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Lockdown puts Austrian railways under strain

ÖBB and Westbahn are reporting significant financial losses and are in urgent need of state aid

  • April 08, 2020 09:30
  • Author Anton Stoyanov
Medium austria 84109 1280

Over the last few years, local, regional and state authorities in Austria have been busy promoting, propping up and boosting the capabilities of the country’s railways.  

But now, circumstances have changed – traffic has stopped, environmental concerns have been thrown out of the window and travel has been almost entirely suspended. That means that the benefits enjoyed by railway companies and operators, who are seen as the only viable alternative to the use of cars and aeroplanes as a means of long-distance travel, have suddenly been rescinded.

That has, in turn, led to the rapid financial deterioration of Austria’s two main railway companies – the state-owned ÖBB and the private enterprise Westbahn.

Thinking about the future

The heads of the two companies recognize the fact that the exceptional circumstances through which we all are living are not really subject to change. Travel restrictions can not be loosened as of yet and social distancing measures will be part of everyday life for a while.

Yet both ÖBB and Westbahn have continued and are continuing to support the main railway lines and public transport routes that are essential for the country – even despite a sharp drop in passengers. That has led to the amounting of significant financial losses and to fears for their own survival. Those two things appear to be what binds railway operators around the continent together in these difficult times.

That is why, the heads of railway companies across Europe, including the chairmen of ÖBB and Westbahn are clear in their message – both to their own national governments and to the entirety of Europe as well – that railways are the key not only to a greener future but also to the present, as they are among the most reliable modes of transport when it comes to delivering goods across borders that have been closed down to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.

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