sexta-feira, 4 de abril de 2014

To the European Union: Please save the polish railways!

Dear Siim Kallas and other members of the European Commission,

In the media I followed the persistent requests from the polish PO-led government to transfer EU-backed railway funds to the construction of highways [source], so I decided to write this open letter to defend that the European Commission should not accept this outrageous discrimination against the polish railways and should insist that EU-funded investments should be 60-40 in favor of railways. Note that outside the EU funds, Poland still invests billions and billions in roads and almost nothing in railways! So it is not 60-40 or 40-60 that we are talking about, it is more like 20-80 or 30-70 in favor of roads! And this difference can mean life or death for railways in Poland.

The long distance passenger rail in Poland has been losing passengers non-stop for the last 2 decades. It had stopped losing passengers and was showing signs of improving, but the arrival in the market of aggressive low-cost bus carriers has put it decisively in a downwards spiral again. Poland already transports less passengers in rail than Austria, which has a 4 times smaller population, and I would argue that passenger rail is only in a worse shape in Romania, considering EU countries.

The speed of passenger trains in Poland is ridiculously slow in many routes, and it cannot compete with the buses and cars going in huge and well-maintained highways. The (by far) most important long distance rail operator, PKP Intercity, has been losing passengers at an alarming rate! In the first two months of 2014 it lost 20% of it's passengers year-on-year! [source]

And what is the answer of the Polish government? Build more highways and transfer funds from rail to roads =( These extra funds could be utilized to modernize the routes between all cities with more than 200.000 inhabitants in Poland, which would then make long distance passenger rail competetive again and save it! But only if the European Commission refuses the transfer of funds this will happen!

1> The terrible state of long distance passenger rail in Poland

Here is a graphical representation of the data currently available, note that by far the most important long distance rail operator, PKP Intercity, has been losing passengers at an alarming rate! In the first two months of 2014 it lost 20% of it's passengers year-on-year, and the total amount of rail passengers remained more or less the same only because of some commuter rail and regional rail which is doing well in some regions, but for long distance the tendency is downwards:

2> The government has a transport policy which makes a joke out of the pro-rail policy of the European Union

Over the last few years this has been a constant position of the party currently in power and they have utilized again and again false, contradictory and absurd arguments to defend their position. And the matter is most pressing because the passenger rail in Poland in a decisive moment: There is still time to save it if enough funds are invested in improving the infrastructure, which is the main obstacle to the success of passenger rail in Poland, but the Polish government insists in sabotaging this by requesting the funds to be transferred to roads. This action of the current government could lead to the total collapse of rail in Poland, and therefore I decided to write this open letter showing concrete arguments for my case.

The transportation policy of the current polish government is in total disrespect of European Union priorities. The government has absolutely no interest in the rail system, and just invests the minimum necessary to obtain the maximum possible amount of cash from the EU, and invests hugh amounts of cash in an enormous Highway system which will soon be greater then that of the United Kingdom! This is done by contracting impossible amounts of debt and the government has even stole recently the pension funds to cover for this large imbalance in it's budget! All in the name of highway building...

Outside EU funds there are hugh road projects but *zero* major railway projects. The Polish government doesn't want to invest EU funds 40-60 to roads, it says so because the EU offered 60-40. If the EU had offered 40-60 to begin with, they would now want 20-80 =( That's the reality, we are dealing with cynic people.

Yellow, Red and Blue sections will be finished by 2020 in the map bellow:

Railway investments in 2014-2020:

3> The main cause for the decline in passenger rail is because the railways are so slow

The speed of passenger trains in Poland is ridiculously slow in many routes, and it cannot compete with the highways. I prepared a large comparison of rail and bus speeds in this previous post:

4> Another main problem is the rail access fee

The European Union has already forced the government to revise their fees policy, but they responded by increasing rail station fees and increasing other fees to make up, as well as by cutting a program of 500 millions per year which was utilized to repay debts of the railway company =( The PO government policy is clear: Not a cent invested in rail unless the EU forces it! [source1] [source2]

5> How to save the polish passenger rail

But not everything is lost still! If European Commission members block this attempt and insist on 60-40 for railway investment, then the downward trend could be put at a check and rail could flourish again!

The polish transport minister lies when she says that there is nothing to be done with the extra funds =(

And to prove it, I prepared a list of projects which I suggest should be implemented with the new funds =)

5.1> Opole-Gliwice should not have a cheap rehabilitation to 120km/h. It is a major EU corridor, which connects major polish cities such as Wrocław, Katowice and Kraków, and it should be Modernized to 160km/h
5.2> Gliwice-Katowice-Sosnowiec should also be modernized to 160km/h building a 3rd and 4th rail to separate long distance trains from local trains if really necessary, as this was the reason the PO government gave to give up in the modernization of this segment
5.3> Radom-Kielce-Kraków connects also very important polish cities and there are no plans to improve anything in the next 6 years in this route! By this time the buses will already have all the market. This entire route should be modernized to 160km/h still in this EU perspective
5.4> The route proposed by the government for trains connecting Wrocław and Warszawa is absurd, it goes around a large circle which has 430km while the direct line between the cities is merely 300km. The route Łódź-Kalisz-Wrocław should be revitalized to 120km/h to improve the situation in this corridor. A better modernization would normally be required, but because of the high speed rail vague plans I'd go with 120km/h instead for this route. But we should definetively not wait for the HSR since it is a vague plan which might come to reality in 50 years from now in the pace that the current government has.
5.5> Tarnobrzeg-Lublin should be modernized to 120km/h to improve the connection between Rzeszów and Lublin.
5.6> From Wrocław going to the south there are plans to modernize only half the route, which is Wrocław-Kamien. Ząb. The entire route to Kłodzko and till the Tchech Republic should be modernized instead.
5.7> The entire region of Mazuria has no real plans, and in this region the trans go as snails! A lot of work around the mazurian lakes and in all directions from Ołsztyn is required, with target speed 120km/h
5.8> The entire route from Katowice to the popular mountain vacation city of Zakopana should be revitalized to 120km/h
5.9> The entire route from Kraków to Zakopana should be revitalized to 120km/h
5.10> Kołobrzeg-Gdansk should be revitalized to 120km/h
5.11> Many other routes around Bydgoszcz should be revitalized