Railway chaos… who’s to blame?


InterRegio Wrocław – Swinoujscie entering Choszczno station, June 2009. Photo H. Ciszewska-Czyz, Wikipedia Commons.

(Click image for details of licensing.)

Pass the parcel is the name of the train blame game. Hot on the heels of Behind The Water Tower’s exposé about the chaotic introduction of the new timetable [well 8 days later] RMF 24 published an interview about the way the new time timetable was introduced with Polish railway pundit Jacob Majewski (1). It’s the Minister of Infrastructure and his subordinate Office of Railway Transport [UTK] that are responsible for the complete mess on the Polish railways, screams the first sentence. West of the River Oder the new timetable is published a month before it introduced, Majewski points out. Well actually, in Germany it has to be published 6 weeks before, and European best practice is 90 days. The Office of Railway Transport is the body responsible for ensuring that the market works effectively, adds Majewski. If the UTK don’t defend passenger rights, thunders Majewski, the EU will take action. If only!

Another version of the interview has appeared on the on-line pages of trade journal Rynek Kolejowy (Railway Market). Jakub  Majewski, primarily blames the train operating companies who were introducing changes up to the last minute. Meanwhile passengers continue to face difficulties. There are still significant differences between the times that the trains are running according to the printed timetables and the times that the trains actually run. In Warszawa Centralna station the problem is compounded by the tiny screens – only showing a few trains at a time with limited information about intermediary stops – that replaced the old electro-mechanical arrivals and departures board. Gazeta Wyborcza’s Warsaw supplement reports that the chaos at Centralna is compounded by the noise of the renovation work which drowns out the PA announcements.

Other problems include trains running at the wrong times to bring people to work or no information about which fares apply. Podroznik reports that he has been unable to find out on which of the trains running between Poznan and Frankfurt on Oder the Sasiedzi special offer applies to. So are the rain operating companies, or Cezary Garbarczyk, the Minister of Infrastructure, and Juliusz Engelhardt, his Undersecretary of State responsible for rail, to blame for this year’s chaos? Our view is that the train operating companies are too far down the feeding chain to have much say in the matter. Rzeczpospolita reports that of the 14 provincial governments responsible for funding Przewozy Regionalne operations only 2 have finalised their 2011 contribution. The funding of PKP IC, which suffered a massive loss in 2010 remains equally uncertain.

So who is really to blame? Of course, the Minister of Infrastructure and his Secretary of State should be prepared to stand up and admit that their laissez faire free-market policy is not working. But blame for Poland’s rail financial crisis, which is driving the timetable chaos, extends to other ministries as well. Jacek Rostowski, in charge of the Ministry of Finance, should look again at the financial implications of the Government’s transport spending and analyse whether the government’s absurdly pro-road financing policy is – in the long-term – really cost effective. He should also urgently review the penal rates of local taxes levied on PKP and other other infrastructure managers.

Other Ministries are also responsible for policies which have componded Poland’s rail inndustry woes. Andrzej Kraszewski, at the Ministry of the Environment, should remind his colleagues that Poland is in breach of its EU CO2 reduction obligations and that road transport is a major factor in Poland’s CO2 emissions. Elzbieta Bienkowska, the Minister of Regional Development, should review whether the rules her department have introduced for administering EU infrastructure funding are unnecessarily complicated. Meanwhile, Jerzy Miller, responsibe for the Ministry of the Interior and Administration, is ultimately responsible for the absurdly long legal processes which have hindered the development, or transfer, of PKP’s real estate. These in turn have destroyed the opportunity for any privatisation ‘windfall’ for the treasury which could have offset PKP debts.

Will the relevant Ministries, each of which jealously guard their patch, work together to solve Poland’s rail crisis? Does water run uphill? [The original phrase here which involved animals flying has been edited. Ed.]


(1) For a definition of railway pundit, Google Christian Wolmar.

If any BTWT readers have studied the new timetable and have discovered significant changes – train services cancelled, new services introduced, timing differences – we would like to hear from you.

While today’s post contains links to quite a few source article written in Polish, we trust that BTWT readers wishing to follow these up will have no difficulty in viewing a fairly good translation courtesy of Google Translate.

2 Responses to “Railway chaos… who’s to blame?”

  1. Michael Says:

    There are some interesting new services – such as the introduction of direct TLK trains (taking 3 hours) from Poznan-Lodz, plus a 2nd PR service from Poznan-Frankfurt (Oder).

    I also notice that the Jaslo-Chyrow (UA) service has finally been culled.

    Also seems like Przewozy Regionalne have reinstated a direct Kostrzyn nad Odrą-Poznan service – which, of course, is at useless times in terms of providing a connection for an onwards Berlin connection.

    I only wish I understood why Berlin connections to Western Poland are just so poor – whatever happened to DB’s talk about entering the market here?

  2. Paul Mackenzie Says:

    Privatization will not solve your problems. Look what happened to Britain’s railways once BR was split up and sold off. Cost billions more to run in private sector. Most TOCs are technically bankrupt and rely on massive taxpayer subsidies. Only winners are shareholders and directors.

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