Bonn to privatise motorway network

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BONN (Reuter) - Germany's cash-strapped coalition government yesterday announced its intention to privatise the country's vast autobahn network.

'To finance a reform of the railways . . . the coalition agreed on the goal of ultimate privatisation of the motorways,' the government spokesman, Dieter Vogel, said in a statement.

As an interim step, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's centre-right coalition had agreed to 'consider positively' introducing user fees for the motorway system, he added. This would involve window stickers which drivers would have to buy and display in order to use the autobahn network that was originally built up by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

The transport ministry said on Friday that it was considering an annual motorway fee of 100 to 400 marks (pounds 42 to pounds 167) from next year which both domestic and foreign cars would have to pay. The government believes autobahn levies would ease motorway congestion by encouraging people to switch to public transport but its plans seemed certain to meet fierce opposition from the country's powerful motoring lobby.

Bonn is already planning to sell off the state-run railways gradually from 1994, but needs to pump in cash to modernise them before anyone is likely to be interested in the network, which makes annual losses of more than DM5bn. Money saved by privatising or charging for motorways will be transferred to the railways.

Mr Vogel said on Tuesday that further talks would be held on details of changes in the transport system, including a possible oil tax rise, to help fund rail privatisation.