ÖBB rival Westbahn hopes for profits after five years

Westbahn boss Stefan Wehinger has said he hopes to make a profit five years after the new railway firm goes into operation.Wehinger said today (Tues): “We expect to achieve operative profits after five years. I have to say that I think many of those who have been in the business for a long time are underestimating us.”Westbahn was founded by Hans Peter Haselsteiner two years ago. Haselsteiner, who heads leading construction firm Strabag SE, said earlier this year that Westbahn will start offering services between Vienna and Salzburg in December 2011.The 300-kilometre route between the tourism hotspots is the only connection on which struggling Federal Railways Holding AG (ÖBB) has been making profit. Haselsteiner has said he is convinced Westbahn will have the potential to break ÖBB’s monopoly on the busy route.Wehinger told Die Presse newspaper that he wished new ÖBB boss Christian Kern “the best health and strength” for his job. Wehinger also said about the head of his firm’s major competitor that he “hopefully” gets the chance to remain in power for 10 or 15 years instead of being withdrawn for political reasons.Kern, who is close to the ruling Social Democrats (SPÖ), said after taking over from Peter Klugar in June that he wanted to get ÖBB back in the black by 2013.Speaking about the changes to the market situation Westbahn’s operations will create, Wehinger said he wanted the Republic of Austria to subsidise his firm as much as it does the ÖBB or stop financially supporting the partly state-owned company.The Westbahn head vowed his company will take up the fight when it comes to ticket prices, adding that it will also offer weekend offers and other special deals to customers.Wehinger, who did not rule out that Westbahn will offer more services on other routes in the future, explained the plan was to hire around 250 staff. The former ÖBB manager stressed Westbahn will not violate employment laws by assigning foreigners who work for less money than their Austrian colleagues.Haselsteiner and Wehinger already invested around 130 million Euros in Westbahn – a part of its Rail Holding AG business conglomerate – which has not operated anywhere else in Austria before.Haselsteiner cooperates with former Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) chairman Benedikt Weibel to set up and position his new railroad firm on the market.Analysts have said the Westbahn project could seriously challenge ÖBB, while traffic experts have explained customers may benefit from the upcoming battle immensely as far as the quality of services and prices are regarded.Some business newspapers have claimed ÖBB is currently going through its biggest crisis ever. People’s Party (ÖVP) officials have called for putting state subsidies for the ailing firm on hold until it manages to restore its finances.ÖBB, which infuriated passenger representatives by deciding to stop offering the sale of tickets on short-distance trains as of last Sunday, has debts of around 14 billion Euros.The company is now facing even more trouble following Thursday’s announcement by Italian railway regulator URSF that the EuroCity trains operated by ÖBB and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (DB) will not be allowed to halt at any stations expect their final stops in the southern European country.URSF argued that the activities of ÖBB and DB could worsen the competitive edge of Italy’s regional railway operators. ÖBB made clear it will fight the decision in court.