Pendolino – Massel hits back at critics

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New Pendolino in Polish colours – Alstom visualisation.

There has been widespread criticism in the Polish media regarding of PKP IC’s signing of a 2.5 billion PLN purchase and maintenance package with Alstom for 20 New Pendolino train sets. One of many voices that questioned the wisdom of the decision was independent railway consultant, Jakub Majewski. In an article for trade journal Rynek Kolejowy, Majewski wrote (BTWT translation):

It’s worth remembering that we’ve been here before. Polish railways already once bought Pendolino. In July 1998 – after a tender had been evaluated – 16 trainsets were ordered. An agreement was signed and a great success was trumpeted. But the rejoicing was short-lived, after a National Audit Office (NIK) investigation, the tender was annulled in December 1999 and no trainsets were ever delivered.

What links both these situations is the financial standing of the purchaser. Just as 13 years ago, the railway has not managed to complete the  financing package for the the modern rolling stock. To avoid history repeating itself, the Government has offered PKP InterCity a 10 year contract for the operation of long distance trains. So far approval for this deal has not been obtained from the European Commission. And it is by no means certain that approval will be granted, because when Spain was in a similar situation the subsidy was rejected. The crowning argument was that such services could be run commercially and that there was no reason to disturb the operation of free competition in the transport market. So just before the expiry of Alstom’s offer the Government has stepped in to guarantee the required credit. An agreement has been signed with the proviso that PKP IC has another three months to complete the finance package and make its final decision.

The financial barrier has led to another strange situation. In an effort to make savings PKP has bought a tilting body train that won’t tilt. This has allowed the price to be reduced at the cost of reducing the trains speed on lines with many curves. And this gives rise to another question – if we are basically buying a classical technology train which can only travel a tad faster, maybe it would have been better to have specified the operating speed at 160 km/h (100 mph) and to have bought three times as much rolling stock. Such rolling stock would have been appropriate for our generally level country and the track upgrading being carried out by PKP. It would also have been cheaper to maintain.

An investment in tilting body technology means shorter journey times and greater comfort. Purchasing classical technology trainsets means a larger pool of rolling stock, more capacity, more frequent trains and a larger network of connections. Unfortunately the chosen option manages to miss both objectives.

In an interview with Rynek Kolejowy Andrzej Massel, the Undersecretary of State at Poland’s Ministry of Infrastructure responsible for Poland’s railways, hit back at the critics.

I’m really surprised at all the critical comments that were published in the Polish media. I’m sad because what is being criticised is a clear success, an important step in the modernisation of the Polish railway.

This really is rolling stock from the top shelf rolling stock that conforms to the technical interoperability standards for high speed trains. It is capable of operating at 250 km/h. Here in Poland it will run at 220-230 km/h on the CMK.That is why we are spending money on this line to permit higher speed running. Thanks to this between Warsaw and Krakow or Katowice we will be able to offer a very high standard of service.

Comparing the Pendolino with conventional rolling stock is a grave mistake – there’s a huge difference, that’s why it guarantees a different standard of travel and different speeds. Of course acquiring such rolling stock makes greater demands, however we must take this first . If our dreams about high speed rail travel are to be realised, we have to take the first step, we have to learn about high speed railways. The CMK – where over the last few years we have invested a fair amount money and installed ECTS Level 1 will be our learning laboratory. This new rolling stock will allow us to fully exploit our investment. We also need it it for the Warsaw – Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot line where it will be able to travel faster than present day services.

I’m pleased with this transaction. I’m aware that there are those who think that we should have purchased rolling stock of a lower standard, for different routes. However, I believe that that we should look at the transaction this way – there is a complementary between infrastructure and rolling stock. The infrastructure improvements between Krakow to Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot by way of Warsaw are proceeding very sucessfully. This rolling stock will allow us to exploit these investments from 2014. At the same time it will be an important signal for the public that we really have a high speed railway. The next step will be the construction of the “Y” line linking Poznan and Wroclaw through Lodz to Warsaw.

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One Response to “Pendolino – Massel hits back at critics”

  1. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    I fully endorse ALL the comments by Jakub Majewski.

    The comments by Andrzej Massel are exactly the kind of verbiose reply that you would expect from a politician who most likely will not be around to see the completion (if it ever occurs) of this contract. Justifying the unjustifiable. He is actually talking b*ll*cks and he knows it but still tries to justify buying “Top shelf” rolling stock when it doesn’t have the tilting mechanism so is actually just a “Mid shelf” fast multiple unit that he could have got from almost any manufacturer and possibly a lot cheaper.

    It really is the “having a Mercedes in the driveway but no money for petrol” syndrome when they can barely run the service at the moment let alone a new technology that will require a gigantic leap in maintenance standards to actually keep the sets in top condition. I work on 20 year old trainsets and the difficulty we have keeping them in operating condition (how many of you readers have 20 year old computers at home?) is enormous! How would Poland cope in 20 years time with this technology when they cannot at the moment even keep enough conventional coaches in service to provide adequate capacity?

    It seems, as ever, that the top management and politicians are really out of touch (as usual!) with what is required and are not fit for purpose as can be seen from Massel’s comments above regarding the new trainsets that will not actually do much more than shave a few minutes off the times acheived at the moment. And that is a LOT of money to spend to do that!! Oh hang on, it isn’t his money……………

    The fact that this money MAY be available but ISN’T being spent where it WOULD make a difference (and you can get a lot of obsolete/derelict rolling stock rebuilt for that amount of money) is nothing short of scandalous and perhaps verges on the criminal. But refurbishing isn’t as glamorous as new rolling stock in the brave new clean world of the Polish politician so it won’t happen.

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