Railroad price fight in full swing

Federal Railways (ÖBB) and Westbahn have broken their promise not to engage in a price war.

ÖBB chief Christian Kern explained in several interviews his company would focus on better quality and customer service in its attempt to weather the intensified competition on the tracks between Vienna and Salzburg. Westbahn executive manager Stefan Wehinger promised in April his enterprise wanted to charge similar prices as ÖBB but would outpace the federal firm as far as service aspects and travel comfort were concerned.

Now Westbahn reacted to a new cut-price ticket offer of ÖBB by launching its own low-cost train travel initiative. The private company said yesterday (Weds) 7,500 tickets for 7.50 Euros were up for sale. The tickets will be valid for its service from Vienna to Salzburg. Westbahn will start operating 13 times a day between the cities on 11 December.

ÖBB put 25,000 tickets for 15 Euros each on the market earlier this week. The tickets enable customers to travel between Vienna and Bregenz in the western province of Vorarlberg or on just a certain part of the connection.

Regular Westbahn tickets will cost 23.80 Euros which is as much as ÖBB charges for second-class journeys between Vienna and Salzburg. The ÖBB price applies only to holders of the VorteilsCard, a bonus card which costs 99 Euros a year. Most ÖBB trains operating between Vienna and Salzburg continue to destinations in Switzerland, Germany and Hungary while Westbahn only has a concession for the Vienna – Salzburg link.

Wehinger criticised ÖBB for creating more pressure as far as ticket prices were concerned by deciding to offer 15-Euro tickets. He claimed the company was doing so on the backs of taxpayers. ÖBB is partly owned by the state. It receives hundreds of millions of Euros a year for operating on non-profitable routes. The connection between Vienna and Salzburg is the only service it actually makes a profit with.

Hans Peter Haselsteiner, who founded Westbahn and holds an interest in the railroad firm, said already some weeks ago that he may take the Republic of Austria to court for pouring money into ÖBB. The businessman argued his firm was disadvantaged because of the state’s investments into ÖBB as the payments helped the firm to introduce low ticket prices.

The Westbahn founder recently told the Salzburger Nachrichten he hoped that “commuters disappointed with ÖBB’s services” would become Westbahn’s most important group of customers. His firm’s trains will stop seven times between Vienna and Salzburg. The schedule of ÖBB’s premium model, the Railjet, features only stops in the Lower Austrian city of St. Pölten and in Linz, Upper Austria.

ÖBB had 210 million passengers last year. Its Postbus coach service affiliate recorded around 250 million clients. France was the only other European Union (EU) country with a higher per capita train travelling record than Austria (1,270 km) in 2010 at 1,370 kilometres (km), according to the Austrian Traffic Club. Switzerland topped a comparison which also considered non-EU states. The country’s per capita train travelling figure was 2,390 km last year.