“2025+” Strategy to revolutionize Austria’s railway system

Interview with Clemens Först, Head of Strategy and Business Development of ÖBB-Holding AG

One of the important international projects of ÖBB is the construction of a broad gauge line linking Austria to Russia and, therefore, Eastern Europe to Asia. In 2011, the railway companies to be part of the project (from Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia) completed the feasibility study and will adopt national project implementation decisions in the coming period of time. Over 33 countries from Western and Central Europe, Central Asia, Russia and the Far East will have economic benefits due to the extension of the broad gauge corridor that will help increase the importance of Vienna-Bratislava region as logistics centre in the middle of Europe. The development of major projects, as well as the strategic position on the international transport map will allow Austria to win a greater importance than the present one.
Mr. Clemens Först, Head of Strategy and Business Development of ÖBB-Holding AG talked us about important projects, the role that railway transport plays nationally and internationally, the elimination of obstacles, optimisation of transport and increasing infrastructure quality.

Boosting freight and passenger railway transport cannot be a real objective without talking about the infrastructure quality, performance and capacity. The challenges met in implementing infrastructure projects have to be approached by launching long-term strategies and estimate necessary investments at national level. Moreover, ensuring a harmonised and integrated transport system in Europe, as well as developing the projects with major importance for Europe and Asia are key aspects in Austria’s railway development strategy. The company focuses its programmes towards increasing quality by developing services and infrastructure so that the business environment would become competitive and attractive at the same time. These are few of the objectives set by the Austrian infrastructure manager.
ÖBB-Infrastruktur Group manages 1,178 railway stations on a rail network of 10,143 km of line, of which 7,969 km represent the electrified line. The company is responsible for the implementation of 1,174 projects of planning and construction, of which 1,439 projects should be completed in the next 12 months. The end of 2011 marked the approval of the strategy “Target 2025+” focused on the long-term extension and mo-dernisation of the railway network and an annual EUR 2 Billion are invested in these projects in order to meet the objectives. Because of that, railway transport in Austria is one of the best financed modes of transport (railway infrastructure investment is twice as much as road infrastructure grants). By 2014, ÖBB seeks to eliminate important speed restrictions in order to improve transport quality. By implementing the strategy, the authorities hope to shift traffic to railways, to record a 40% growth in the volume of carried goods with a traffic growth of 30% for freight and a 25% growth in passenger transport by 2015 (the number of passengers carried would reach 300 million).
To increase performance and the interoperability and harmonisation with the European network, including the modernisation of the signalling system, the strategy includes the implementation of the ETCS system of the national railway network. Under the plans, the ETCS Level 1 system will be implemented on 280 km of lines (4 railway sections) and ETCS Level 2 on 295 km (4 railway sections).

Railway Pro: Building the Single Transport Area is a topic which drives intense talks in the European Union. What are the challenges and opportunities of this objective for railway infrastructure and transport services alike?

Clemens Först: Let me start with the transport services. Cargo Transport demand is global, at least regional but almost never national. Operators therefore have to stop thinking and operating within national boundaries and have to develop regional transport solutions along the key corridors. The prerequisite is an interoperable infrastructure which in return profits from higher track access fees if rail transport becomes more attractive.

Railway Pro: Is there a final decision on the development of the broad gauge line linking Russia, Ukraine and Austria? What is the strategy for this project?

Clemens Först: We are working on this project as a consortium of 4 railways: RZD, UZ, ZSR and Austrian Railways. We have completed a pre-feasibility study in 2011 and are now in the decision finding process on national levels.

The Strategy: The construction of the line linking Russia to Asia (on the route Košice – Bratislava – Vienna) will enable the transport of goods by avoiding their transfer where the two types of gauges meet (1435 mm and 1520 mm) and will also significantly reduce the duration and the costs of transport. The extension of the broad gauge line will homogenize the railway system by directly linking the markets in Eastern Europe and those in Asia which means that goods could be shipped on rails without technical or le-
gislative barriers, at the same time triggering the economic growth in the region. To this end, railway companies in Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine and Russia have agreed to set up a Joint Venture, Breitspur Planungsgesellschaft (where each party holds 25%) with special purpose: that of developing an integrated corridor (8,000 km) to ensure efficient traffic on the route China-Central Europe. Other countries than those involved have also expressed interest in the line, among them Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. The implementation of the project will develop the logistics centres on the two continents and will also the reduce travel time to 15 days compared to 35 days (currently on the sea), the estimated capacity of the freight volume being of over 16 million tonnes per year.
In 2007, the year when railway companies began to collaborate on implementing the projects, the pre-feasibility study was completed including all its legislative, economic, environment and risk analysis aspects and the national outcome analysis was performed including the study project in the context of the existing network, as well as the macroeconomic and technical analyses of the terminal (the end destination of the railway route will be a new terminal in the region of the cities Vienna-Bratislava). The new logistics centre will become an economic growth engine due to the positive effect on work force occupancy (under the long-term strategy, a total of 96,000 new jobs will be created) and on the transport market, as it permits the set up of other companies (especially freight).  As a result of this, an overall additional GDP effect of EUR 12.1 Billion would be created and estimated tax income would rise by around EUR 3.6 Billion. According to the project plan, the implementation programme on phases will be set in the coming period and this will include discussions on the capacity, financing and execution of necessary works – design and feasibility study, followed by the elaboration of documents for the launch of the tender and of the procurement procedure analyses.

Railway Pro: What is the volume of total investments allocated to developing projects over the next period and which strategic projects will be implemented? For making traffic efficient, what is the ERTMS implementation strategy?

Clemens Först: The strategic concept of the ÖBB Infrastruktur AG is the Target Network 2025+.  The overall goal is to shift transport volume from road to rail with ambitious target setting such as 40% increase in freight volume, 30% increase in train-kilometres and a 25% percent increase in passenger volume by 2025+. This will avoid 11.1 mn truck-loads in Austria and increase the number of passengers from 240 to 300 million. Regarding ERTMS our strategy is to equip all major corridors (TEN-T) as well as new and refurbished lines.

Target Network 2025+  Strategy:
The long-term infrastructure strategy of “Zielnetz 2025+” aims at the introduction of a highly synchronized timetable and the elimination of expectable capa-city shortages in the network.
The target network forms a consistent overall concept and comprises, based on detailed market analyses and long-term demand forecasts.
• the strategy for the development of the ÖBB network including the stations based on system adequacy criteria
• the strategy for signalling and control centres and for the implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS) in the ÖBB network
• the strategy for the implementation of the programs regarding fulfilment of statutory requirements (tunnel safety,accessibility, noise protection)
• the target network is a high-performance infrastructure in line with future demands (transport forecast 2025+). At the same time, the target network constitutes the basis for a high-quality transport offer (regular interval transport) and makes it possible to shift more transports to the railways.
• the focus on the system timetable and
• the path towards a usage charge on a cost-causative basis are further pillars for the long-term market orientation.
Target Network 2025+ Strategy will be developed in three phases and investments in the projects to be developed in the timeframe 2011-2016 amount to EUR 14 Billion. Also, ÖBB-Infrastruktur Group invests over EUR 2 Billion every year in the development of the strategy.
By the year 2020, every employee will control almost twice as many train-kilometres due to high-tech equipment and automation, ÖBB-Infrastruktur will handle 20% more train-kilometres (= 169 million Tkm), the costs per train-kilometre (operational expenses) will be reduced by 26% (price basis 2011) and the expenses for maintenance of the railway network will decrease by 21% per rail-kilometre (price basis 2011).

Railway Pro: Over the next decades, road transport will no longer be a solution for the transport of freight on distances longer than 300 km. What strategy could be implemented to meet the challenges imposed from the point of view of infrastructure projects and what is the role of terminals in increasing the attractiveness of railway transport?

Clemens Först: Railway transport will play an even more important role in the future as reflected in our Target network 2025+. The role of rail infrastructure is to enable cost-efficient and high-quality transport offerings by the RUs. The key parameters are maximum payload and length as well as average speed. For intermodal traffic, also terminal efficiency is key which is why we have included major terminal projects in our target network 2025+.

Railway Pro: The international business community heads towards building transport relationships on the Western Europe-Central Asia axis. What is Austria’s position and what is the role of the CEE countries in this matter?

Clemens Först: Efficient rail transport between Central Asia and Western Europe holds the promise of new logistic products that are faster than deep see shipping and cheaper than air cargo. The main bottlenecks are the transition from normal gauge to broad gauge as well as custom and other operational procedures. We are trying to remove these obstacles in the short-term through cooperation with our partner railways and in the long-term through the broad gauge extension project.

Railway Pro: Do you think that the development of high-speed lines in the CEE countries is possible in the near future?

Clemens Först: Products or Concepts like ICE/TGV will be hard to realize in CEE area in the mid-term because of the significant infrastructure investments required which are unlikely to be covered or justified by demand. In Austria we have found that a premium offering like our “Railjet” is very well accepted despite a maximum speed of 230 km/h.

[ by Pamela Luică ]
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