SWITZERLAND - The local railway operators for the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn and the Gornergrat Bahn have decided to leave the Ascoop pension fund and create their own pensionskasse.

The CHF2bn (€1.3bn) Ascoop multi-employer pensionskasse comprises over 130, mostly privately-owned, transport companies in Switzerland.

By the end of 2008 the fund was only 70% funded, down from 80% in July last year.

Two railway operators belonging to the BVZ transport group said in a statement: "The funding level of the Ascoop Pensionskasse has been at a concerning level not only since the financial crisis began but since 2001."

They argued creating their own pensionskasse will provide them with "the necessary flexibility to coordinate the recovery of the pensionskasse and the mid-term planning for investments in an optimum way."

The companies pointed out that this flexibility was not possible within the hard-hit multi-employer fund Ascoop which raised contributions by 1.5 percentage points in 2006 as a recovery measure which is still in place. (See earlier IPE story: Resistance against SBB financial aid)

The new pensionskasse for the BVZ companies, which is to be set up from January 2010, does not yet have a name as the members only voted in favour of creating a new fund yesterday, a spokesman for the BVZ told IPE.

Experts say the 600 members that both railway operators have are sufficient to set up a pensionskasse, especially as the active/pensioner ratio looks strong at 70/30.

"In a first step, the pensionskasse will only be for those two companies. But it will have to be discussed later on as to whether or not it will be opened for other companies as well", said the spokesman.

No changes will be made to the benefits paid by the pensionskasse.

The two railway operators will bring the new pensionskasse to an 80% funding level using money saved up for this purpose.

A further CHF15m will then be needed to raise it again to a 90% funding level by the end of 2009, though this depends on the Ascoop's performance this year, the company noted, and this funding gap will be filled by taking up a loan.

The fund is then expected to have CHF150m in assets by 2010.

Meanwhile, the transport union SEV has criticised the government for putting forward only one financial aid proposal to help the ailing SBB pensionskasse of the Swiss federal railways.

While an earlier draft had included several options ranging from full funding aid to a minimum contribution by the state, the government has left parliament with just one option: the granting CHF1.4bn to the SBB fund. (See earlier IPE story: Underfunded Swiss funds soldier on)

The SEV has also urged the government to come up with a rescue plan for the Ascoop pension fund and called on its members to stage a protest in Bern on September 19.

If you have any comments you would like to add to this or any other story, contact Julie Henderson on + 44 (0)20 7261 4602 or email julie.henderson@ipe.com