Last surviving Polish university department of rail transport liquidated

by

Politechnika Slaska

The Silesian University of Technology in Katowice. Photo Google Maps.

On July 10, the Dean and Council of the Faculty of Transport of the Silesian University of Technology in Katowice voted to close down the University’s Department of Rail Transport – the last such such department in Poland.

Under its head, Professor Marek Sitarz, the Department has become a world-class facility with its teaching skills much in demand.  In order to ensure the highest standards, entry to the Department is by means of a competition with an 80% grade being compulsory for entry.

The Department is closely involved in monitoring and promoting rail safety in Poland. Its post graduate courses have been attended by employees of the Urząd Transportu Kolejowego (Polish equivalent to ORR in the UK) as well as managers from many private railway companies.

The Department conducts world-class research in the field of the rail/wheel interface. Recent research papers describe work in the field of tribology and the plastic distortion of wheelsets under thermal stress. Professor Sitarz himself has been a leading member of the team conducting the acceptance test of the Pendolino trainsets being delivered by Alstom.

Profesor Sitarz

Professor Marek Sitarz. Frame capture by BTWT.

The resolution to close the Department alleges a lack of competent teaching staff and that the Department operates at a loss – which happen to be the few particular conditions under which a university may close down a whole department.

Professor Sitarz strongly disputes these claims, pointing to the fact that some 30 students graduate with an M.Sc. in rail transport each year and – in what must surely be a record for any Polish university department – 100% of them walk straight into employment, over 90% in the rail industry. He also explains that due to its external contracts the Department brings the University a substantial revenue stream. In spite of the decision being announced in the middle of the summer holidays his students have organised a petition and are planning other moves in a bid to encourage the University authorities to reconsider their decision.

So why is the University closing down Professor Sitarz’s Department? The Professor is remaining tight-lipped, hinting at personal differences with the Dean of the Transport Faculty, Professor Boguslaw Larzaz. However, our own sources in the Polish academic world have told us that such a serious decision could not just be the result of a personality clash of two academics.

Professor Sitarz is known to be an enthusiastic proponent of rail transport. The government is known for its lack of interest in developing Poland’s railways and is channelling nearly all its transport infrastructure funds into road-building. Is the opportunity being taken to silence a dissenting voice – and fire a warning shot across the bows of other would-be critics – as Poland nudges forward to its next general election?

Sources:

 

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