Archive for the ‘rail policy’ Category

Off topic. On message.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Dyspozytor takes a trip down memory lane to his school days and reflects on the UK elections.

Lost domain

A treasure trove of transport history. The River Thames (bottom right) has been a transport route since before the Romans invaded Britain. The Roman road from London to Bath (left bottom to mid right) was by-passed by the Great West Road which itself was superseded by the M4 motorway. The canalised River Brent  (top left to bottom right) was opened in 1798 as part of the Grand Junction Canal. The area comprising both banks of the canal to the north of Brentford Locks was the canal company’s Brentford Dock. The last commercial traffic on this section of the canal ceased around 1980.

The London & South Western Railway’s line from Barnes to Hounslow (lower left to upper right) opened in 1849 and is still open for passenger services. The Great Western Railway’s Brentford Branch, opened in 1859, was the last commission of Brunel, the GWR’s chief engineer. The whole triangular built up area to the south of Thames Locks was the GWR’s Brentford Dock. The Dock closed in December 1964.

The Great West Road (mid left to top right) from Hounslow to Kew was opened around 1930. The remaining section from Kew in Middlesex to the Cromwell Road in London completed in the 1950s. The eastern section of the M4 motorway (top left to top right) from Slough to the Chiswick flyover was opened in 1965. The white oblong on the right is the Griffin Park ground of Brentford Football Club.

Satellite view courtesy Google Maps. Click the image to open an interactive map of this area on Google Maps.

Today, Parliamentary elections are being held in the United Kingdom. What have football and party politics got in common? Both are capable of generating enormous levels of passion, both – in spite of the media hype – seem to leave a large portion of the population stone cold. I first noted the similarities between the two as a schoolboy.

Let us start at the beginning. In the early 1960s, whenever I could get away from school, much of my time was spent on the Grand Union (formerly Grand Junction) canal at Brentford where – having made friends with the lock-keeper at Lock 99 – I became his unofficial deputy. I had discovered the canal, the lock and my friendly lock keeper while on a cycle ride to explore the ex Great Western Railway Brentford branch line.

Firestone

Almost the entire section of the Brentford branch line that lies to the north-east of the Great West Road is visible in this photograph. It shows the area as it was in 1953. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the factory on the extreme left – it had its own siding as did Firestone Rubber Tyre factory in the foreground. This building with its iconic Art Deco frontage was demolished during the August 1980 bank holiday weekend before it could be listed.

Lock 99 of the Grand Union Canal is visible on the extreme right and Brentford Town Goods Depot is in the middle distance. Those with a keen eye will spot the Great Western main line and Wharncliffe Viaduct which carries the line over the River Brent valley. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click the image to see the original on the Historic England website and for details regarding reuse.)

At 07:00 each morning during the holidays, I would help to lock through 6 or 7 lighters (unpowered barges) that had been waiting below Lock 99 while their two-man crews (tractor driver and steerer) had breakfast at the café serving the Firestone Tyre factory.

Already the narrow boat pairs (motor boat and unpowered butty) heading for Birmingham had left the British Waterways Brentford Dock and locked through Lock 99, before the lock-keeper had come on duty. They were in a hurry to clear the 6 lock Hanwell Flight before the lighters began to move.

On Friday afternoons I was allowed to leave school early and as often as no cycling along the canal in the late afternoon, I would see a pannier tank haul a train of coal wagons along the branch where it ran parallel to the canal.

And so at an early age my life became linked with two transport routes that were on the way out: the railway to Brentford Docks and the Grand Union Canal. Meanwhile the M4 motorway was being cut through one of the lakes of Osterley Park and taken over Boston Manor Park on an ugly steel viaduct.

My lock keeper friend took me to see the run down Brentford Docks just before they closed in December 1964. The tractor-hauled lighters carried their loads up to Hanwell and Southall until the closure of London Docks. Long distance narrowboat carrying along the Grand Union continued on a small until the closure of Blisworth Tunnel for major engineering work in 1980.

It was easy to see even at my tender age that a tiny tractor pulling a barge loaded with 80 tons of cargo, or a pair of narrow boats carrying 50 tons between them with the motor boat powered by a single cylinder Bolinger engine, or an ex GWR 0-6-0PT 57xx class loco pulling 25 coal wagons, were all burning much less fossil fuel than if the same loads were being carried by heavy lorries. Likewise it did not require a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford to see connect the dots when a Minister of Transport called Ernest Marples was promoting a switch from rail to road while his wife’s company, Marples Ridgeway, was building motorways.

Biscuits and Firestone

The Great West Road, looking from Osterley towards the Brentford Dock branch line in 1931. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the first factory on the left and Firestone Rubber Tyre factory is far distance. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click on the image to see it on the Historic England website and for details of re-use.)

During the 1960s, a great deal of effort was expended explaining to the general public that railways make a loss and road transport is ‘more economic’ to justify the wholesale destruction of Britain’s railways. A great deal less was said then, and has been said since, about the way that this economic argument is slanted against railways which in the UK, as in Poland, are expected to bear their capital and maintenance costs – a charge which is not made on the balance sheet of road transport. If the environmental and health costs of unbridled road expansion are taken into account the case for investing in railways becomes even stranger.

Ever wondered why in countries such as Austria and Switzerland which do put their roads and railways on the same financial footing it still ‘pays’ to transport rail freight by the wagonload and also carry it over their extensive networks of narrow gauge railways.

In 1993, Britain’s railways were broken up into over 90 companies and privatised. Poland’s railways are undergoing a similar process and the privatisation of PKP Energytyka – responsible for supplying the traction current – and PKP Informatyka – responsible for PKP’s computer services – is being rushed through with indecent haste.

Not surprisingly the ‘reform’ pushed up costs and made long-distance ‘walk-on’ fares too expensive for ordinary people who switched coach services. Since those days the major political parties have produced a great deal of hot air – usually while in opposition – about making railway services more affordable for passengers and switching freight from road to rail. These promises are quickly forgotten as soon as the opposition party is elected to government.

Which brings me back to the football analogy at the start of today’s post. While the fans roar their support for one or other side, the real action is taking place off the pitch. Who will invest in the club? Which players should be bought? What will the sponsor want for his money?

As it is with football so it is with mainstream politics. If you share my concern for the destruction wrought by the UK’s pro road transport policy and have still not cast your vote, why not fire a shot across the bows of the mainstream political parties and cast a vote for the Green Party?

EPSON scanner image

The site of Brentford GWR station in 1961. Note the overhead wires for providing the traction current for trolleybuses. The footbridge to the British Waterways office at Lock 100 can just be discerned under the railway bridge, Photo ©Ben Brooksbank.

(Click on image for details of licensing.)

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Sławomir Żałobka appointed UnderSecretary for Rail and Air!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Dept_Trans

Żałobka’s new workplace. Photo courtesy Google Street View

The office customarily occupied by the Minister responsible for Polish Railways has from today (9.2.15) a new occupant, Sławomir Żałobka. The office has been empty since 18 December when Żałobka’s predecessor, Zbigniew Klepacki was sacked by Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, as part of her review of government ministers.

Undersecretary of State Slawomir Żałobka studied Law and Administration at the University of Warsaw. He has been a civil servant for many years. He has worked the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Civil Service. He was also a member of the Public Procurement Council, and acted as an arbiter in disputes involving public procurement.

BTWT sees Żałobka’s appointment as a consequence of Prime Minister Kopacz wanting a ‘safe pair of hands’ in a position that has the potential to embarrass the Government. At least one of Żałobka’s predecessors was sacked for being too ‘pro-rail’.

OUT with the old rail transport department – IN with a new railway department… oops Centre

Monday, 28 July 2014

Updated

The new location is unlikely to be popular with students. Map Google Maps.

In a breath-taking move that has left defenders of the Silesian University of Technology’s existing Department of Rail Transport wrong-footed, the University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Andrzej Karbownik, has announced that the University and PKP SA will be setting up a new Centre for Railway Research and Teaching. The Centre will have the status of a department of the University. According to PKP SA Chairman, Jakub Karnowski, the Centre will become a ‘strategic partner’ of PKP SA.

The Centre will be located in a new off-campus location in the disused buildings of the currently unused historic railway station at Sosnowiec Maczki. The extensive station buildings were constructed in 1848, when the station lay on the border of The Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. The buildings will be restored and adapted to serve the needs of the new Centre which is intended to have a research and a teaching role.

Just over a fortnight ago, the University authorities announced that the existing Department of Rail Transport was to be closed with students and staff being moved into a new Department of Road and Air Transport. A shortage of suitably qualified staff and poor financial results were given as the reasons for the changeover. Yet, the under its Head, Professor Marek Sitarz, the Department generated a substantial extra income from external outside contracts, such as running courses on rail safety for UTK, the Polish rail regulator. Professor Sitarz himself is a internationally respected authority on rail transport and popular with his staff and students.

The new Research and Teaching ‘Centre’ is due to start teaching 1st year students in October 2016. Meanwhile, current rail transport students already at the University will be expected to finish their degrees in the ‘Road and Air Transport’ department. Why the two-year hiatus in rail teaching? Could it be that it is part of a clumsily disguised move to remove Professor Sitarz from his position of head of department?

The professor is well known for being a stalwart champion of rail transport and for his uncompromising stance with respect to railway safety – a dangerous position to be in given the low priority given by the government to its railways.

sosnowiec

The 1848 building of Sosnowiec Maczki station formerly on the border of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. Photo (CC BY-SA 3.0) W. Grabowski.

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Polish railways are dying and dangerous

Thursday, 10 April 2014

public funds rail%road

Public funds invested in railway infrastructure as a proportion of public funds invested in road infrastructure

TOTAL rail%road

All funds invested in railway infrastructure as a proportion of funds invested in road infrastructure (2007-2011)

fatalities_per_trainmiles

Fatalities on EU railways per million train-km

 

Champion appointed for Polish rail

Monday, 26 August 2013

przesluga
Jacek Prześluga. Photo courtesy Fotorzepa, Rafał Guz.

As if on cue, after Finance Minister Jacek Rostocki’s shock announcement of a 1 billion PLN cut to the railway budget, five of Poland’s largest railway operating companies, all outside the PKP group, have announced that they have formed the Fundacja “Pro Kolej” (Pro-rail Foundation) to act as an advocacy group for Poland’s beleaguered railway industry.

Taking rail lobby groups such as Campaign for Better Transport or Allianz Pro Schiene as their model, the founders (Arriva, CTL Logistics, DB Schenker, Freightliner and Przewozy Regionalne) hope to persuade Poland’s decision-makers that the railway network should play a greater role in the country’s transport mix.

Simultaneously to announcing the formation of the Foundation, the Foundation’s trustees announced the appointment of Jacek Prześluga to the position of chairman of the Foundation’s management board.

We have chosen the ideal candidate for the position, said Andrew Goltz, secretary of the Foundation. Mr Preśluga is an author, journalist, respected commentator on the political scene, a specialist in marketing and public relations, and a former PKP IC chairman – all vital skills for the battle for non-discriminatory treatment for Poland’s railway network.

Finance Minister cuts 1,000,000,000PLN from rail

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

'Update 2009: Europe': Jacek Rostowski

Jacek Rostocki, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Poland.

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

Faced with a 23.6 billion PLN ‘hole’ in this year’s budget, yesterday’s meeting of the Council of Ministers approved savings of 7.6 billion PLN proposed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Poland, Jacek Rostocki.

The largest cut, 3.14 billion falls on the Ministry of Defence, while the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Maritime Affairs faces a cut of 1.01 billion PLN. The savings will be ‘shared’ by Directorate of Motorways and Trunk roads which loses 2 million PLN and polish railways which lose 1 billion PLN.

Sadly rail, lacking a convincing lobby to defend its interests, is perceived as a ‘soft target’ by the Polish government and is regularly singled out for swingeing cuts which leave road investment effectively unscathed.

While government sources emphasise that the cuts will not effect investment in rail infrastructure upgrades, it seems highly unlikely that Polish railways will be able to take up all the EU infrastructure funds that would have been available had Poland’s rail infrastructure manager, PKP PLK, been more generously funded.

During the period 2007-2013 Polish railways were allocated a pool some 20 billion PLN from EU funds. Unfortunately due to problems in finding “own funds” it appears likely that over 5 billion PLN will be lost.

As for the next funding round, sources close to the European Commission have reported that while Poland has been lobbying hard for funding for light rail and tram projects the same has not been happening for prospective heavy rail investments.

Sources:

Poland’s railways – Cinderella of Europe

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Lodz Zabieniec-1015

While all long distance passenger trains stop at Lodz Zabieniec, passenger facilities here are minimal. The original booking booking hall is now a private restaurant and night club, the toilet block has been converted to a newsagent shop. There are no shelters for passengers. Photo BTWT.

Poland’s railways are in a mess. While many large cities in Europe have already experienced ‘peak car’ effects and in some countries, such as Great Britain, rail passenger numbers are booming as never before, Poles are deserting their rail passenger services in droves. According to EU-commissioned customer satisfaction surveys, Poles are amongst the most dissatisfied railway passengers in Europe.

infra_quality

Poland’s rail freight sector is also in a desperate state, with crippling track access charges and a decaying infrastructure little better than that of Romania. Freight trains creep along at average speeds more appropriate to the time of Stephenson’s Rocket.

Not surprisingly, the effect has been a catastrophic decrease in rail freight’s market share. In 2001, 33% of all freight carried went by rail, by 2011 rail freight’s market share had dwindled to 18%. While total freight carried in the 10 years 2001-2011 increased by 105%, the amount carried by rail only increased by 8%.

Intermodal freight, a booming business in the rest of Europe, remains a niche market in Poland. Rail’s share of this fledgling market is 3.9%, one tenth of that of Belgium and one quarter of the EU average.

intermodal

The Cinderella of Europe

Poland’s railways have become the Cinderella of Europe and the neglect of nation’s railways effects everyone. Slow and unreliable commuter trains affect worker productivity. Newspaper headlines scream that PKP IC trains have been infected by vicious bugs. Lack of information about cross-country train services and poor ticketing arrangements effect tourism.

During last year’s Euro 2012 football championships there was a flood of enquiries about Poland’s train services on Internet forums such as Trip Adviser. Polish fans answered with one voice. Go by bus, go by plane, go any way you like, but don’t go by train.

track_access_charges

Road accidents are amongst the highest in Europe. Fatalities on Polish roads per million inhabitants are three times higher than in the UK. But high track access charges, many times higher than European norms, mean that heavy, poorly maintained, long-distance lorries creeping through Polish towns belching carcinogens contribute to the incidence of lung disease and cancer and drive up health-care costs.

Paradoxically, perhaps the worst effected is the ordinary motorist whose car is prematurely aged by travelling on pot-holed roads damaged by excessive lorry traffic. Few people understand that the damage caused to a road surface varies as the fourth power of the axle weight passing over it and that every tax payer subsidises the ‘track access charges’ of the HGVs operated by the road haulage companies. Everybody in Poland picks up the bill for the neglect of the country’s railways.

Nothing in Poland is ever simple

The solution would appear to be simple – to allocate a greater share of the national budget to railway infrastructure investment and maintenance and to reduce track access charges to average EU levels.

rail_v_road

But nothing in Poland is ever simple. Prior to its entry to the EU in 2004, Poland was already subject to the tight fiscal targets and external supervision entailed in an IMF adjustment programme. Dubbed the Balcerowicz Plan, this not only entailed a tight squeeze on government spending but also set specific targets regarding issues such as the number of employees employed on Polish state railways.

A strategic agreement was drawn up with the World Bank whereby the Polish railway system would be divorced from the state and regarded for all intents and purposes as a commercial enterprise. In return the World Bank provided PKP with a 101 million USD credit facility to cover the costs of restructuring.

Meanwhile Poland was negotiating to enter the EU. European Commission officials have their own ideas as to how to reform Europe’s railways. Competition is seen as the key and officials have been pushing for a separation of infrastructure management from train operation. The railway infrastructure could, and should be subsidised by the state, in the same manner as the road network. Train operating companies should operate free of state subsidy, and as far as freight and international services are concerned should be subject to free competition.

The World Bank and EU requirements for the management of Poland’s railways do not sit easily together. The result of both of these frameworks applied simultaneously did not accelerate the reform process of Poland’s railways, but rather the reverse. Any serious attempt by the Ministry of Finance to provide financial support to Poland’s railways could have the the potential to threaten the credibility of the złoty and damage the economy as a whole.

EP09-02-1010443

This Szczecin – Krakow train was already running 3 hours late by the time that it had arrived at Lodz Zabieniec. Krakow-bound passengers had a long night ahead of them. Photo BTWT.

The fly and the fly bottle

So, what is the way out for the fly from the fly bottle? More private sector investment? A new railway fund, backed by PKP’s property portfolio? Accelerated privatisation? The answer according to PKP S.A. is none of these!

PKP has paid several million zloty to McKinsey who were commissioned to report on future options for Poland’s railways. Their conclusions? To prune some 2,000 – 9,000 km of ‘unprofitable lines’.

Many railway professionals point to the futility of the UK’s search for ‘a profitable railway’ in the 1960s and 1970s and are disappointed that the opportunity is not being taken to adopt a more radical reform – to cut down and restructure PKP’s bloated and expensive bureaucracy.

Beeching revisited

And now, specially for PKP S.A.’s strategic planners looking at cutting the PKP network to achieve the ‘profitable railway’, we have published a review of how – 50 years after the event – transport professionals now regard Richard Beeching’s Report, The Reshaping of British Railways. Beeching’s report led to the closure of some 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of the UK railway network, but failed ‘to make the railways pay’. Please see Beeching Revisited on our sister blog – englishrail blog.

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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Poles in 4th place re. rail disatisfaction

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Only the Bulgarians, Romanians and Italians are more dissatisfied with their rail services. Table courtesy European Commission.

(Click graph to see it double-size. Click on the link to download the source document: Eurobarometer 388.)

The European Commission has published the results of a public opinion survey which shows, that of the 25 EU nations surveyed, Poland is in 4th place when it comes to dissatisfaction with the country’s rail network.

Only 28% of the Poles surveyed said that they were satisfied with the nation’s railways.

With a hat tip to Podroznik for the link.

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 flickr.com 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.

Dyspozytor

Finance Minister cuts rail support by 50%

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Lift door at Krakow Glowny station on 4.9.2012. In spite of a rebuilding programme which started nearly 40 yeas ago, and received a recent 130 million PLN (approx. 26 million GBP) EU-assisted boost, the lifts only go up to the car park and not down to the passenger concourse and the new tram station. There are no escalators.

(Click image to enlarge.)

On Monday 1 September the news was released through the usual unattributed channels that the Ministry of Finance was planning to cut support for Poland’s railway infrastructure by 500 million zloty (approx. 125 million Euro).

This year the support received by PKP PLK (Poland’s railway infrastructure administrator) was 1.3 billion złoty so the cut – when adjusted for inflation – represents a claw back by the Ministry of nearly 50%.

BTWT’s own unattributable channels report that the bosses of Poland’s largest railway operators (outside the PKP Group) are furious. They believe that the cutbacks will be reflected in hikes in track access charges which are already the highest in Europe. BTWT sources indicate that the Finance Ministry’s Plan ‘B’ – if the plans generate sufficient opposition – will be, after some time, to announce that after ‘consultation’ the cut will only be some 300 million PLN, that being its minimum internal target cut all along.

Mitigated or not, there can be no doubt that the cuts will damage Poland’s economic growth and generate extra car journeys that will jam up and pollute Poland’s car-priority cities.

One can only hope that the cuts will end the ‘white gloves’ treatment that PKP PLK receives from the Ministry and that there will be a concentrated economy drive within the company to reduce waste. At the moment infrastructure work commissioned by PKP PLK cuts upto 100% more than the EU average.

It is also high time that transport minister, Slawomir Nowak, cut back on political vanity projects like the infamous underground station in Lodz and reinvested the money saved on desperately needed infrastructure repairs.

Quest for new PKP SA chairman over

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Maria Wasiak stays in post.

Maria Wasiak. Photo PKP SA.

At an extraordinary general meeting of PKP SA shareholders held earlier today Maria Wasiak was appointed chairman of PKP SA. Ms Wasiak has been working as ‘acting chairman’ of PKP SA since 30 December 2010, following the dismissal of the previous incumbent, Andrzej Wach by the new Deputy Minister responsible for Poland’s railways, Andrzej Massel. Ms Wasiak will share the duties for which she has been responsible up to now with Romuald Bosakowski, who was appointed a board member today.

Ms Wasiak hails from Radom and studied law at Warsaw University and management at the School of Economics in Poznan. She was involved in local politics and became the Deputy Chief Executive of the Radom District Council in 1998 from where she moved to the political office of Tadeusz Syryjczyk, the Minister of Transport. She is seen as politically connected to Civic Platform, Poland’s governing party.

She joined PKP in 2000 in the role of ‘Project Director’. In 2001, she was promoted to the position of chairman of the PKP subsidiary responsible for regional services, PKP Przewozy Regionalne. In 2002, she became Head of PKP’s privatisation office. She was promoted to main board member with responsibility for ‘Promotion and Social Affairs’.

While some commentators regard the non-appointment of a suitably qualified ‘Rail Czar’ as a failure, it is unlikely that the Government, working through the Ministry of Infrastructure, looked very hard for an alternative. Maria Wasiak is seen as a safe pair of hands who will regard the privatisation of PKP SA’s assets as her top priority.

Her appointment and the ‘steady as she goes’ message that it conveys will have pleased the Ministry of Finance and received its tacit backing – the State Treasury controls the voting rights at PKP SA’s general meetings. A powerful external candidate may have upset the tacit understanding between the government, rail union bosses and top rail managers whereby everyone milks Poland’s railways for what they can and the network gradually decays until only a small core is left.

Less pleased will be PKP’s customers. Without fundamental changes to the way the railways are managed passengers will be left with even fewer overcrowded trains and with increasingly inaccurate and inadequate information. Freight operators will face rising rail access charges and deteriorating tracks. While wishing Ms Wasiak well with her appointment, we suspect that we will be continuing to be chronicling the decline of Poland’s railways for many more years to come.

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):

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

Dyspozytor

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

More of the same in Gdansk. Video TransPORTele.

Background:

Englehardt and Wach to go?

Monday, 20 December 2010

A happier winter – Febuary 2009. YouTube Video by Dominikq2.

There are very strong indications this evening that Undersecretary of State, Juliusz Engelhardt, will be paying the price for the disastrous implementation of the 2011 timetable. Engelhardt, who is responsible for Poland’s railways at the Ministry of Infrastructure, had already lost the support of his colleagues in the Sejm as a result of PKP’s failure to complete certain rail infrastructure improvement projects for which EU funding had already been secured. The final nail in the coffin is this year’s timetable fiasco. News from a number of sources would suggest that his dismal will be accompanied by the resignation of PKP Group Chairman, Andrzej Wach.

So far, Engelhardt’s boss, the Minister of Infrastructure Cezary Grabarczyk – a firm ally of Prime Minister, Donald Tusk – appears to be safe. But, for how much longer? It is Grabarczyk who is pushing through investment plans fora new underground station and for a multi-billion zloty tunnel under his home city of Lodz . He has also asked his team at the Ministry of Infrastructure to urgently prepare plans for a new branch line to link up with Lodz’s airport at Okecie. Meanwhile the rest of the PKP network is crumbling. Grabarczyk’s grandiose plans, have attracted little criticism, however the minister’s latest investment might just prove his undoing. While passengers shiver on station platforms for trains that never come, Grabarczyk has just bought himself his department three luxury limousines for 300,000PLN. It is just such petty acts of vanity that can break a seemingly charmed career.

Sources:

The grass is always greener…

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The monogram of Juliusz Kindermann and the date of building of his ‘Cotton Goods Factory’ in Lodz. Today the factory is a listed building has become the ‘Hotel Focus’. Part of Kindermann’s mansion – which is next door to the factory – houses the ‘Keja’ pub. From a photograph by fotobolas.

(Click image to see the original photograph and other photographs of the building on the Lodz okiem przechodnia blog.)

I was having supper last night in the Hotel Focus in Lodz with an eminent British railway heritage conservationist when our conversation turned to the scrapping of Ol49-32 in Gniezno last Tuesday.

What we need in Poland, I opined, is a body like the one that operates in the UK designating certain railway objects as part of the nation’s railway heritage that must be preserved.

Like the Railway Heritage Committee? queried my dining partner.

Exactly! That’s the one, I answered.

The Railway Heritage Committee will be sentenced to death on Tuesday! I was told. Too astonished for words, I pressed my informant for more. Click the link below to read the whole sorry story.

More:

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 http://www.lueben-damals.de 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 PolskieSzlaki.pl 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…

Let’s save Poland’s old railway stations!

Friday, 18 June 2010

A remarkable survivor, the unique railway station in Budwity.
Photo Krzysztof Worobiec.

(Click to see original picture and read a report of the ‘Uratujmy Stare Dworce’ – in Polish on Krzysztof Worobiec’s blog, Stowarzyszenie Sadyba.)

Although Poland’s railway heritage continues to decay at an alarming rate, a conference that took place in Olsztyn on 23 March this year was possibly a sign that the tide of public opinion may be beginning to turn. The upbeat conference slogan ‘Uratujmy Stare Dworce’ (Let’s save Poland’s old railway stations) reflected the campaign aims of its principal organiser, Elzbieta Mierzynska. Ms Mierzynska is a professional journalist and the daughter of a railwayman. Her campaign is focused on the Warmia and Mazury province which has 193 railway stations of which only 30 are in use.

The conference attracted a distinguished panel of speakers including: Marian Podziewski, Voivod (central government representative) of Warmia and Mazur; Zbigniew Maj, representing the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage; Paweł Olczyk, main border member PKP SA (responsible for Property); Adam Neumann, Director Gdansk Region (new PKP subsidiary) Dworce Kolejowe PKP; Michal Wrzosek, Spokesman, PKP SA; Jacek Przesluga, main board member PKP SA (in charge of railway station renewal); Barbara Zalewska, historic monuments registrar of Warmia and Mazur ; Janusz Piechocinski, vice chairman Parliamentary Infrastructure Committee; and Jacek Wysocki, of the Warmia and Mazury Structural Planning Department. Delegates heard two interesting case histories, the first by Jolanta Piotrowska, the mayor of Gizycko, on how her town council had managed to take over the local railway station; the second by Antoni Smolak, the Chief Executive of Maldyty Municipality, on the problems preventing his council from taking over the historic railway station at Budwity.

Let’s hope that the attendance of so many key decision makers at the conference will mean that some real progress will be made at last. We hope to interview Ms Mierzynska shortly.

More:

English lessons

Friday, 12 March 2010

A wagonload of steel from Germany arrives in Srem in December 2009. The Czempin – Srem line is operated by SKPL and is in the process of being taken over by Srem municipality. Further takeovers of branchlines by local authorities are unlikely to receive the support of rail minister, Juliusz Engelhardt. Photo Jacek Stawinski, SKPL.

Hopped onto a Tanie Linie Kolejowe (PKP Intercity’s ‘cheap’ brand) train to Warsaw to take part in a conference about the future of Polish rail and in particular Przewozy Rejonalne Poland’s second train operator owned by the 16 provincial governments. Other panel members included Juliusz Engelhardt, the Undersecretary of State responsible for railways at the Ministry of Infrastructure, and Janusz Piechocinski, the Vice-chairman of the Sejm Infrastructure Committee.

In the short slot allocated to me I pointed out that the privatisation of BR did not bring about many of the benefits that it was supposed to. Because it was carried out by breaking BR up into over 100 separate companies, it actually increased the cost to the taxpayer of maintaining the railways by a factor of three – and still the UK has the most expensive fares in Europe.

Janusz Piechocinski leaves early, but I get a shot at asking the Minister Engelhardt a question. Given the reappraisal of wagonload freight traffic recently evidenced by the creation of the Xrail Alliance. Would the Minister agree that it would be rather strange for a freight to carry right across Europe by rail only to have to complete its last leg in Poland by road? A number of local authorities have taken over their local branchlines in order to keep them operational in the manner of the shortline railroads of the USA. However, during the transition period – before a local authority has been granted the freehold of the railway land and only possess an operating licence, it would appear that Polish law prevents the local authority from applying for EU funds or investing its own monies in the railway. Would the Minister talk to his colleagues in the relevant Ministries in an attempt to resolve this situation.

Mr Engelhardt replies that, it is a mistake to think that PKP or the Ministry don’t want to hand over disused branchlines. Rather it is the case that a number of local authorities have announced that they want to take over their local branchlines, because local government elections are looming. They are very naive and have no idea at all of the burden of legal and regulatory obligations which they would acquire if they take over the railway.

He has avoided answering my question and I lob in a supplementary. I apologise for my poor Polish, no criticism of the Minister, the Ministry or PKP was intended. My question was about those lines that had already been transferred by PKP SA to local authorities, but where – because property transfer formalities were not complete – the local authorities felt that they were precluded from making any investment in the railway infrastructure. The Minister gives a similar answer to the one he gave before, pouring scorn on the efforts of local authorities to take over their branchlines. His answer does not bode well for Poland’s shortline promoters including my Polish narrow gauge friends and local authority bosses like Jozef Zajkowski struggling to take over the Lapy – Ostroleka railway line from PKP.