Plans to close 1/4 of Poland’s rail network

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Part of the ‘front page’ of today’s Rynek Kolejowy.

(Click image to read article on Rynek Kolejowy portal.)

In an exclusive scoop, Poland’s leading railway trade journal, Rynek Kolejowy (Railway Market), revealed today that Poland’s Ministry of Transport is targeting 25% of the country’s railway network for closure.

Last year, McKinsey & Co. was commissioned to analyse the options for Poland’s railways and a programme to axe some 4,000 to 5,000 route km has been ‘sold’ to the Ministry as the safe ‘middle course’.

The McKinsey report propounds the view that the size of Poland’s railway network must be adjusted to suit the country’s financial means. Under Secretary of State, Andrzej Massel told Rynek Kolejowy that a 14,000 – 15,000 route km railway network should be ‘sustainable’ and would not eat up funds earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

British readers will have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. This report mirrors the infamous ‘Beeching Report’ of the 1960s which led to the closure of two thirds of Britain’s rail network. Implementation  of the ‘Beeching Plan’ singularly failed in its public objective, that of ‘making the railways pay’. Post-Beeching BR lost much more passenger and freight traffic than had  been forecast resulting in less revenue and its ‘losses’ continued to grow.

Pre-Beeching BR was EBITA positive, but its annual accounts were weighed down by interest charges – the ‘cost’ of the capital tied up in nationalising the railways. Perversely, in Poland and in the UK, the ‘cost’ of capital is not taken into account when calculating the finances of maintaining the road network.

What Dr Beeching did succeed in doing, was transferring large volumes of heavy freight traffic onto Britain’s overcrowded roads, which in turn was used to justify an accelerated road-building programme. There are cynics who say that this was the real objective all along.

The damage done to a road surface by the passage of a road vehicle is proportional to the fifth power of its axle weight. The fact that the owners of heavy road vehicles do not pay road taxes or excise duties proportional to the fifth power of the axle weights of their lorries means that the ordinary motorist – as well as the non-motoring tax payer – is actually subsidising road freight – something almost certainly not taken into account in the McKinsey report.

Poland, has already lost about one third of its rail network, by stealth. At its peak, around 1960, the country had just under 30,000 route km of rail. This total includes non-PKP industrial lines of various gauges. Today, there are some 19,000 route km left in operation.

In post-Beeching Britain, a second round of deep cuts was planned by the Ministry of Transport in the 1970s. How it was stopped will be the subject of a future post. What does the future hold for Poland’s railways? Only time will tell.

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3 Responses to “Plans to close 1/4 of Poland’s rail network”

  1. Eric Says:

    The story continues. Exactly the same in Belgium in the ’50 / ’60.
    Closure of small stations -> less passengers -> closure of the branch line -> less passenger in transit -> closure of meduim sized line. Only remains main lines and few others.

    When I see Poland today, I realise they don’t understand our past mistakes…

  2. John Savery Says:

    Reading the lists and looking at the Rail Atlas, this includes lifting the closed lines around Wolsztyn to Sulechow, and to Nowa Sol along their entire lengths. This also includes the length of track still used to Powodowo cement works, just outside Wolsztyn.

    Additionally, the closures include the entire length of the line from Leszno to Zbaszyn, effectively turning Wolsztyn into the end of a long siding from Poznan. The Leszno to Zbaszyn route is being closed by stealth with a large reduction in services over the past few years.

  3. Boldfield Says:

    The closures will also not save very much as maintenance of lightly used lines is very low oftern using second hand material.
    I bet they are using the average maintenance cost per km to calculate the savings just as Beeching did.

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