Polish heritage rail and EU funding

by

Too little trickles down to where its needed

EU project notice Karczmiska Station. Photo L Grabczak, Radio Lublin.

(Click image to see more photos taken recently at the Naleczow Railway’s Karczmiska headquarters.)

There seems something distinctly odd about the way that Polish heritage and tourist lines use EU funds. Only a handful of lines have actually benefited from EU funding, but those that have seem wary of spending much money on the basic ‘train set’. Rolling stock continues to be left out in the open and subject to the depredation of vandals and the Polish weather. Infrastructure and rolling stock gets hardly a mention. Track receives the absolute minimum attention. Unique steam locomotives are left to decay as ‘technical monuments’.

Meanwhile precious EU funding is focussed elsewhere. Station buildings are restored, or built from scratch, and paved platforms are built where there was once only a few kerb stones and a bank of ballast. Since it is unlikely that all local authority owners suffer from the same tunnel vision, could it be that this obsession with buildings is the result of implementing EU project guidelines set by the Ministry of Regional Development?

The Naleczow Railway is the beneficent of a 3.999 million zloty EU-assisted project. The station buildings at Karczmiska have been immaculately restored, yet the track, rolling and depot buildings continue to present a sorry sight. The railway has not been operational since SKPL ceased operating the line at the end of 2008.

Newly built platforms and station buildings at Hajnowka. From a photo at bialowieza-info.eu

(Click on image to see more photos of the Bialowiza Forest Railway on the bialowieza-info.eu website.)

The Bialowieza Forest Railway has built a new station, platform and prestigious office facilities at Hajnowka. Yet one historic HF ‘Feldbahn’ locomotive languishes in the open, while its sister, which is in near working order, rests in its shed unused for want of a boiler inspection.

Project for rebuilding Rewal Station
Visualisation © Ingeno Consult BPK Sp. z o.o.

(Click image to see more Ingeno design sketches. Click here to go to Ingeno Group website.)

A 47 million PLN (£10 million) EU-assisted project for the Gryfice narrow gauge railway envisages two brand new station buildings, platform awnings, paved platforms, ‘retro’ lamps, art galleries, museums, a library, cafés, cycle hire and bed and breakfast facilities. Yet the railway passes through some of Poland’s most developed seaside tourist infrastructure. Does Rewal Council need to finance all these facilities itself? Are they all necessary? Only 8 km of track of the line’s 40 plus km will receive attention as a result of the program and the railway’s solitary Px48 – borrowed from the Railway Museum in Warsaw – will not be augmented by any additional steam engine.

More on Rewal (in Polish):

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One Response to “Polish heritage rail and EU funding”

  1. Steve Says:

    I used to work on Poland’s programmes for using EU funds when they were first being produced, but I have lost touch now. However, you may well be right that the projects are limited by the Ministry of Regional Development/Ministry of Economy/etc rules. It is all very complex, so I can’t quickly check, but some issues may be:

    Initial plans were to have complete access by the non-government sector to tourism and transport infrastructure, although with standard EU lower grant rates. This was stopped by the European Commission, who required all support for private organisations to be out in an entrepreneurship programme, which quite pleased that part of the Ministry of Economy that dealt with businesses. From a very quick look at the current programme descriptions, this may make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to get support for investment projects of this nature. They can be supported as part of public-private partnerships, but that may require their involvement in development of public sector (eg gmina) assets, rather than their own property, which are most likely to be things like stations. Such partnerships can be very difficult to create and maintain, however.

    I suspect gmina projects would fall into regional programmes, rather than the Ministry of Economy’s, but in rural areas it may be the Ministry of Agriculture. Apart from having difficulty in seeing quickly where the projects fit in in the programmes, it is difficult to see what can be supported. The word ‘infrastructure’ crops up regularly, which is very ambiguous – it could mean the overall impact of a project eg tourist infrastructure or the detailed contents of a project eg stations and not rolling stock. (The British tradition was the first, but Commission pressure was for the second in Poland and there was strong pressure within Poland, at least in the early days, for clarity rather than flexibility.) Even if there is flexibility, between gminas looking for the highest certainty of getting support; consultants who, no matter how good, often have pretty weird ideas; and programme managing authorities and the Ministry of Regional Development trying to provide clarity to potential recipients and project decision makers who will argue for hours over the meaning of a word – believe me I have heard them – going for the easiest option is inevitable. (Semi-competent Commission officials can be quite a pain in the background as well.) I have gone on at some length, but I hope you will get the impression, that as there so many complications, going for a simple building related project is probably the best practical option.

    On another point you mentioned, a gmina can only legally undertake a project in its own area and it will have to show ownership of all the assets. The exception of creating a framework of legal agreements with other gminas, etc, is in practice, very difficult.

    To add a final complication, the closed Naleczow Railway sounds as though the EU money should be repaid, unless they have developed the station as a feature independent of a running railway.

    It’s not surprising that many potential applicants feel that it is not worth all the time and money in developing projects that they cannot even know will be chosen for support. Others, of course, don’t have the money to pay their part of the costs.

    (gmina = smallest local government unit in a particular area)

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