Archive for February, 2013

Boroń – new boss at Cargo

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

lukasz_boron

Łukasz Boron. From a photo by PKP Cargo.

On Monday 25 January, the PKP group announced that Łukasz Boron, the former Finance Director of PKP Cargo, has been appointed the Company’s new chairman, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of Wojciech Balczun.

Adam Purwin, previously tipped for the top job in Cargo, and currently heading the PKP SA department responsible for privatisation strategy, moves into the Finance Director job vacated by Boron. Acting Chairman, Marek Zaleśy, formerly Sales Director retains his membership of PKP Cargo’s board.

At Monday’s press conference, Boron announced that his intention would be to continue the good work started by his predecessor Wojciech Balczun in getting PKP Cargo ready for its début on Warsaw’s stock exchange. At the end of January, Transport Minister, Sławomir Nowak authorised the partial privatization of PKP Cargo by the sale of up to 50% of the shares of PKP Cargo. PKP SA is to retain a controlling interest in PKP Cargo.

Boron announced that he had identified three priority areas. The first of these was ‘consolidating’ Cargo’s existing markets: carrying steel, coal and aggregates.  This is a sector where Cargo has lost traffic thanks to the heavy engine / long train tactics of new competitors such as DB Schenker and Freightliner PL. The second was expansion into fast growing new markets such as biomass and intermodal, including expansion abroad, not only into the countries that are Poland’s immediate neighbours, but also further afield as far as Hungary and Holland. The third was to continue streamlining the company and cutting costs.

Łukasz Boron has worked in the railway industry for 8 months. He is a mergers and acquisition specialist having worked for four years in that role with KPMG Corporate Finance, then from 2011 he headed the M&A department of Erste Group Bank AG Investment Banking in Vienna.

Pleszew – the end of an era

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Last regular n.g. passenger service in Poland ends

pleszew-shed

One year to go – railbus MBxd2-216 on shed at Pleszew Miasto on 1 December 2011. Photo Ed Beale.

On 7 December 2012, unnoticed and unreported, regular passenger trains on the Pleszew narrow gauge railway ceased, bringing to a close the long era of regular passenger services on the Polish narrow gauge.

The end of services was not announced on the SKPL Facebook page (now their only news outlet, since their old website closed down a couple of years ago), and only came to light as the result of a question posted on the 750mm.pl forum. The railway has not closed completely, and it is likely that occasional tourist specials will continue to run on the narrow gauge tracks, as well as regular freight on the standard gauge tracks.

The Pleszew railway, being just 4km long and dual-gauge throughout, seemed an unlikely candidate for Poland’s last regular narrow gauge passenger service, but it outlasted Smigiel by 2 years, and Krosniewice by almost 5 years.

The service survived with local authority funding, and using the staff employed by SKPL’s profitable freight business but, as we reported in September, when the local authority funding was cut last autumn and a through ticketing arrangement with Przewozy Regionalne fell through, the end of the passenger services was inevitable, and in the event it survived for only two months.

The 4km Pleszew Wask to Pleszew Miasto line is the surviving part of the Krotoszyn District Railway, which opened in 1900 and at its maximum extent ran 50km from Krotoszyn, through Dobrzyca and Pleszew, to Broniszewice.

The railway was operated by PKP until 9 June 2001, then closed for 5 years until it was reopened under the management of SKPL on 17 September 2006. As well as the station buildings at Pleszew Wask and Pleszew Miasto, and the locomotive sheds and plinthed Px48 steam locomotive at Pleszew Miasto, some remains of the rest of the railway exist, including another plinthed Px48 and train at Krotoszyn, and the station building at Dobrzyca.

Fire at Wolsztyn

Monday, 25 February 2013

Steam services suspended.

wolsztyn-fire

Carriage fire at Wolsztyn, 25 February 2013. Photo OSP Keblowo.

(Click to see the original photo on the TPWP website.)

At around 1am on Monday 25 February the fire brigade were called to a fire at Wolsztyn. One of the two carriages used for the regular steam service was almost completely destroyed in the blaze, though the fire brigade managed to prevent it spreading to the second coach. With no spare steam heat-capable stock Koleje Wielkopolskie were forced to cancel today’s steam service. A railbus normally used on the Leszno service was substituted.

This unfortunate event has highlighted once again how tenuous the steam hauled service at Wolsztyn is, where the loss of one coach or a single locomotive failure can lead to the suspension of the service, often for a week or more. The steam service may now be suspended for some time until Koleje Wielkopolskie can obtain a suitable replacement coach.

Three anniversaries

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Vacancy – Polish Poet Laureate

Grand_Central_Terminal_Night

Grand Central Terminal in New York. Photo by Fcb981.

(Click image to expand. Click here for details of licensing.)

Three railway-connected anniversaries have featured recently in the mainstream media. The first is the centenary of Grand Central Terminal in New York which was celebrated on the BBC’s WWW News Magazine in an admirable article by Princeton University Professor of History, David Cannadine.

At the time of its construction, Grand Central was acclaimed as an engineering marvel. In the subterranean depths of Manhattan, a huge space was carved out, where trains could be boarded from platforms at two different levels, which were approached by gently sloping ramps rather than inconvenient stairs, and in terms of lighting and power, it was one of the first railroad stations to be all-electric…

…Above ground there arose a spectacular beaux arts creation, all marble and chandeliers and sculpture and glass, the centrepiece of which was a huge and lofty passenger concourse, which drew the eyes of awe-struck passengers heavenwards, where they could marvel at a vast, barrelled ceiling, painted blue and decorated with the signs of the zodiac.

I had no idea, until I read Cannadine’s piece that the preservation and restoration of Grand Central Terminal owes much to the growth of architectural conciousness which followed the public outcry after the demolition of Grand Central’s neighbour, the Pennsylvania Station in 1963.

Penn_Station

Pennsylvania Rail Road Station shortly after completion in 1911.

(Click image to see original on Wikipedia.)

Penn Station, as it became known, was was faced with pink granite and built in the classical Doric style similar to the late lamented Euston Arch. The main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, was at 150 feet high, the largest indoor space in New York City and one of the largest public spaces in the world.

Penn interior

Penn Station concourse shortly before closure and demolition.

(Click image to see original on Wikipedia.)

The interior of Penn Station’s 1910-built steel and glass train shed uncannily resembled the interior of London’s Liverpool Street Station which was opened in 1874. Liverpool Street Station has had a radical facelift, but was saved from demolition and comprehensive redevelopment thanks to the efforts of Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

Which brings the subject round neatly to the fortieth anniversary of the broadcast of Betjeman’s Metro-Land.

Sir John, one year into his 12-year tenure as Poet Laureate, took spellbound viewers on a 48-minute trip along the line from Baker Street, in central London, to Amersham, Buckinghamshire, through the suburbs created by the Metropolitan Railway between 1910 and 1933.

He met a birdwatcher in Neasden, the carnival queens of Croxley Green and a man who had bought a Wurlitzer cinema organ and rebuilt it in his home in Chorleywood. He visited semi-detached homes with freshly-mown front lawns and cars on the driveway that demanded a ritual Sunday sponge and suds clean.

The above piece comes not, as might be expected from the BBC website, but was published by the Daily Express. The BBC, one an icon of all that was best in broadcasting, has strayed far from the path laid down for it by Lord Reith and seems to be doomed to continue its decline and fall.

And the 3rd anniversary is, of course, the 150th anniversary of the journey of the world’s first underground train. Celebrated in style by LUL and given generous coverage by all of Britain’s mainstream media. The extract below from a sympathetic blog article by Dave Hill on the Guardian’s website is typical.

Two things stood out from my steam train ride yesterday evening down the route of the first ever London underground railway journey from Paddington to Farringdon: one was the nostalgic charm of the experience, especially the smells; the other was the enthusiasm of the many spectators gathered on the platforms of the stations we chuffed past.

Perhaps we need a rail-minded Poet Laureate in Poland to set the public’s imagination alight about the country’s railway heritage and and halt its wanton destruction?

Now who can remember the last regular, steam-operated, passenger service train on the Underground?

The cull begins, 2,000 route km to go

Saturday, 16 February 2013

3,000 km more to follow?

Optymalizacja

PLK’s ‘Network Optimisation’ presentation.

(Click image to view or download the pdf file which includes a list of lines affected.)

On Friday, Poland’s rail infrastructure manager, PKP PLK,  announced that a total of 2,000 route kilometres was due to close by the end of the year.

According to PKP PLK, the effects of the programme – some 90 lines are due to close – will be to reduce the size of the Polish railway network from 19,200 km to 17,200 km. However, in September 2012, Rynek Kolejowy, was reporting that a ‘deal’ had been concluded within the Ministry of Transport whereby the target size of the Polish railway network would be some 14,000 – 15,000 km, necessitating a total line cull of some 5,000 km.

Perhaps, fearing a backlash from the Polish railway trade unions and the new train operating companies, PKP PLK is trying to put as much positive spin on the news as possible. (The unions are already furious that PKP’s daughter companies are trying to renege on a travel benefits package that was awarded to railway employees as part of an earlier salary and benefits package.)

PLK are talking about network ‘optimisation’ rather than closure. The lines would only be ‘suspended for a time’ rather than ‘closed’, says PLK’s vice chairman, Filip Wojciechowski, in charge of the restructuring programme. Only 910 km of route are definitively due to close, the other 1090 km will only close after the demand from train operating companies has been taking into account. There will be no further closures Wojcichowski assured at a press conference.

To those familiar with the Beeching closure programme much of the above language will be depressingly familiar. Services in the UK were only ‘suspended’, then after closure railway lines were disposed of in indecent haste as if to make sure that any subsequent reopening would be nigh on impossible.

Strategic considerations were sacrificed for short term financial goals. The Great Central Railway route from London to Manchester, constructed to European loading gauge, was closed at the same time that a detailed geological survey was being conducted prior to the connection of Britain’s railways to Europe via the Channel Tunnel! When the Beeching closures failed to make BR profitable another round of drastic closures was proposed in the early 1970s which was only averted by the most vigorous lobbying.

What is really depressing is that the supporting material released by PLK also seems to be based on the principle that PKP PLK should be ‘making a profit’. Any lines that detract from this objective should be axed. PLK’s press release cites the example of the 84 km section of line 227 between Czerwonka – Orzysz which carries only 3-4 freight trains a week and is supposed to be losing PLK over 1.5 million PLN a year.

Not only does the 1.5 million loss seem totally unrelated to anything happening on the ground – such lines enjoy zero annual maintenance and the block keepers and level crossing keepers were all laid of year’s ago – the implication that this traffic should all go by road makes no allowance for the additional road maintenance bill caused by the lorries carrying the transferred freight traffic.

It is a fact, frequently ignored by Poland’s transport planners, that the damage caused by a road vehicle moving over a road service varies as the 4th power of its axle weight. A simple calculation demonstrates that the typical HGV travelling over Poland’s roads is subsidised by ordinary motorists and taxpayers. It is a sobering thought that most of Poland’s road network would fail the ‘profitability test’ being applied by Poland’s Ministry of Transport to the country’s rail network.

Is Friday’s news the beginning of a stealth closure programme which in reality is targeting 25% or more of Poland’s railway network. Here at BTWT we very much fear that the evidence strongly suggests that in  reality this is the case.

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EU suspends road payments

Monday, 4 February 2013

elzbieta_bienkowska

Under Pressure, Elzbieta Bienkowska, Minister of Regional Development. From a photo by Piotr Drabik.

(Click on image to see original on pl.wikipedia and for licensing.)

The European Commission has blocked the repayment of funds due to Poland for EU-assisted road building projects under the auspices of the Infrastructure and Environment programme and Eastern Poland development program.

The reason for the stoppage is a court case that has been running for several months into the behaviour of ten road construction company bosses and a senior director of Poland’s Trunk Roads Directorate, the GDDKiA. The accused face charges that they formed a cartel which affected the tenders for sections of the S8 expressway and a section of the A$ motorway.

European Commission officials have demanded that Poland withdraws its refund applications for the tenders which are the subject of the court proceedings, puts in place an urgent investigation into its control procedures, and undertakes urgent checks to see whether any other tenders could have been effected to similar illegal price-fixing agreements.

Some 3.5 billion PLN in EU refunds are stopped, that being the sum of monies due to Poland that are ‘in the pipeline’. If the stoppage effects projects for which Poland has not yet submitted the refund applications the sum could be much higher.

On Friday 1 February, Infrastructure Minister, Slawomir Nowak, and Regional Development Minister, Elzbieta Bienkowska, came back from consultations with EU officials in Brussels and declared that they expect the EU stoppage to be lifted soon. Others are less optimistic – other EU investigations are under way could effect even more refunds. If matters are not resolved by May the GDDKiA could become insolvent.

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