Slovenian railways planning major leap forward
Mes, who said the recovering railways were starting a five-year investment cycle, said the operator hopes to wrap up a deal on the supply of 25 new passenger trains by Swiss manufacturer Stadler by the end of this year. The idea is to have the first trains arrive next year.
Given that procedures are still ongoing, Mes would not disclose any details of the deal, which however reportedly also includes the acquisition of what would be Slovenske Železnice's first ever double-decker trains. According to Meh, the goal is to get the trains for around EUR 150m, VAT excluded.
The CEO added it would be necessary to purchase 25 more trains after that, as envisaged in the call for bids published last year. He said the Slovenian railways were "extremely undernourished when it comes to modern vehicles".
Mes said the goal was securing services on a par with or better than those in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Online ticket sales as well as wireless internet are expected to be introduced this year.
Mes expects railway ticket prices will decrease in the future, since this is a trend all around continental Europe. Along with this, it will be necessary to upgrade services and make rail travel more time-effective, a key deficiency in Slovenia presently.
The CEO also commented on the search for a buyer of a 49% stake in Slovenske Železnice's cargo arm SŽ-Tovorni Promet, confirming binding bids had been submitted by French railway operators SNCF and Czech logistic giant EP Holding.
Mes said the bids were still being examined and announced additional talks. He said Slovenske Železnice wanted a strategic partner that will enable an expansion to the markets of Croatia, Italy and the Western Balkans and also provide funds for an overhaul of the cargo rolling stock. The goal is to double last year's EBIT of EUR 10m.
Turning to the stalled upgrade of the rail link to the Koper port, Mes said that Slovenske Železnice incur EUR 10m annually in additional maintenance costs because of the absence of a second track. This figure will only rise given the expected rise in transshipment.
While saying that backup scenarios are ready for the case the construction gets postponed again, Mes stressed the upgrade is of key importance both for Slovenske Železnice and the Koper port.
Several other infrastructure upgrades are meanwhile already under way or planed. "There are enough challenges out there for 20 years, all of them urgent," Mes said, arguing it was hard to make up for 50 years of deficient infrastructure investment overnight.