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Swiss Federal Railways on the right track

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In its first year after privatisation, the Swiss Federal Railways have made a profit of SFr120 million. Cost-cutting measures and increased traffic were cited as the main reasons for the "successful" first year result.

At a news conference in Zurich, the management of the Federal Railways announced on Friday that staff would receive a one-time bonus payment of SFr1,000.

"After several years of decline, recovery in passenger and goods traffic, together with lower costs for staff and infrastructure than planned, have led to a result which is clearly better than that budgeted," said chief executive Benedikt Weibel.

First quarter figures for 2000 show revenues have increased by more than four per cent.

On the passenger side, the number of people transported last year rose by 3.7 per cent to reach 276 million. "Every inhabitant of Switzerland uses the train on average nearly 40 times a year. In 1999, this figure rose by two," said company chairman Thierry Lalive d'Epinay.

The Federal Railways say passenger growth was due mainly to the popularity of the half-fare season ticket valid for two years. Introduced in Summer 1997 at a cost of SFr222, it has attracted 250,000 customers.

Record figures were achieved in goods traffic, with the volume transported increasing by almost ten per cent to reach 57.3 million tons.

Staff costs in 1999 were lower than ten years ago, with the number of employees declining to 29,202 or 1,659 fewer than in 1998. This was due mainly to early retirements financed by the federal government, which remains the company owner.

Weibel said that future strategy, apart from the Rail 2000 network improvement project, would have new accents.

"The company wants to distinguish itself mainly by quality, customer orientation, productivity and profitabilty," he said.

"We are steering a course towards growth and want to develop as a European company," he added.

Weibel admitted that rapid changes within the company had made many staff unsure about the future. But he paid tribute to their flexibility, saying that the quality of the railways' offer had been maintained at a high level and productivity had increased by 9.2 per cent.

by Robert Brookes

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