ÖBB head promises ticket price freeze

Federal Railways (ÖBB) boss Christian Kern has ruled out tickets becoming more expensive.”Ticket prices should not rise this year. We can save money in passenger services and our infrastructure elsewhere,” he told weekly magazine profil.Asked why he recently called for a 400-million-Euro injection by the state for the debt-ridden company, Kern explained he wanted to raise ÖBB’s brand value from 150 million to one billion Euros.Kern said ÖBB “may dismiss one or more employees” in the foreseeable future. The company chief explained he planned to slash the amount of served overtime to lower expenses since two thirds of the railway operator’s staff are irredeemable.Kern once more stressed many employees could be asked to take on tasks elsewhere within ÖBB to get the struggling company back on track. The CEO told profil his goal was to lower the number of staff by around 1,000 from the current 42,000 and to not replace retiring employees by the end of 2011.Speaking about ÖBB’s difficulties, the businessman – who took over as firm head last June – said: “Our structures are too complex. We have got 1,250 people in leading positions in the company at the moment.”Kern rubbished accusations ÖBB was neglecting local railway connections. “Our network features 5,500 kilometres. We plan to reform our service on 700 kilometres, but we will expand our ‘core network’ by another 600 kilometres. This is not a ‘railway shrinking concept’.”The former Verbund manager said ÖBB was “light years” from being ready to get quoted on the stock market. He said: “Getting listed is always a chance for a company. (…) But ÖBB is not a candidate for privatisation in the coming years. We are light years away from entering the stock market.”Kern rose eyebrows by removing Rail Cargo Austria (RCA) co-chiefs Friedrich Macher and Günther Riessland from executive power last November.Kern explained the managers have been expelled from their positions but will continue working for ÖBB on half wages as their contracts have not yet expired. Kern’s decision is understood to be a successful attempt to avoid paying millions of Euros of compensation to Macher and Riessland – money to which they would have been entitled in the case of early dismissal.Kern will continue to head RCA until successors for the former co-chiefs are found. He told profil the new RCA board will be assigned by the end of this month. Referring to previous proceedings at the company and a new style of decision-making he introduced at ÖBB, Kern stressed that “competency, not political background, will matter.”ÖBB, in which the Republic of Austria holds a stake, has debts of around 12 billion Euros. Economists pointed out that the country’s debt would range around 80 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) than the current 70 per cent were the conditions ÖBB and motorway authority Asfinag considered in the state budget.