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ÖBB accused of loan dumping over damaged wheels

Austrian railway unions have criticised management at the Austrian state railway the ÖBB for using locations in eastern Europe to maintain rolling stock which has meant the railway's trucks have been banned in Italy.

Earlier this week it was revealed that unsafe wheels were to blame for an  accident in South Tyrol and a check of other trucks revealed problems with up to 2000 goods trucks, resulting in a ban on ÖBB carriages going into the country.

The report said the 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.

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.

The trade unionists say that while the future of the ÖBB factory in Salzburg has been put under threat because of the move to switch work to Slovakia – the accident proves it was the wrong decision and they accused management of wage dumping.

Union spokesman Walter Androschin said: "The movement of maintenance to Slovakia has caused major problems for the yards in Salzburg, Jedlersdorf and Bruck an der Mur. Management have already predicted that there are now 1,000 too many staff in Austria."

The ÖBB however has rejected the union suggestion that there are any plans to close the Salzburg workshop.

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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