IRJ - March 2010 - (Page 20)
Alpine railways Western Vienna - Salzburg will become one of the first routes in Europe to see on-rail competition for passengers when open-access operator Westbahn goes head-to-head with Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) next year. Westbahn CEO Dr Stefan Wehinger explains to Keith Barrow why he believes competition will foster innovation and raise standards. promise FFECTING change in a large publicly-owned organisation often involves a long struggle against many different factors and interests. During his four-year tenure as head of ÖBB’s passenger division, Dr Stefan Wehinger found that ideas to improve the experience of passengers could be thwarted by any number of objections, made for any possible reason. “During my first year as CEO I noticed we were only using single-layer toilet paper on our trains, but I wanted to change this to three layers,” he recalls. “I tried for four years and I couldn’t make it happen. I was told we had millions of single-sheet rolls in stock, that our toilets wouldn’t cope with it, and it would be too expensive. In a small company, an idea can lead to changes very quickly. In a big organisation it just doesn’t happen.” The liberalisation of the long-distance passenger rail market in Austria has gifted Wehinger a unique opportunity to pursue big ideas without hindrance, and next year, his company will become the first to compete directly with ÖBB. He openly relishes the prospect of such creative freedom. “We can start from scratch with a greenfield approach to our product,” he says. “We’ve re-thought everything ÖBB does.” Following his departure from ÖBB, Wehinger approached Mr Hans-Peter Haselsteiner, chairman of construction company Strabag, with the proposition of establishing the first open-access operator to compete with ÖBB on key inter-city routes. Haselsteiner was enthusiastic and agreed to back the venture by taking a 50% equity share in the company, Rail Holding. The supervisory board of the new company will be chaired by former Swiss Federal Railways CEO Mr Benedikt Weibel. Rail Holding has formed an operating subsidiary called Westbahn, which has working capital of ƒ120 million and will launch its new services between Vienna, Linz and Salzburg in December 2011. This is by far the most lucrative IRJ March 2010
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