The cull begins, 2,000 route km to go

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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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