Archive for the ‘Ministry of Infrastructure’ 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.


Short change for Poland’s railways

Friday, 28 January 2011

Prime Minister switches 4.8 billion PLN to build roads

Passenger boarding Warsaw train at Krakow Glowny on 3 January. Photo Michal Bis/TVP.

(Click image to see original on TVP.INFO web page and view video.)

2010 was not a good year. I wished all my friends that 2011 should be better than 2010 and they enthusiastically responded in kind. But, by the end of January, all my hopes were dashed.

The celebration of New Year in Poland involves much travelling around the country. As soon as Christmas is over, people start their journeys to see the New Year in with their friends. Many young people travel south to the mountains to combine New Year revelry with skiing. Trains are traditionally packed.

But this year something went seriously wrong. Tens of thousands waiting at stations such as Krakow and Zakopany found that their PKP InterCity trains, on which they hoped to return home, was not an extended rake of 12 or 16 carriages but had been reduced to a ludicrous 3 or 4 coaches. The papers were full of stories of passengers experiencing Third World conditions. One passenger arrested his train’s locomotive by holding onto its handrail and refusing to budge until the guard promised a place his own compartment. Not all would-be travellers were so enterprising; many were left behind swearing never to try to travel long-distance by rail ever again.

The appointment of deputy CMTK director, Andrzej Massel, as Undersecretary of State responsible for rail by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk seemed to augur well for the future. Massel immediately ordered the sacking of Andrzej Wach, the chairman of PKP SA, though it has been reported that the decision was not Massel’s but part of a done deal between Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, and Minister of Infrastructure, Cezary Grabarczyk.

Massel is a technocrat who understands how railways should work, but he lacks the political power and connections of his boss, Grabarczyk. When Wach was sacked, there were dissident voices that cuts were needed not just within the body of PKP, but also at the top of the Ministry of infrastructure. The SLD political party tried, but failed, to pass a resolution in the Sejm, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament, demanding the immediate resignation of Grabarczyk.

The month passed quickly. Andrzej Massel, in a number of TV and radio interviews tried hard to dampen down expectations that all would be well shortly. He announced a new timetable to be implemented from 1 March. There would be even less trains, but at least those that remained would be run according to the published timetable. It seems to me that by this logic seriously ill AIDS patients should have their hands and legs amputated because there would then be less HIV cells in their bodies.

A number of enterprising Polish railway video bloggers started to search for the missing carriages that had failed to run. They soon found hundreds of brand-new carriages, or carriages that had been recently upgraded to ‘as new’ condition, mouldering in carriage sidings up and down the country. There is no mystery any more. As the calendar page and turned over from 2010 to 2011, these carriages fell out of the “period of grace” that they had been given by railway inspectors allowing them to run temporarily after the expiry of their due dates for inspection and overhaul.

Why had many hundreds of carriages not been subject to their scheduled maintenance programme? The answer seems to lie in today’s news that PKP IC’s interim end of year results are not significantly worse than the 150 million PLN loss posted at the end of Q2 2010. I suspect that, when the dreadful mid-year results were known, Grabarczyk/Englehardt ordered the chairman of PKP IC to cut his losses at whatever cost, because a spiralling deficit spoiled the chances of generating significant revenue for the government from an eventual PKP IC privatisation.

If I’m right in my analysis, then the Polish government does not understand basic economics. One reason for PKP IC’s’s vanishing passengers and revenue is its high prices. Indeed for years, PKP IC has been steadily losing passengers while railway companies in neighbouring countries actually reported an increase in traffic. PKP IC’s inflated ticket prices are partly, but not wholly, caused by the astronomical PKP PLK track access charges. In fact PKP PLK competse fiercely with Network Rail’s for the title of having ‘the most expensive track track access charges in Europe’. Until the government recognises that it is consistently subsidizing the road infrastructure unfairly relative to its treatment of rail, matters will not improve.

To add insult to injury on Tuesday, Tusk announced that 4.8 billion PLN (1 billion GBP) which had been allocated for expenditure on Polish rail was being diverted to the road budget.

There was widespread consternation. Even the traditionally staid British-Polish Chamber of Commerce which much prefers to make its representations away from the glaze of publicity issued a stern press release rebuking the government for its decision.

The Chamber’s members have a big stake in the future of Poland – they have contributed some 20-25% of all inward investment into the country’s economy – and look forward to its continued growth and development”, said BPCC CEO, Martin Oxley. “A viable rail network is essential in any country that wants to keep on attracting foreign direct investment. The chaos that took place on Poland’s railways over the Christmas/New Year period was a serious own goal that not only damaged the image of Poland’s railways, but also hurt the reputation of the whole country. With Euro 2012 less than 500 days away, it should be a top government priority to make the railways fit for purpose. The government should be looking for new sources of funding for Polish railways such as PPP and not withdrawing funds already earmarked for rail investment,” he said

For those of us who use Polish railways it does not look likely that 2011 will be a good year


Modern PKP IC carriages stored out-of-use at Warszawa Grochow. Video KolejTakPkpNie.

More of the same in Gdansk. Video TransPORTele.


Andrzej Massel, new Rail Minister

Monday, 27 December 2010

Andrzej Massel. Photo IK.

Andrezj Massel, the Deputy Director of Instytut Kolejnictwa, Poland’s Railway Research and Development Centre has been appointed Minister responsible for railways by Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Massel who takes over as Undersecretary of State responsible for railways in the Ministry of Infrastructure, will be taking over the seat vacated by Juliusz Engelhardt, fired on 21 December after 3 years in the job. Massel will be starting his new job on Tuesday 28 December and as an immediate priority has been tasked to decide what heads should roll within the PKP Group.

Andrzej Massel is well-liked by his colleagues in the railway industry, unlike Engelhardt who was regarded as arrogant and unapproachable. Massel has worked on a number of feasibility studies for EU-funded projects including: a joint CNTK (1) / W S Atkins study into upgrading the Siedlce – Terespol line; a study into new rolling stock for the Wielkopolska provincial government; a preliminary study for the Warsaw – Wroclaw / Poznan high speed line; a study into upgrading the Warsaw – Gdansk corridor; and a study for the construction of a new section of the Warsaw Metro. Massel is also one of the authors of the Ministry of Infrastructure’s Masterplan for Poland’s Railways until 2030.

So how did Massel, who is a competent technocrat, but relatively unknown outside the railway industry, pick up his this high profile (some might say poisoned chalice) job? It seems that his hobby of collecting old railway timetables as well as his work on the upgrading of the Warsaw – Gdansk corridor may have been to blame! After a week of chaos following the introduction of the new timetables Masel wrote a hard-hitting piece in his regular column for KOW (Railway Publishing House). Here is a brief extract.

The new timetable – fact or fiction?

The new timetable came into force on 12 December. The media are reporting that its introduction marked a greater crisis for the railways than the severest frost or the greatest snowstorm.

It provides information about trains that depart from platforms that don’t exist, about trains which do not have enough room for intending passengers and about trains that – because of defective rolling stock – have failed somewhere en route to their destination. The loudest complaints come from travellers who cannot get hold of up to date information. It is impossible to get through on telephone numbers to information centres, websites crash apparently because too many people are trying to access them.

Theoretically all is well. A week before it was due to be implemented, detailed timetables were published on the Przewozy Regionalne website. On 3 December PKP Intercity made its new timetable available as a pdf download. Both timetables have a significant fault – neither of them have much connection with reality.

I am personally interested in the timetable for trains operating between Warsaw and Gdansk. According to table 400 on the Przewozy Regionalne website, and the appropriate PKP Intercity webpage, the service on this line has undergone a radical improvement, both in terms of train timings and frequency.

Kazub, the fastest train between Warszawa Centralna and Gdansk Głowny should complete its journey in 3 hours 57 minutes, whereas upto now it has been taking 5 or even 6 hours to complete its journey. Of course, from the first day of its introduction, the new timetable published by both operators will not be applicable. The upgrading work being carried out on this line entails a great deal of single line working. The consequent delays mean that for a long time trains will continue to take around 5 hours to complete their journey. But you will only find out about this if you read the small print: Because of the modernization of the line between Warsaw and Gdansk and the modernisation of Gdansk Oliwa station journey times are subject to change.

This raises a moot point, Why make passengers angry by promising levels of service that cannot be achieved in practice? The systemic fault is the process practised by PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe whereby two timetables are created in parallel: the timetable for the year and a timetable for a specific period.

Click here for the complete article (in Polish).

As the most senior railway professional who dared to say publically what was really going wrong, small wonder that he has found himself chosen by prime minister to clear up the mess!

Andrzej Massel was born in 1965. He graduated from, and was subsequently awarded a Ph D by, the Land Construction Department of Gdansk Polytechnic. Since the early 1990s he has worked for the Centrum Naukowo-Technicznym Kolejnictwa (Railway Research and Development Centre) now renamed Instytut Kolejnictwa.

From 2005 he has held the position of Deputy Director with responsibility for studies and research projects. During the period 2000 – 2001 he was the plenipotentiary for railways in the office of the Chief Executive of Pomerania Province. During the period 2001 – 2002 he was a member of the supervisory board of PKP SKM in Gdansk.

His hobbies include collecting old railway photographs and postcards and railway timetables.

We wish him well with his Herculean task.

Death by a thousand cuts

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Lubin Station. Compare with the picture below and note ‘improvements’ carried out by PKP architects in the 1970s. Photo Lubin Town website.

(Click image to see picture on the Portal Miasta Lubina website.)

Lubin Gorniczy is still on the Polish railway network, but only just. The PKP interactive timetable shows that of the three Przewozy Regionalne ‘trains’ that serve the line betweeen Legnica and Glogow only one is a train, the other two are buses. But even the one surviving train shown by the timetable may be a ‘ghost train’. According to the Lubin town website the last train from Lubin to Wroclaw left Lubin station on the 31 August.

Luben Station before WW II. Photo Lueben-Damals archive.)

(Click image to see a selection of historic pictures of Lubin station on the website.)

At a recent conference in Warsaw Juliusz Engelhardt, the Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Infrastructure responsible for rail, announced that funding had only been agreed to refurbish 3,600 km of Poland’s railway network while 12,000 km urgently needed repairs. As track deteriorates line speeds are cut… . When trains take significantly longer than road transport to reach their destination, passengers switch to buses and cars in droves.

Yet Lubin is not a poor town. The town is situated on one of the richest copper veins in Europe and the Town Council enjoys a healthy income. Indeed, until recently, the Council planned to renovate the station building and develop a combined rail and bus facility, complete with a restaurant, lounge, shops and toilets on the site. Sadly the plans came to naught and the abandoned and devastated station looks set for demolition.

Lubin Gorniczy and the Legnica – Glogow line. Map RailMap.

(Click on map to go to the RailMap website.)

Poland’s secondary lines are dying. Without any fanfare such as heralded the Beecing cuts on the UK, a station is closed here, a passenger service is withdrawn there. Compared to the government support enjoyed by railways in neighbouring countries. Poland’s railways are grossly underfunded. They have to bear the costs of a very expensive organisational model – PKP fragmented into over a hundred separate companies. They are charged punitive taxes in respect of their stations and workshops. They are responsible to politicians to prefer to finance their own local pork barrel schemes rather than ensure the health of the network as a whole. Unless there is a major policy shift at the very top of the Polish government, the prognosis for Poland’s railways is very grim.

Missing the point

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Point and indicator on the approach to Wegorzewo Station on the Wegorzewo – Ketrzyn branch, the first standard gauge railway line to be preserved in Poland. Photo Michal Malek.

(Click image to see more of Michal Malek’s photos of Wegorzewo Station on the website.)

An apparently unconnected series of events.

In spite of getting up at 06:00, I am in serious danger of missing my Warsaw train, which departs nearly two hours later. My taxi deposits me at the station with 10 minutes to spare, but there is a long queue which shuffles forward agonizingly slowly. After 5 minutes only 3 of the 8 people in front of me have been served. I abort the mission and walk smartly to the train and steel myself to pay the the penalty for buying a ticket from the train conductor. The PKP IC TLK train is a brand new EMU, but the seats are back-breakingly uncomfortable. I sit on some folding seats near the toilets. They are nothing to write home about, but are better than the standard seats in the rest of the train.

The train runs no faster than 130 km/h (81 mph) and completes the journey at an average speed of 86 km/h (51 mph). A considerable portion of the line has been completely rebuilt thanks to various EU-assisted projects. The rail alignment of the welds of the continuously welded track leaves a lot to be desired. At one place the train lurches uncomfortably across a facing point – a strange piece of track alignment on a completely rebuilt main line. I arrive in Warsaw about an half hour early for my meeting. I contemplate buying my return ticket, but I do not know whether I will be returning on a Przewozy Regionalny IR train, or on a PKP IC TLK train and the two operators do not recognize each others’ tickets. same uncomfortable seats as on my morning train.

My meeting was in the Ministry of Infrastructure, part of the consultative process relating to the Ministry’s planning document featured earlier on BTWT. The meeting is very sparsely attended – not surprising since it was only advertised on the Ministry’s website and also once on Puls Biznesu. After a 1 hour presentation by Juliusz Engelhardt, the Under Sevretary of State responsible for rail, it is time for our comments. I venture the point that the voice of the passenger appears to be missing – perhaps a formal consultation process could be instituted? The Minister receives my comment with scorn. Poland complies with all the relevant EU legislation. The passenger has an opportunity to input into the consultation process of which this meeting is a part.

During the whole meeting the Minister has been lecturing, not listening. I return home sadder and wiser. After lunch with railway friends in the Ministry canteen, I have over half an hour before my train PR IR leaves Warsaw. The long queues to the ticket offices move forward agonizingly slowly, after 20 minutes of waiting, I abort the mission and make my way to the train. The newly refurbished PR TLK EMU has been fitted with exactly the same seats as the PKP IC EMU on my morning journey…

Paper trail or public consultation?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The Ministry of Infrastructure consultation document

(Click image above to go to the Ministry of Infrastructure web page from which the Polish pdf file may be downloaded.)

Yesterday (11.08.2010) the Ministry of Infrastructure published a consultation document entitled Konsultacje społeczne – Program działan dla transportu kolejowego do roku 2015 (Public consultation – programme of activities for railway transport until the year 2015).

The document is, I suspect, the Ministry’s response to the criticisms recent report by the Najwysza Izba Kontrolli (Public Audit Office) which castigated not only the PKP group, but also the Ministry, for mismanaging Poland’s railways. While, I am sure that the document contains many reassuring words about increasing the role played by rail in Poland’s transport mix, I fear that it may be less expansive on how such a thing is to be achieved.

Here are the key questions that should be asked when evaluating the document:

  1. Does it reveal any commitment by the government to get road haulage companies to pay a greater contribution to the maintenance of the road infrastructure?
  2. Is there any undertaking to reduce Poland’s high rail track access charges to levels more commensurate to those which obtain in other EU countries?
  3. Is there any provision to increase the funding available to maintain and improve Poland’s collapsing railway infrastructure?
  4. Is there any intention to facilitate the transfer of unwanted branch lines to local authorities or other operators who are willing to maintain them for railway transport?
  5. Is there any plan to improve the management of Poland’s railway companies?
  6. Is there any recognition that excessive fragmentation of Poland’s railways has increased costs?

I suspect that the answer will be “no” to each of these questions, but I look forward to reading the document myself and being pleasant surprised. I would encourage readers who wish to read the document, but who may not be fluent in Polish, to extract the text from the pdf file using Adobe Reader and then translate it in sections using Google Translate. (I am investigating whether there may be an easier method.)


National Audit Office slams PKP

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Translation of the management summary of the NIK report

The cover page of the NIK report about the PKP group.

(Click image to download the report (in Polish) from the NIK website.

Poland’s Najwyzsza Izba Kontroli (NIK, the National Audit Office) has published a damning report about the management of the PKP group. Following a suggestion from the Parliamentary Infrastructure Committee, NIK decided to examine the way PKP SA, its eight largest subsidiary companies, and the Ministry of Infrastructure, have managed the assets of PKP. The period investigated was 2007 to the 1st quarter 2009.

According to the summary section of the NIK report –

  1. The financial performance of the PKP SA and the subsidiary companies worsened during the audited period.
  2. In addition to the world financial crisis, the reasons for this poor performance were inter alia:
    • delays in pursuing the privatisation of the group;
    • delays in PKP SA’s transferring the real estate necessary for its subsidiary companies to carry out their statutory duties;
    • delays in the disposal of redundant real estate;
    • irrational staffing policies.
  3. The financial reporting and internal auditing processes meet their targets and are reliable. and PKP and the subsidiary companies have maintained an honest approach with respect to their borrowings. The long-term debt of PKP S.A. fell from 10,034.3m PLN (2001) to 3,318.1 PLN (2008). During the same period the long-term debt of the subsidiaries rose fourfold. Short-term debt at the end of the Q.1 2008 stood at 2.833m PLN, of which 1,185m PLN was due to the infrastructure company PKP PLK SA – 567m PLN of this being overdue.
  4. PKP SA performs well in servicing its current debt obligations and the emission of new securities. It has been unnecessary to ask the State Treasury to repay these. (The Treasury guarantees PKP’s debts to the tune of approximately 5,000,000 m PLN.) However, NIK has felt it necessary to warn that the payments of some 2,695 m PLN due in 2010 – 2011 may be at risk if forecast income levels are not met, including income from the sale of PKP Intercity or the disposal of real estate.
  5. PKP SA has not performed well, or diligently, with respect to: the disposal of surplus land; privatising its subsidiary companies; and transferring the real estate necessary for its subsidiaries. In particular –
    • 233 properties (estimated value 62m PLN) which were surplus to requirements, and where the land registry formalities were complete were not offered for sale in 2007, as well as 180 similar properties (value 164m PLN) were not offered for sale in 2008.
    • Of the 129.3m PLN of targeted income from the sale of shares, or privatisation of its companies, only 11.8% was actually achieved. The public issue of shares has been repeatedly postponed.
    • The transfer of land and assets due to its subsidiary companies has not been carried out. In spite of the fact that, as of 31 March 2009, the land registry formalities had been completed for 71.3% of of real estate, comprising railway lines, none of this land had been transferred to PKP PLK . Only 0.02% of the land due to PKP Cargo had been transferred and only 0.25% to PKP Intercity. The remaining land was the subject of leasing agreements.
  6. PKP SA and its subsidiaries have not performed well, or diligently, with respect to utilising all the  funds available. The reasons for this state of affairs include: delays in preparing tender documentation, delays in seeking and obtaining the necessary administrative decisions and delays due to the need to carry out more work than originally specified. For example:
    • In 2007, PKP PLK had 2,279m PLN available for modernisation and refurbishment projects, 2,090m PLN (91.7%) was actually spent. In 2008, 3,341 was available, only 2,502m PLN (74%) was spent. 35 projects had been prioritised in the EU-funded Infrastructure and Environment Operating Programme, but by the end of the control period PKP PLK had submitted the paperwork for just one project.
    • In 2007, PKP SA had 124,6m PLN available for such projects, but only 78% was spent. This figure falls to 63% if Schengen projects are disregarded. In 2008, only 33% was spent of the 77.3m PLN that was available.
  7. Successive ministers responsible for transport have failed to perform well, or diligently,  with respect to –
    • Overseeing and ensuring the transfer of real estate from PKP SA necessary for the PKP subsidiaries to carry out their statutory duties. The additional leasing costs incurred by the subsidiaries are estimated to be not less than 660m PLN. In addition, notwithstanding that 9 years have passed since the passage of the relevant legislation through the Sejm, Ministers have failed to create the conditions which would enable PKP SA to carry out this transfer.
    • Guaranteeing a stable basis for calculating track access charges. Yearly changes to the formula used to charge train operating companies destroys the possibility of any rational planning of train services or developing a long-term strategy with respect to customers. The lack of regulation, necessary to establish track access charges for the long-term, such that the competitive position of rail transport could be maintained, could be a serious barrier to privatisation. Currently track access charges comprise some 25% of the train operating companies costs.
    • Preparing a framework for the way in which the infrastructure management body would operate. This framework has not been prepared notwithstanding that two years have passed since  A strategy for railway transport until 2013 was adopted (envisaging the removal of PKP PLK from the PKP group) and 9 years have passed since the passage of the commercialisation Act. Up to the present time PKP PLK does not enjoy the legal rights of ownership of  railway track. Moreover, as a result of having the status of a user (on the basis of charged usage) it cannot fully carry out its duties as infrastructure manager as laid down in the Railway Transport Act of 28 March 2003.
  8. The negative effect of financial irregularities uncovered during the audit process amounts to 1,140.8m PLN, and the the positive effect amounted to 3.5 thousand PLN.