SWISS Federal Railways and Italian State Railways hoped to sign a ’final agreement’ by the end of January to set up a jointly owned freight and logistics company to be known as Cargo SI. The agreement is a prelude to a full merger of the two railways’ freight businesses, now expected to be completed by 2002, but subject to approval of the European competition authorities.

Initial steps to integrate management activities such as marketing, sales, purchasing, and train scheduling will be taken immediately after the agreement is signed. The due diligence process should be complete by the end of March with the intention of closing the deal by the end of June or at the latest by September.

During the second half of this year all commercial contracts and the entire freight rolling stock fleets of SBB and FS will be transferred from the parent companies to Cargo SI. Staff will also eventually transfer to the JV.

Cargo SI will be a limited company in compliance with Italian law and have its headquarters in Milano; SBB and FS will own equal shares of stock. The board chairman will be appointed by SBB and an amministratore delegato by FS.

Cargo SI will be the second largest freight operator in western Europe and give SBB a strong controlling influence on north-south freight flows.

SBB is meanwhile making arrangements to ensure that it has access to the territory of Railion, the joint Dutch-German freight operator. It is working closely with chemicals giant BASF, which has some experience in running open access freight services in Germany and has started to acquire its own motive power (RG 12.99 p755). Swiss drivers are being trained to handle trains in Germany, initially between Basel and Ludwigshafen.

Another open access operator is meanwhile preparing to enter the fray. Switzerland’s Mittelthurgau Railway has announced plans to obtain from Adtranz six Class 145 locomotives - the same model that BASF chose. Perhaps more intriguing is the company’s order for three electrically-powered Cargoroo freight multiple-units from Adtranz, with an option for 10 more. Delivery is expected in two years’ time.

Further east, Austrian Federal Railways has been keeping a close watch on the mergers and acquisitions of its neighbours. It too is taking steps to secure its future, and on December 16 ÖBB’s freight business Rail Cargo Austria announced the establishment of a joint venture called Chemlog in partnership with wagon leasing company Ermewa - in which SNCF has a major stake. Chemlog may be a direct challenge to the Swiss-German ChemOil Logistics company (RG 11.99 p688), but RCA says its principal target will be east-west traffic rather than north-south.

RCA is expecting substantial growth in intermodal business, and has also purchased 40% of Intercontainer Austria; it now owns 70% of that company, the rest being in the hands of Intercontainer-Interfrigo. RCA has further consolidated its hold on east-west traffic by setting up a joint venture called EC Logistik Polska with the aim of establishing a logistics centre in Warszawa by mid-year.

If all this activity eventually leads to higher standards of freight service and rising market share, let it be so. n