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ÖBB safety fears over outsourcing of rolling stock

Austria's state railway system could be facing a multi-million pound bill if Italian officials are correct and that many of its goods wagons have got faulty wheels thanks to outsourcing in eastern Europe.

According to a report on the Austrian state broadcaster the ORF, a Slovakian subsidiary firm of the rail company is responsible for maintenance of wheels on the wagons, but this work has now come into focus after an accident in Italy in southern Tyrol in June. The driver and a railway worker was slightly injured in the incident.

As a result of this accident rail safety inspectors were called in and said the wheels of the Austrian wagons were the cause of the crash.

This meant that rail safety officials then stopped all Austrian wagons at the border and found numerous flaws which led them to the conclusion that at least 2,000 goods wagons from the ÖBB were not up to standard and needed repair urgently.

According to the Austrian broadcasting correspondent Mathilde Schwabeneder in Italy "prosecutors in Bozen are now investigating with a technical commission and it appears that the wheels were maintained by the Slovakian firm. It is now being examined whether this is where the problem arose. All of the goods wagons that have been maintained by this firm are now only allowed to operate in Italy with a special permit." She said it was too early to see whether charges would be raised and against who.

What is known is that the problem with the wheels has led to several high-profile discussions at the ÖBB and its daughter firm TS Slovakia, which has reportedly accepted the findings of the Italian investigation according to leaked reports.

According to information to hand the Slovakian firm passed them on to a Polish company ZOS which has in turn its own subsidiary in the Slovakian Trnava.

But this does not have the capacity to correct all the problem wheels.

According to a leaked ÖBB report the number of reported damaged wheels has risen enormously since the year 2009. The number that were given the NOK (Not OK) symbol was just 7 in 2008, over 221 in 2009 and up to 926 in 2010.

The cost of repairing the damaged wheels is estimated at least at 2.2 million euros.

ÖBB spokesperson Rene Zumtobel said that since the accident security checks been strengthened. And the ÖBB also said that all wagons that were maintained by ZOS in Slovakia were being checked.

ÖBB will make its position public on the problem in the next few days at a press conference.

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