Valer Blidar, the entrepreneur controlling the passenger railway car manufacturer Astra Vagoane Călători Arad has, without any doubt, a life story like those in the movies.
The history of the only producer with Romanian capital which produces passenger cars, trolley buses, trams and subways begins in 1891, when the Austrian industrial entrepreneur Johann Weitzer founded in the city of Arad the wagon and motor factory – Johan Weitzer S.A., a joint stock company aimed to cover the needs of rolling stock for the entire eastern area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Central and South-Eastern Europe. After the World War I, following the Union of Transylvania with Romania, the joint stock Company ”ASTRA” is founded in 1921, being the first Romanian factory, specializing in manufacturing of railway vehicles, locomotives, trams, cars, trucks, tractors, agricultural machinery, bridges, metal constructions, engines, planes, balloons and aircraft equipment.
In 1990, along with the switch of Romania to the market economy, the establishment of the commercial company ”S.C. ASTRA wagons Arad S.A.” takes place. In year 2000, at the time when Valer Blidar took over the factory, Astra was on the brink of bankruptcy. The years 2001, 2002 and 2003 marked the first battles he won with the challenges of the new beginning of the century. New structures have been implemented and a program has been launched which involved massive investments to modernize all internal facilities.
Year 2005 is notable for the first leap in revenues as well as for the confirmation of a thoroughly prepared ascending process. The year 2006 goes on in the same ascending line of previous years, with a turnover 100% higher than that of 2005. The big investments started in 2006 were completed in 2008. Since year 2000 and on the company has delivered almost 800 railway cars of which almost half are operated by the National Railway Company CFR. The other half ended up in international contracts in countries such as Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Italy and the Czech Republic.
Internal demand, an alarm signal
The lack of support for internal demand is increasingly visible. The company controlled by Valer Blidar in 2017 saw a turnover of over 41.5 million lei, down from 60 million lei a year earlier. Losses also doubled, so Astra Vagoane reported to the Finance Ministry a loss of 22 million lei, compared to nearly 10 million lei in 2016.
”We are the only country in the world, also taking into account the underdeveloped countries, where no funds have been earmarked in the last seven years to finance the public rail transportation. Nobody cares about us, the businesmmen dealing with industry. The only institution of the state that keeps a keen eye on us is the fiscal agency”, said Valer Blidar.
A breath of air for his company came last year from the city hall in Oradea which signed a contract with the Arad-based producer for the acquisition of 10 trams, which will be delivered in two stages: the first in October 2019 and the following in 2020. The businessman said earlier in July during the first half of this year the plant worked at just 30% of its overall capacity.
Another business controlled by Valer Blidar is Astra Trans Carpatic, a company that invested EUR 20 million in opening new railway routes, following the acquisition of 15 autoengines from Denmark‘s railways company. The railway company put into circulation in September the first train aquired on the route Timişoara-Arad-Satu Mare-Baia Mare, offering travelling conditions considered as luxury by passengers. According to Blidar, the company wants to provide fast, comfortable regional transport, also offering various passenger services. The other equipment purchased will be put into circulation by 2019. Astra Trans Carpatic launched in February 2017 its first railway route from Arad to Bucharest, the train being produced by Astra Vagoane.