ÖBB) is benefiting from rising fuel prices, according to CEO Christian Kern.

Kern said that especially his firm’s regional connections registered more passengers in the first three months of this year. He claimed that two thirds of new ÖBB customers were former motorists who were now opting for the train due to the sky-high car fuel prices. Kern added that people also appreciated ÖBB’s decision to replace old seats on many trains with new models.

Asked whether his company was feeling the pressure applied by new competitor Westbahn, Kern said that the decisive duel would not be railway company against railway company but railway passenger services against the road. "The (A1) western motorway is losing out," he said.

One litre of diesel fuel cost 1.47 Euros on average last week, up from 0.72 Euros in 2002. Developments regarding the price for Eurosuper car petrol are similar, according to motorists’ association ÖAMTC.

Westbahn entered the tracks last December. The company founded by Hans Peter Haselsteiner – who heads construction sector top dog Strabag – currently only operates between Vienna and Salzburg, the only service ÖBB is making a profit with.

Westbahn – which also started a coach company called Westbus – initially hoped to achieve an operating profit as early as by the end of this year. Westbahn chief Stefan Wehinger recently admitted that the enterprise could miss its goal. Wehinger explained that the intense price war between his firm and ÖBB might make meeting the target impossible. Westbahn’s turnover was 20 per cent lower at the moment than planned, the ex-ÖBB manager added.

Austria comes second in the European Union (EU) as far as the average per capita train service usage is concerned. Austrians took the train for an average 1,270 kilometres (km) in 2010. France is ahead with a per capita travel record of 1,370 km. Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, is another dimension in this regard (2,390 km).

The number of Austrians opting for train connections might be on the rise despite poor service in the countryside. Cars are increasingly popular as well, new statistics show. Austrians bought 88,800 new cars in the first three months of 2012, up by one per cent compared to the same period of 2011. The demand for motorcycles rose by 5.1 per cent.

Around 356,000 cars were acquired in Austria last year – more than ever before. This record meant that more than 4.5 million vehicles were in use in Austria in 2011. ÖBB has more than 200 million passengers a year. Another 250 million Austrians are using the firm’s Postbus bus service a year.

Postbus’ solid passenger figures are seen as a vital argument for opponents of a possible privatisation of the ÖBB affiliate. Works council chiefs want the government to clearly commit to the firm – while speculations of a sale fail to disappear. Especially People’s Party (ÖVP) Finance Minister Maria Fekter is trying to keep the debate about possible sales of partly state-owned firms alive. Traffic and Infrastructure Minister Doris Bures of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) is highly sceptical.

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