ÖBB to axe direct Linz – Graz route

Politicians in Upper Austria have turned their guns on Federal Railways (ÖBB) bosses after the firm announced plans to end its Linz – Graz Intercity service.The state-owned company said today (Fri) that it would stop offering a direct high-speed connection between the Upper Austrian city of Linz and Graz in the province of Styria after reorganisation of schedules in December.ÖBB argued it has been making losses on the route for a long time. The direct service using two trains costs 4.9 million Euros a year, according to the firm, which claimed it made just 1.4 million Euros from ticket sales for the Linz – Graz route.ÖBB announced it will offer alternative services using regional trains to customers instead. The journey will involve making a connection, but the company claim that the journey will only be 26 minutes slower than the current direct one.The company, which has debts of around 12 billion Euros, did however point out that it could imagine a continuation of the faster direct connection if the provincial government of Upper Austria subsidises the service with 800,000 Euros a year.Upper Austrian traffic councillor Hermann Kepplinger branded ÖBB’s actions as “utterly unacceptable”.The Social Democrat (SPÖ) explained: “ÖBB informed us only three weeks ago it would keep the Intercity service up until summer 2011 at least.”Kepplinger – who has been given a two-week deadline by ÖBB to decide on whether the Upper Austrian government paid the demanded subsidies – stressed: “I won’t let myself be put under pressure on this issue.”The councillor ruled out financially backing the struggling railway operator.Kepplinger pointed out that ÖBB receives millions of Euros of subsidies by provincial governments and the federal coalition every year.”ÖBB does not seem to be willing to offer acceptable connections between the third- (Linz) and second-biggest (Graz) cities of Austria,” he fumed.The Styrian commuters’ initiative branded ÖBB’s announcement an “assault on the infrastructure of Styria”.Kepplinger appealed to ÖBB to invest in its services instead of axing crucial connections.ÖBB’s announcement comes just weeks after magazine profil revealed dozens of regional routes in Lower Austria will be scrapped after the regional government acquired the rights to run the service.The weekly magazine reported last month that the government of Lower Austrian had promised in January to invest 140 million Euros in the existing network, but has now decided to end train connections in favour of bus services.The regional decision-makers will continue to offer train connections on just 35 kilometres of the 640 kilometres of railways it was now managing, according to the report.Christian Kern, who took office as ÖBB CEO in June, warned recently that now was the “final chance” to get the company back on track.Kern, who appealed to ÖBB employees to be “more flexible” in taking on jobs elsewhere within the firm, said his plan was to reduce ÖBB’s overall spending by 500 million Euros over the next five years.People’s Party (ÖVP) financial secretary Reinhold Lopatka was outraged when the ÖBB board and the company’s works council agreed on an overall pay rise worth 25 million Euros earlier this week.Kern stressed wages of employees earning more than a monthly 4,110 Euros before tax have not been increased, adding only those of the 42,000 ÖBB employees earning less than 2,100 Euros will have the inflation rate of 1.7 per cent compensated this year.”Those who earn little will get a bit more, while the pay freeze for top earners will help us restore ÖBB’s finances,” he said.Lopatka, however, claimed ÖBB was “ripped off” by the staff representation negotiation team headed by SPÖ MP Wilhelm Haberzettl.”It’s a fact that debts will not shrink. Taxpayers must once more bear the brunt,” he said.