Pühringer angered as ÖBB set to cut Linz – Graz route

The political pressure on Federal Railways (ÖBB) is rising following the firm’s announcement to axe a direct connection between the second- and third-biggest cities in the country.ÖBB said last week it would stop running a direct high-speed Intercity connection between the Upper Austrian city of Linz and Graz in the province of Styria after reorganisation of schedules in December. ÖBB said the new journey will involve making a connection, but also stressed it will only be 26 minutes slower than the current direct one.The debt-ridden ÖBB said the direct service costs 4.9 million Euros a year, adding that it has been making losses on the route for a long time.Now Upper Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Governor Josef Pühringer said it was “ineligible” to end the service. He told magazine profil today (Mon): “Such a massive thinning of public transport between the second- and third-biggest city must not happen.”Pühringer also stressed that both areas were “important industrial regions”.The ÖVP politician called on ÖBB to “rethink” its marketing and the quality of its services if it was unable to run a profitable service.Pühringer’s attack comes after Upper Austrian Social Democrat (SPÖ) traffic councillor Hermann Kepplinger labelled ÖBB’s actions as “utterly unacceptable”.He said: “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 the state-owned firm 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.The Styrian commuters’ initiative said ÖBB’s announcement was an “assault on the infrastructure of Styria”.Christian Kern, who took over as ÖBB CEO in June, explained recently he planned to reduce the company’s administration department staff number by 1,000 until 2013. He also announced plans to reduce overall expenses by 500 million Euros during the next three years to get the struggling company back in the black.ÖBB has debts of around 12 billion Euros. Its rail Cargo Austria (RCA) section is particularly in serious financial difficulties.Hans Peter Haselsteiner, CEO of building firm Strabag, announced earlier this year he would invest a “first-off” 130 million Euros into his WestBahn project which will offer connections between Vienna and Salzburg from December 2011.Asked whether ÖBB will stand the pressure of competition by WestBahn, Kern told the Kurier newspaper today: “We will lose market shares, turnover and earnings. But it will also help us to develop more quickly. This will be the decisive battle about the future of ÖBB.”