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Railways boss takes fast track to retirement

Weibel is leaving after more than 13 years in the driver's seat Keystone

The chief executive of Swiss Federal Railways, Benedikt Weibel, is to step down after 13 years in the job and overseeing the railways' biggest shake-up.

This content was published on February 24, 2006 - 09:39

Weibel said he would leave at the end of 2006 and take early retirement, after three decades with the Railways.

Weibel, who will turn 60 later this year, told a news conference on Friday he wanted to able to chose the moment of his departure himself.

"I have been the longest-serving railway boss in Europe for years and I have always said I have to take this step when I am still in good shape and when I can decide myself," Weibel said.

"Technically it will be an early retirement but I will naturally not be going off to cultivate roses or something similar."

He added that one of his big aims before leaving was to sign a renewed collective contract that is currently being hammered out.

Praise

The board of directors said it was sad to see Weibel go and thanked him for excellent track record for the Federal Railways and public transport in general.

"The company owes him a lot," said board chairman Thierry Lalive d'Epinay. "He is simply good and a master of his trade and has really put in a great performance.

"He had a big hand in shaping railway reform in Switzerland. The position of the Swiss Federal Railways among the population, the employees and the in the eyes of the politicians and in Switzerland as a whole is superb."

Transport Minister Moritz Leuenberger said it was hard to imagine that it would be possible to find somebody of the same calibre to replace Weibel.

As a charismatic steward of a transport network, which is famous the world over for its service and reliability, Weibel steered the railways through its most ambitious revamp ever.

Rail 2000, a forward-looking railway project rolled out in December 2004, cut journey times on major routes, and substantially increased the number of trains and connections on the national network.

The overhaul was not without its problems, however. More delays and cancelled trains were soon being reported, and there were mutterings about whether the Railways had been too ambitious.

Dark moment

The darkest moment came on Wednesday, June 22 in 2005, when the entire network collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands stranded for hours.

It was the worst blackout in the history of the Federal Railways.

Weibel had the unenviable task of apologising for what media commentators described as a national trauma. He survived calls for his head.

Last December, Weibel gave no indication that he was thinking of leaving, describing suggestions that he should have resigned as "being driven by parts of the media".

"It was never an issue in serious discussions, and I see no grounds for such a move," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Weibel, 59, joined the Swiss Federal Railways in 1978 and became its head in 1993.
He is also chairman of the Paris-based International Railway Association.
Weibel led the transformation of the Federal Railways from a federally controlled agency into a shareholding company owned by the state.

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In brief

The Swiss railway network has one of the highest densities in the world and is 3,000 kilometres in length.

The Federal Railways transport about 253 million passengers and 58 million tons of freight per year.

They also account for 87% of all passenger-kilometres and 90% of ton-kilometres.

The railway system was upgraded in 2004 as part of a major project to cut journey times on major routes and increase the number of train services on the national network.

In June 2005 the Federal Railways suffered a major blow when the system came to a standstill because of a blackout.

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