Westbahn eyes Linz – Graz route

Opposition politicians in Upper Austria have welcomed news that a private railway service provider is planning to offer a direct service between Linz and Graz.Westbahn confirmed yesterday (Weds) it has been holding talks with Upper Austrian decision-makers about logistical details regarding a possible service between Linz, the provincial capital, and the city of Graz in Styria.The announcement came shortly after the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper revealed that the private firm – which was founded by construction sector entrepreneur Hans Peter Haselsteiner – wants to operate between Linz and Graz, the third- and second-most populous cities of the country.It is however still unclear when the service would start. Westbahn has previously presented plans to provide a train service between Vienna and Salzburg as of December. The 300-kilometre route is the only connection on which debt-ridden Federal Railways (ÖBB) has been making a profit.Upper Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) official Günther Steinkellner said today that his party would appreciate if Westbahn starts doing business between Linz and Graz. ÖBB stopped operating direct trains on the route last year.”If ÖBB is unable to run a train service between the second- and third-largest Austrian city in a profitable and successful way, a private provider should try itself and show them how it is done,” he announced.Referring to the amount of possible subsidies paid by the province of Upper Austria, local Greens traffic issues spokesman Markus Reitsamer appealed to decision-makers to examine Westbahn’s offer “carefully”.The Upper Austrian Greens form a government coalition with the People’s Party (ÖVP) headed by Governor Josef Pühringer.Westbahn reportedly plans to offer four daily connections between Linz and Graz. The travel time would be around two hours and 40 minutes, according to local newspapers. A Westbahn spokesman confirmed “serious talks” with politicians regarding the idea.ÖBB came under fire over its decision to stop running a direct high-speed Intercity connection between Linz and Graz, the capital of Styria, in December. The state-funded firm argued the new journey, which will force passengers to change trains once, was just be 26 minutes slower than the previous direct one. ÖBB said the direct service between Linz and Graz had cost 4.9 million Euros a year.Pühringer claimed after ÖBB said it would stop offering the direct service that the company was “ineligible” to do so. He said: “Such a massive thinning of public transport between the second- and third-biggest city must not happen.”The governor stressed both cities were the centres of “important industrial regions”. He nevertheless failed to prevent ÖBB, which has demanded an increase of public subsidies, from ending the direct operation between Linz and Graz.Speaking about Westbahn’s confirmed engagement on the route between Vienna and Salzburg, ÖBB head Christian Kern said recently: “We will lose market shares, turnover and earnings. But it will also help us to develop more quickly. (…) What I appreciate about Westbahn’s presence in the news is that there seems to be more consciousness of railway traffic now.”Haselsteiner said he will put a starting sum of 130 million Euros into his Westbahn project, with more investments following as the service starts. His business partner Stefan Wehinger commented on their plans for Westbahn, saying: “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.”Kern claimed he was “convinced” that his firm’s Railjet was a better train than the vehicles Westbahn will use.He also revealed that ÖBB will train the staff who will operate the competitor’s service. “We will educate train operators for Westbahn, because we don’t want to be accused of trying to hinder a competitor in any way,” he said in an interview.ÖBB, which has debts of 16 billion Euros, has been criticised as its staff retire at an average age of 52.