Archive for the ‘EU funding’ Category

Transport Minister Nowak resigns

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Bienkowska to head new super-ministry

Senat RP

Elzbieta Bienkowska. Photo Adam Nurkiewicz, Senat Rzespospolitej Polskiej, via Wikipedia.

Slawomir Nowak, the Minister of Transport, Construction and Maritime Affairs has resigned. Responsibility for running the transport ministry will pass to Elzbieta Bienkowska, currently head of the Ministry of Regional Development. Bienkowska will have the title of ‘deputy prime minister’ and head a new combined ministry of Infrastructure and Development, becoming the most important Polish politician after Poland’s Prime Minister, Donald Tusk.

The changes are part of a cabinet shake up announced by Tusk at a time when opinion polls shows public support waning for the ruling party, Platforma Obywatelska. Nowak’s fate was sealed when Warsaw prosecutors investigating the afera zegarkowa (the retiring Minister had a penchant for very expensive watches) made a formal request for Nowak’s parliamentary immunity to be revoked. Other changes announced by the Prime Minister included the replacement of Jacek Rostowski as Finance Minister by Mateusz Szczurek.

Mateusz Szczurek is regarded by people close to the Ministry of Finance as a relatively inexperienced, but safe, place-holder until the next parliamentary elections; not so Bienkowska who is thought to be the most competent minister in Tusk’s government.

Elzbieta Bienkowska was born on 4 February 1964 in Katowice. She obtained an MA degree in Oriental Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. She also studied at the National School of Public Administration and was awarded an MBA by the Warsaw School of Economics. Throughout her career she was involved in the implementation of EU-funded projects. In 1999-2007, she was director of the Department of Regional Development in the Office of the Chief Executive of the Province of Silesia. Earlier she had worked on regional development strategy in the office of the Governor of Silesia in Katowice.

With the administration of EU-funded projects seen as a major weakness in the current arrangements for the renovation of Poland’s railways, it is hoped that Bienkowska will ensure that the necessary reforms are implemented at the appropriate levels in her new ministry and PKP.


EU suspends road payments

Monday, 4 February 2013


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.


Railway roundabout

Monday, 10 September 2012

Jacek Rostocki, Poland’s Finance Minister at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. Mr Rostocki shares Mrs Thatcher’s antipathy to rail, but seems to have been persuaded that Poland would not get its share of the next tranche of EU funding if it did not continue to invest in improvements to its rail network. Photo by World Economic Forum.

(Click image to see original on and for details of licensing.)

It has been a crazy fortnight. After having spent some 10 years hiding in a quiet backwater of Poland, my alter ego has suddenly been rediscovered. The consequence are a drastic change of lifestyle. Instead of resting, generally avoiding work and only doing the odd bit of translation when the pile of bills gets too high, I’m suddenly in demand.

An urgent summons to attend the Economic Forum in the mountains near Poland’s border down South is followed by an important business meeting the next day up North on the coast. Rushing up and down the country by train is very pleasant, and results in many adventures which really deserve to be written up on BTWT, but the need to read briefing notes, plan my meetings and generally be prepared, takes away a great deal of time which was previously spent updating the blog. So I would like to apologise to all BTWT’s readers and friends – a big personal “Sorry!” for the break in service that has occurred.

And it is not just my personal life that has been in turmoil: hardly had the e-ink dried from our last post announcing a draconian cut in the infrastructure grant for PKP PLK, when there was a massive reversal of government policy and Andrzej Massel, the Secretary of State for railways, announced that, instead of there being less funds for rail in 2013, there would actually be more!

We are still reading the tea leaves on this about turn, but it does seem that someone very senior in government realised that the next tranche of the EU funds for infrastructure are to have a stronger pro-sustainable transport bias than hitherto, and that if the Polish government wanted its fair share of the EU cake, it would not get away with diverting nearly all its EU infrastructure funding support to building new roads as it had done hitherto.

As if this wasn’t wasn’t enough, for the first time in over 40 years the number of passengers carried by Poland’s railways has actually increased. Of course some of this increase is due to Euro 2012, but a careful reading of the statistics indicates that the increase in passenger carryings has been sustained, even after the championships were finished.

All in all, 2013 heralds to be an exciting year. BTWT intends to be there and we look forward to having you along for the ride.


EU censures rail cash grab, rail minister…

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

argues that money would be better spent on roads!

EU flag outside the Commission building in Brussels. From a photo by Xavier Häpe on Wikipedia Commons.

(Click on image to see original and for details of licensing.)

The European Commission has censured the Polish government’s decision to transfer €1.2 billion from the railway refurbishment program to its road building budget. The decision was the consequence of an investigation carried out by PKP PLK last year at the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure as to how many of its railway investment projects would be finished by 2014. Those projects which could not be completed by the deadline were shelved. This year, the prime minister announced  that the unused monies would ber transferred to the road building budget. Now the Commission has reprimanded the government for its decision and said that this money should be spent on railway projects.

At a meeting with Commission officials last week Andrzej Massel, the deputy Minister of Infrastructure, responsible for rail and Patrycja Wolinska-Bartkiewicz, the deputy minister responsible for EU projects argued the case for allowing the Polish government to transfer the cash to its road building budget. A final decision is expected to be made shortly.

Source (with a hat tip to Marek Ciesielski):

A return journey – part 4

Monday, 9 August 2010

Banks of linefinders – part of the Siemens built historic telephone exchange in the railway museum at Skierniewice. Photo Pawel Mieroslawski.

Sat. 17th was slated for a visit to the Polskie Stowarszyszenie Milosnikow Kolei (Polish Railway Enthusiasts’ Society) museum based on the former locomotive depot at Skierniewice, 50 km north-east of Lodz on the Warsaw – Czestochowa – Upper Silesia main line. I met up again with Dyspozytor and we caught a brand-new EMU built by PESA at Bydgoszcz, comprising the 10:54 Tanie Linie Kolejowe semi-fast to Warsaw (TLK is the PKP InterCity brand for trains that are not categorised as being in one of their ‘fast’ categories such as IC or EIC.) Dyspozytor was scathing that, after a line upgrade costing billions of zloty, the brand new rolling stock was being throttled down to a maximum speed of 130 km/h because Polish railway regulations demanded two people in the cab for trains travelling at higher speeds. Dyspozytor directed me to some uncomfortable looking seats near the toilets. When I queried this, he explained that the normal seats, while stylishly designed, had never been ergonomically tested and were uniformly loathed by train crews and regular passengers alike.

Soon we were bowling along the newly relaid track. Though our maximum speed was only 80 mph, it seemed much faster. Polish continuously welded rail is much ‘bumpier’ than its British equivalent. There was a long line of cars waiting for us to pass at the level crossing across the Lodz – Rawa Mazowiecka road and soon Dyspozytor was pointing out the headquarters of the Fundacja Polskich Kolei Waskotorowych (Polish Narrow Gauge Railway Foundation) at Rogow, which was to be our destination the following day. While the new rolling stock may be uncomfortable to sit in, it does have powerful air conditioning, and I had not realised how hot it was outside until a blast of heat hit us as we exited the train and started our trek across the footbridge and then towards the shed. The Skierniewice museum is open to the public on the first Saturday of the month in summer, but Dyspozytor had worked his magic and soon we were being welcomed by Pawel Mieroslawski, the chairman of the PSMK.

Skierniewice museum is an incredible treasure-house of preserved motive power and rolling stock, which deserves to be much better known among British enthusiasts. I have included a link to the rolling stock catalogue on the Society’s webpages, so here is a short list of what were to me, its highlights. On display in the open, on the periphery of the indoors collection – 2-6-2T OKl27-10, 2-10-0 Ty51-1, 2-6-2 Ol49-4 – and of course the astounding sectioned Prussian S6 4-4-0.

Indoors in the former locoshed, were more marvels. Ty2-1407 is the arguably last steam loco built in Poland. Basically a Ty2 2-10-0 Kriegslok, it was assembled in 1964, from the parts of cannibalised locos, by ZNKT Poznan for experiments in the mid-1960s in heavy oil-burning. A totally new concept for me, I had had no notion that oil-burning was ever part of the PKP scene, with Poland having such enormous coal reserves. Mr Mieroslwaski told us that in the 1960s thick oil waste from the refineries at Plock, was tested as a possible loco fuel, and some 350 Kriegsloks were adapted to burn it. Also there was a time when only oil burning steam locos were permitted on the branch along the Hel spit, in order to minimise the risk of fire in the woods which held the sand dunes together.

Among the society’s collection of vintage carriages I found what were for me two absolute pearls: standing on a wagon was a 600mm gauge ex-German WW I 0-8-0 Brigadelok, obtained from Lesmierz sugar factory; there was also an utterly marvellous Wittfeld battery-electric railcar, built in 1913 and operated by PKP till 1957 from their Malbork sub-depot. Mr Mieroslawski has in Skierniewice, not only the ultimate ‘train set’ but also an impressive collection of smaller exhibits. His pride and enjoy is a Siemens telephone exchange of a type that was installed by the Germans during WWII on all the railway lines under their control and which post-1945 became the de facto standard on Polish railways. The exchange has been restored to working order by two members of the Society and is – we were given to understand – the only such installation still in working order.

After our tour of the shed and its exhibits Mr Mieroslawski took us around to the Society’s mess room and pulled out a couple of cold beers from the fridge. We discussed some of the problems that Polish railways societies laboured under such as the poor support from local authorities and no clear mechanism to give volunteer-run societies access to EU funds. The PSMK were lucky, in the heady days during the transition from Communism they were promised the freehold of the Skierniewice shed, and after 10 years of meetings and pen pushing, the Society finally acquired the freehold of the site. This gives the PSMK a considerable advantage over other societies who operate under licence from their local authority and whose use of a particular shed or railway line can be arbitrarily terminated at the drop of a hat.

Skierniewice Railway Station. Photo Tomasso.

(Click to see original on Wikimedia Commons and for details of licensing.)

We returned to the railway station. There was time to admire the beautifully restored station buildings, a refreshing contrast to what I had seen elsewhere, we grabbed a couple of ices at the smart café inside and caught the 16:15 to Koluszki. I was supposed catch a 17:08 to Tomaszow Mazowiecki at Koluszki. I was impressed that although our train was late the Tomaszow train was held at the junction to make the connection. In fact, the train was also held for a connecting TLK train run by Intercity – an impressive example of cooperation between the two operators. At the end of the erstwhile Piotrkow narrow gauge railway there is an attractive artificial lake that was created in the 1970s by damming the River Pilica. Although I am no sailor, I was to spend an enjoyable couple of hours cooling off in the early evening sailing on the lake.


…to be continued

Road building with a bang

Monday, 5 July 2010

On 23 June, Army engineers blew up the last obstacle on the route of the Strykow – Warsaw section of the new A2 – a viaduct built in the 1970s for the uncompleted ‘Olimpijka’ motorway at Nowa Wies near Zyrardow. Photo GDDKiA.

(Click to see a larger image.)

Modernisation of Poland’s railways limps along. Key EU-funded projects are cancelled and Zbigniew Szafranski, the chairman of PKP’s infrastructure subsidiary, Polskie Linie Kolejowe, warns that at the end of the EU structural funding period 2007 – 2013, Poland’s railways will actually be in a worse state than they were at its start. Unless new funds are found, some 7,000 – 8,000 km of railways are expected to close.

Meanwhile Poland’s Ministry of Infrastructure has made road building its No.1 priority. Approvals processes have been simplified and new procedures introduced to ensure that the paperwork necessary to pull down EU funds can be generated on time.

The Ministry’s reforms are already bringing results. In June alone, Poland’s Trunk Road and Motorway Directorate, Generalna Dyrekcja Drog Krajowych i Autostrad, progressed a number of key projects:

8 June Miekow by-pass funding endorsed by MI 65 million PLN
14 June Elk by-pass funding agreed by PARP
14 June Oleck by-pass funding agreed by PARP
17 June A1 motorway Torun-Kowal contracts signed 3.9 million PLN
18 June Jaroslaw by-pass funding agreed by PARP
18 June A1 motorway Lodz sections contracts signed 1,111 million PLN
18 June Pabianice by-pass contract signed 514 million PLN
30 June A4 motorway Krzyz section funding agreed 5,000 million PLN

In May, the Directorate received refunds of 223 million PLN from the EU for expenditure it had incurred under the aegis of The Infrastructure and Environment Operational Program. During this period the Polish Statre Railways infrastructure company PKP PLK failed to recover any funding of its EU funded projects. Moreover in June the Ministry of Infrastructure cancelled two EU-funded modernisation projects: Szczecin – Poznan – Wroclaw, and Warsaw – Bialystok – Lithuania worth a total of 10,000 million PLN.


Rail modernisation plans in tatters

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

10,000 million PLN projects slashed, more to follow

PKP’s track investment plans as at March 2008. Prepared from a PKP press release.

(Click image to see larger version in a new window. Click here to access the original PKP press release.)

It is reported that Polish ministers have agreed to slash a number of strategic railway investment projects from those already agreed for EU funding during the 2007 – 2013 investment round. A PKP PLK (the state railway company’s infrastructure subsidiary) source said that the government had become concerned with the slow rate of progress in processing EU funded projects and hoped that some of the EU funding could be switched to rebuilding Poland’s roads.

After 40 years of under investment, EU funded programmes were supposed to be the panacea that would allow Poland’s crumbling railways to be brought up to the same standards as in Western Europe. However, the Polish Government preferred to use EU funds for road building and modernisation and only allocated some 20% of its EU-assisted budget for the period 2007 – 2013 for railway projects. In comparison, Slovakia and Lithuania allocated 35% for rail renewals and the Czech Republic, over 40%.

Now – blaming PKP’s poor performance in processing its EU funded projects – two key modernisation projects have been slashed. One is the upgrade of the Szczecin – Poznan – Wroclaw route, the other concerns the line from Warsaw to Bialystok and Lithuania. Both projects were budgeted to cost a total of 10,000 million PLN of which 6,000 million PLN was supposed to come from the EU. Two other projects worth a total 3,500 million PLN on the reserve list are also in jeopardy – Katowice to Zebrzydowice on the Czech border and Zwardon to the Slovak border.

Infrastructure Minister, Cezary Garbarczyk, is hopeful that the EU funding is not lost altogether, but can be transferred to road projects. Perhaps someone should tell the Polish government that it should be spending a minimum of 30% of its EU infrastructure funds on railway projects and that by concentrating on road transport the government is in danger of missing its EU targets on reducing CO2 emissions and encouraging sustainable development. Unless the EU Commission itself decides to take Poland to task it looks as if Poland’s railways are destined to be the Cinderella of Europe for many years to come.

Source (Polish):

BTWT is 2 years old!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Babcia’s walnut cake.

(Click on image for the recipe.)

Behind The Water Tower is two years old! By rights we should have been celebrating our birthday on 3 March, but the report of the National Audit Office investigation of the PKP group had just arrived and we thought we should get the translation of the management summary into your hands as soon as possible.

The NIK report confirms what we all know Poland’s railway are in a serious mess and matters appear to be getting worse. Most infuriating – large sums of money, that were available from the EU for the modernization and upgrading of Poland’s railway network, have not been spent because PKP has not submitted the correct paperwork.

At such a time a publication like BTWT which is entirely independent of vested interests – and has an international readership – can play a useful role. This is a very important period for Poland’s railways – decisions about to be made at national government and provincial government level – will determine the long-term size of the railway network and the extent and quality of the services that operate over it.

When BTWT launched, I never dreamed that two nears later the blog would be nudging the 200,000 cumulative hits mark, nor that Tunnel Vision, our daughter blog analysing UK developments and published very occasionally, would have clocked up 11,000 cumulative hits in its own right. I would like to thank all those who help to keep both our blogs on track.

Special thanks are due to: fellow bloggers –  Mike Dembinski, the Fact Compiler and Phill Davison, who not only allow us to cross post articles, but generously have provided back links; guest authors – Robert Hall, ‘Inzynier’ and Grzegorz Sykut; the photographers who have allowed us to regularly use their pictures – Marek Ciesielski, Tomasz Domzalski, Robert Dylewski, Jerzy Dabrowski, Tilo Rösner, Harald Finster, Andrew Goodwin, Dewi Williams, Phill Davison and the late Alun Evans; all our comment contributors, especially our ‘regulars’ Robert Hall, Geoff Jenkins and Gavin Whitelaw; and last but not least all our sources, with special thanks to ‘podroznik’.

Before I close I would like to raise a glass of Zubrowka and drink a toast to all our readers who put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and sent off letters in support of our various campaigns – you have made a difference – Na zdrowie to you all!