sexta-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2014

The end of passenger rail in Poland

I think we can officially announce that passenger rail in Poland lost it's position as the dominant alternative to car transportation.

A few years ago passenger rail was the dominant alternative to car transportation by far. A system which I utilized nearly exclusively for traveling all around Poland, and much beyond. I traveled from Lwów to Kraków to Warsaw to Gdańsk. I really loved this rail system, and specially traveling in the night cars. And everything so cheaply. The German real system is even better, but it is so expensive, they really eat all your euros to use the wonderful railways. In Poland I had not that much less quality for so much less money.

But nowadays, in 2014, I can see that this system has started a death spiral, and I don't find it probable that it will escape and remain a great system like passenger rail remains in Germany. Instead I think that the current course will lead the polish passenger rail into a tiny niche marker, with connections to most cities closed and pricy tickets, like in the United States.

Here are the facts:

1> The PO - Tusk - polish government is planning to cut 10% of long distance trains. [source]
2> The PO - Tusk government has set the railway and highway usage fees in such as way as to promote bus operators and destroy passenger rail. There is no logical way that passenger trains can compete in price with bus operators such as Polski Bus, because a train going from Wrocław to Katowice has to pay around 800zł in track usage fees while PolskiBus pays 16zł for using the highways. [source] The European union has already denounced this track usage fees as being unacceptable, as they are the highest in Europe, and they are destroying the polish railways and the European Union forced the polish government to reduce the track usage fees. The PO - Tusk government then complied, but they at the same time increased the rail station usage fee, so as to effectively keep almost the same price for passenger rail. Only for cargo operators the fee decreased significantly.
3> Every single zł invested by the PO - Tusk government in rail is because they are forced to do so in order to receive the European Union non-refundable funds. Tusk already tried at least 5 times to convince the EU to stop giving rail investment money to Poland, he wanted to transfer the money to road projects, but the EU refused again and again and again. [source 1] [source 2]
4> The PKP Intercity plans for the future are absurd, focused in the extremely expensive Pendolinos, bought with debt which will make the company bleed money to pay the interest rate. The Pendolinos will travel from 120 to 240 km/h, so nothing special, and will have very expensive tickets, which means that most people will not use them, but instead will use buses. PKP Intercity has no strategy for international, long distance and night trains in general, except waiting for them to die.
5> The other concurring company, Przewozy Regionalny, is in it's own death spiral. It has huge debts due to huge track usage fees and it's owners (the polish states) are constantly fighting with one another which assures that the company will never receive investment. So it has no future and is destined to die.
6> Private operators will only take the most popular routes like Katowice-Warsaw and Poznan-Warsaw and never run in the rest of the country.

My conclusions of this are:

1> The current polish government hates passenger rail and will do everything possible to destroy the polish passenger rail.
2> There is no turn back and there is no point in fighting against it (it would just be a waste of my time and my energy). It's the policy of the current government, and I don't see they going out any time soon. PiS might have good poll numbers, but I don't believe they will come to power, I bet that the liberal media will make a huge defamation campaign as always and save the liberal government. So this makes sure that there will be no policy change here, and the course will be kept steady in killing passenger rail.
3> I won't migrate to buses, as I hate buses, they have no leg space, they shake a lot (which sickens me if I try to work in a bus, but in a train I can work for hours). In general buses are an uncomfortable crappy 3rd world transport system. I think that the only way to move around Poland with comfort will be in a car from now on.

Now a comparison of the costs of bus and rail running:

Costs of a bus operator in Poland:

1> First the investment cost is 1,7 million zlotes for each new PolskiBus bus [source]
2> It burns 25L per 100 km, so 80 zl in fuel per 100 km
3> They pay their drivers a minimum wage, which costs for the employer around 2.000 zl per month (1600zl per month brutto + ZUS surcharges), which means 2000/160 => something like 15 zlotes per driving hour after counting some hours more due to stay in bus station, traffic jam, etc.
4> Krakow-Katowice costs 30 zl for one way
5> Two kinds of bus: Altano with 70 sitting places and Astromega with 2 floors and 90 sitting places.
6> Around 25zl per each parking in a bus station

Comparison of Kraków-Katowice:

A rail operator will have to pay around 400zl only for rail access + at least 300zl for energy + 100zl for personal + 200zl for railway station fees: Total cost of 1000zl which it needs to cover from tickets. If the tickets cost 10zl each, it will need at least 100 passengers to cover operational costs.

A bus operator will pay 30zl highway+80zl fuel+15zl for driver+50zl for bus station =170zl. If he fills 50 places, he can sell at 4zl each and still make an operational profit.

Comparison of Katowice-Wroclaw:

A rail operator will have to pay around 800zl only for rail access + at least 600zl for energy + 200zl for personal + 200zl for railway station fees: Total cost of 1700zl which it needs to cover from tickets. If the tickets cost 20zl each, it will need at least 85 passengers to cover operational costs.

A bus operator will pay 30zl highway+160zl fuel+30zl for driver+50zl for bus station =270zl. If he fills 50 places, he can sell at 6zl each and still make an operational profit. But he also has to pay for the bus debt, for administration, for insurance, etc.

Conclusion part 2> The railway access fees in Poland are ridiculously high, they are 10 times higher than in Spain, while the Highway access fees are very cheap for buses, so passenger trains cannot possibly be competitive and this is a deliberate Tusk policy to destroy the rail transport system. Even the European Union recognized that and already tried to force PLK to decrease its fees, but it responded by increasing train station fees.

Dumping bus prices

Even with my calculations above, and they more like guessing as I don't know the real costs involved, I am left thinking that the scotish billionair owner of PolskiBus and other companies are doing Dumping, as his prices are way bellow anywhere else in the world. In Spain to go 150km by bus will cost you at least 10 euros, but Katowice-Kraków is 6zł o.O

In Brazil the bus Piracicaba-Sao Paulo (165km) costs 40 reais, which is 55 zł only 1 way and there are no promotions at all.

In England I searched for London-Liverpool (300km) and the cheapest is 15 pounds (75zł). There is no free lunch, unlike in Poland, while PolskiBus does Wrocław-Kraków (270km) for 16zł regularly, buying in the same day.

Rail Usage Statistics

We will be able to watch if my conclusions are correct in the official European Union statistics in the next hears, here is the website:

Here is a graphical representation of the data currently available there:

It is hard to see Poland when compared to Germany, UK, France and Spain, so here is another chart which zooms into the countries with less ridership:

Well, looking at the chart I guess it could be worse (like Romania). But the fall in long distance passengers is real, PKP Intercity lost 16% of it's passengers in 2013 [source], what kept the numbers not that bad for Poland was regional rail, which is growing specially around Warsaw.

It is also interesting to keep in mind the list of 58 projects for 2014-2020 the new European Union investment perspective: and also here a copy of the official document which seams to have been taken offline:

Which is really tiny in comparison with the huge highway building program in Poland, and such politic will give road transport a key advantage in the next decade: