Swiss undeterred by British rail chaos

Thierry Lalive D'Epinay (left), Chairman of Swiss Federal Railways and Andy Friend, Managing Director of John Laing Investments announcing the partnership last September Keystone

The Swiss Federal Railways is forging ahead with plans to bid for a share of Britain's privatised rail market, despite the current timetable chaos caused by rail repairs and speed restrictions.

This content was published on December 23, 2000

The speed limits were imposed in Britain after a series of accidents, which highlighted the poor state of the rail network and damaged confidence in Railtrack, the company responsible for track maintenance.

"Some people think we want to invest in infrastructure in Britain, which is not the case. We want to enter a partnership to operate train services," Swiss Federal Railways spokesman, Christian Kräuchi, told swissinfo.

"But if we bid for franchises, we want to have guarantees that the rail infrastructure is well maintained. That will be part of the discussion we'll be having with the Strategic Rail Authority, if we get that far," he added.

The Federal Railways announced at the beginning of September that it was teaming up with two British partners to bid for the Thames and Wessex franchises for passenger train services running out of London.

The partners are John Laing Investments and the M40 Trains company, owner of Chiltern Railways and considered one of the better British rail service operators.

Kräuchi said the Federal Railways was pressing ahead with the plan: "A few days ago we sent in our letter of pre-qualification to say that we want to participate in the bidding process, and we hope to have a positive answer by early January."

The Federal Railways' share of the bidding costs is about £5 million (SFr12.35 million). Total Swiss investment could go up to SFr200 million if the bidding is successful.

The decision to try to enter the British market was prompted by two main considerations. The federal railways believes there is a huge potentially lucrative market, and it wants to gain experience in advance of a liberalisation of the rail market in Switzerland itself.

When the project was announced, the Swiss Transport Workers' Union criticised it as an "adventure", and said the move was a strategic and economic mistake with the risks exceeding the potential gains.

by Robert Brookes

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