SLOVAKIA: Ownership of 12 450 wagons is to be transferred from national freight operator ZSSK Cargo to a new joint venture company, Cargo Wagon AS, under the terms of a sale-and-leaseback agreement signed on March 9.

ZSSK Cargo will have a 34% stake in Cargo Wagon, while European wagon leasing company VTG and a group of investors will each hold 33%. The partners have agreed to contribute €7m in equity for the joint venture, while further funding to acquire and modernise the fleet at an estimated cost of €180m will be raised from an international banking syndicate.

Cargo Wagon has committed to lease 8 218 vehicles back to ZSSK Cargo under long-term contracts, with the remainder being released for use elsewhere. Implementation will only begin once the transaction has been approved by the relevant competition authorities.

Slovakia’s Ministry of Transport invited international tenders during 2014 for the sale of ZSSK Cargo’s wagon fleet, in order to raise funds for investment. In June, Swiss rolling stock specialist AAE was selected as preferred bidder. AAE already had an established relationship with the operator, having previously purchased 1 000 wagons from infrastructure manager ŽSR and ZSSK Cargo in 2001 and 2006, which were then leased back following refurbishment. AAE was absorbed into VTG on January 6 under the terms of a deal agreed last September.

‘We are delighted that our freight wagon management expertise can help ZSSK Cargo to take a major step forward in competitive ability and capital efficiency’, said VTG Chief Executive Dr Heiko Fischer. He believed that 'the first sale-and-leaseback transaction of any state railway wagon fleet in Europe’ could be ‘the prelude to a fundamental redefinition of the investment and risk partnership between wagon hire companies and railway undertakings’.

VTG now operates a fleet of more than 80 000 vehicles, including tank cars, intermodal wagons, and sliding-wall vans as well as standard freight wagons.