Vienna U6 hesitation may axe 300 jobs

Hundreds of jobs may be at risk if the Viennese government refuses to give the go-ahead for a 66-million-Euro assignment, according Bombardier Austria head Germar Wacker.

The Viennese government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and Greens puts the order for 20 underground trains on hold to evaluate the assignment again due to empty city coffers. The federal capital’s debts soared by 1.87 billion Euros to 3.07 billion Euros in 2010. SPÖ Vienna Councillor for Finances Renate Brauner vowed the city would not stop pouring money into anti-unemployment initiatives to fight the crisis. Freedom Party (FPÖ) Vienna official Johann Gudenus attacked the Social Democrat over the increasing debt rate. He said: “It is a disgrace that Brauner dares to praise her politics of increasing debts.”

Now the head of the Austrian representation of Canadian company Bombardier said 300 of the 600 jobs at its plant in Vienna-Donaustadt could be endangered by the end of 2012 if the city abstained from giving the green light to the construction of 20 U-Bahn trains in the remainder of this year. Asked by the Kurier newspaper why an assignment of 66 million Euros could have such immense effects on an enterprise with more than 65,000 employees and a two-digit million-Euro turnover, Wacker made aware of the research department at Bombardier Austria’s Viennese factory. He argued its operations were strongly linked to the manufacturing branch as staff developed public transport solutions for cities all over the world there.

“Public budgets shrank because of the crisis. Many investments were delayed,” he said about the general situation. Wacker refused to reveal whether his company could allow the city of Vienna to cough up the full sum for the assignment with some delay. However, he underlined that the “signals are positive” that Bombardier Austria finds a solution in cooperation with the city government to get the order on track. “Vienna wants to make public transport more attractive. (Viennese public transport provider) Wiener Linien has capacity difficulties on the U6 line,” he told the Kurier.

The Viennese branches of the SPÖ and the Greens were unavailable to comment the statements. The parties came under fire last month for deciding to lower the price for annual tickets from 449 Euros to 365 Euros. The reform will come into effect next May. Some prices will climb at the same time. Fines for fare dodging will soar by 30 Euros to 70 Euros. Wiener Linien sold over 360,000 annual tickets in 2010 – more than ever before.

The city government said it was confident that the pricing changes would convince more residents of Vienna to take trams, buses and underground trains more often. The FPÖ and the People’s Party (ÖVP) claimed the reform would only worsen the city’s financial situation. Some Wiener Linien managers warned the firm may not cope with the possible increase in passengers.

The company serves 2.2 million passengers a day. It had 839 million passengers last year, up from 612 million in 1990. Wiener Linien’s U6 trains differ in size from the wagons used on its other U-Bahn connections. The U6 is Vienna’s busiest and, according to a recent poll, least popular underground line.

Wiener Linien officials recently admitted that coping with the effects of the shutdown of the U1 underground line next summer “will certainly be a challenge.” The service will be put out of business between Reumannplatz station in the south and Stephansplatz station in the city centre for around seven weeks. A Wiener Linien expert explained the repairs of the service’s outdated electronic appliances and train tracks made a total closure in both directions necessary. Company managers are currently checking whether a motorised traffic collapse could be rather avoided by increasing the servicing of buses or if setting up an additional tramway link would be the better alternative.