How not to organise Poland’s railways

by

Map ©Doe’s Directory of Bus and Rail Timetables, Web Sites and Enquiry Offices.

(Click on map to go to Barry Doe’s website from which a high resolution version of this map can be downloaded as follows. First click on the link Rail Operators in the British Isles and download the corresponding pdf file. Then open the downloaded document and click on the link http://www.barrydoe.co.uk/railmap14.pdf which is under the Miscellaneous heading towards the bottom of the first page.)

Barry Doe produces a comprehensive series of fact sheets on the UK’s bus and railway services, all of which can be downloaded as pdf files from his website. I was particularly interested in seeing the map that he produced entitled, 2010 Great Britain National rail Passenger Operators, a thumbnail of which is reproduced at the head of this article. If anyone wonders why railway services are so expensive on this small island a glance at Barry’s map provides a big clue.

The fragmented railway system that Britain ended up with after John Major’s botched privatisation is surely an object lesson into how not to reorganise a nation’s railways. One would have thought that consultants would be travelling around the world advising governments and railway companies on all the lessons to be learnt from the mistakes that were made in the UK. Unfortunately, the consultants, lawyers and bankers were the one group that did benefit from the UK’s rail privatisation.

After surveying the field like vultures circling the skies looking for their next meal the papercrats descended on Poland where the politicians were stupid enough (or perhaps greedy enough?) to buy the UK privatisation model hook, line and sinker. Not content with separating railway operations from railway infrastructure, the Poles have gone one further and even split up the management of railway infrastructure into a number of separate companies.

PKP S.A. owns the land on which the railway is built. PKP Linie Kolejowe administers the track over which the trains run. PKP Informatyka runs the computers which provides the rest of Poland’s railway companies with IT. PKP Energytyka delivers the electricity which keeps the trains running, PKP Telekomunikacja provides the telephone and Internet links and dozens of independent contractors are responsible for keeping everything running.

Now there are proposals to fit locomotives with electricity meters! As the Jersey child abuse campaigner, Senator Stuart Syvret, regularly exclaims in exasperation, You couldn’t make it up!

(The first part of this article is also being cross posted on Tunnel Vision.)

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One Response to “How not to organise Poland’s railways”

  1. Michael Carlsson Says:

    Thanks for a great blog!

    My home country, Sweden, has also walked the privatisation path. Nowadays we have electric meters in our loco’s too … The privatisation process, which has been going on since at least 2001, or even 1989, depending on how you prefer to count, is truly a disaster. Aside from politics, should infrastructure and important things like electrical grids, railways, hospitals, police, military… be organised by the community or privately?

    There is no straightforward answer, although I myself prefer that the state organize the key things we need in order to have a working state and a business life. Now, the great disadvantage I’ve seen with railway privatisation is that the railway seems unable to adapt to new playing rules. All right, after many decades of centralised organisation it’s hard to split everything down in smaller units again; there is no suitable infrastructure to support dozens of small new companies: no workshops, no siding tracks, no room to grow, no intention from the old ‘dragon’ state railway company to let go of the bits and pieces they don’t need but others do. It couldn’t be much harder to start all over again from the 1850’s, except for the actual railway lines which thankfully are there. Or at least, many of them are.

    The privatisation project would have succeeded better if everybody had accepted the new standards, remembered what ‘good railway operation’ is about and cooperated with each other in order to serve the community with transport. The bad thing with the old state railways was that they existed to run their trains, and if you wanted to go on one you’d better hurry up. The ‘service’ part was never there, not seriously, only as a operational problem. Just think how much the railway would work without all those annoying passengers and that silly, fragile goods! Today’s problem is that this old approach to customer is still there despite privatisation. Privatisation could and should have been a great opportunity for the railway to reinvent its service ethos to its customers but when it didn’t take place the result was a disaster.

    Privatisation, though badly regarded among railway workers, is a great opportunity to reinvent railway operations. 10 years of whacky changes has left lots of great business opportunities around. The thing is, you have to adapt, you have to see the railway in the eyes of the society and you have to know what a ‘good railway’ is, and put this together. It’s nothing like what it has been, yet they still operate things that just like they’ve always done. Too often the result is a mixture of the bad things from the new and the old, but nothing stands in the way for the mix to be of the good things instead, except ourselves and our discomfort with the great change privatisation means! Having said this, I fully agree with those who think privatisation has been a disaster. But such an outcome is not a foregone conclusion of the privatisation itself.

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