The current status

Strengthening the role of rail transport in a Polish integrated transport system is a strategic task. To this end, it is necessary to undertake measures enhancing the competitiveness of rail transport compared to other types of transport, measured by travelling time, comfort and level of safety. This task will be carried out through investments, organisational and technological improvements and changes in the professional activity of railwaymen. This will create options for increasing the supply of high quality competitive services and ensure the interoperability of the Polish rail transport system with that of the EU to be gradually implemented along with the modernisation of railway lines.

First: being competitive
This necessitates parallel activities to be undertaken both by the administrator of the infrastructure, administrators of railway stations and railway carriers as well as cooperation with the authority in charge of safety in rail transport.

Rail transport has, without any doubt, a chance to achieve a stable market position in the coming years, in particular in the segments of the market that are dependent on prices for economic and social reasons and that are positively perceived by users. According to forecasts in the coming decade the most intensively developing subsystems of passenger transport will be inter-city and city transport.

The key to success in rail transport in Poland is its competitive edge, manifested, among other things, in a shorter travelling time compared to road transport. Investments, which can be completed under the next EU perspective (2014—2020), aim at improving the competitiveness of rail passenger transport. In January 2013, the Council of Ministers adopted, by way of a resolution, the “Transport Development Strategy until 2020” (with a perspective to 2030).

The “Strategy” sets the most important directions aiming at the main goal, that is, increasing territorial accessibility and improving the safety of traffic users and transport effectiveness by creating a common, sustainable and user-friendly transport system in Poland and Europe. The assumptions set forth in the “Strategy” provide, among other things, for reducing the average time of travelling by rail for half of the connections between voivodeships.

Passengers also appreciate travel comfort, that is, modern and comfortable rolling stock, renovated railway stations and good condition of the railway infrastructure, which has an influence on that important element determining the competitive edge of carriers — punctuality. Polish State Railways Inc. Group announced that in 2014—2015 it spent PLN 22 billion on modernising railway stations, railway lines and rolling stock. In turn, PKP PLK reported that 3,000 turnouts and nearly 1,200 railway and road crossings were modernised by the end of 2015. The administrator of railway infrastructure also assured that the full amount of allocated EU funds would be used up. 

PKM Gdańsk - Niedźwiednik stop
Gdańsk Matarnia — one of eight stops built by Polska Kolej Metropolitalna
The footbridge over the airport access road, connecting tunnel under the tracks and slides facilitate collision-free movement between the terminal of Gdańsk airport and the stop of PKM (Gdańsk Airport)

PKP S.A. has 2,500 railway stations at its disposal, of which nearly 600 are active. In 2015 the company put four innovative system stations (ISS) into service: in Ciechanów, Mława, Nasielsk and Strzelce Krajeńskie Wschód. Currently, the company is analysing further locations for similar investments, in cities such as Pomiechówek, Sędziszów Małopolski, Oświęcim, Poznań Garbary, and Oborniki Wielkopolskie Miasto. Innovative railway stations are a pilot project by PKP S.A. The facilities are built according to a standard with size, materials and finish matching the local conditions. The modernised buildings are energy efficient and are equipped with photovoltaic panels. Another innovation is the darkening of the railway station and platforms at night and increasing light intensity when the train enters the station. This will allow cutting down on electricity consumption. The average cost of construction of a single system station is less than 5 million PLN. Investments connected with the construction of innovative railway stations are financed fifty-fifty from PKP’s own funds and the state budget’s grant-in aid.

Innovative system railway station in Nasielsk
Innovative system railway station Strzelce Krajeńskie Wschód

The conurbation, for example, of Warsaw and Silesia, has small railway stations that are important to local communities. Options for reconstructing these facilities are being analysed. In the new European perspective for 2014—2020 this project is planned to be implemented in all large cities. owever, the final decisions will depend on the results of analyses.

Rail passenger transport in Poland is not only the PKP Group. Regional railways play a key role in daily transport. Their expansion was not comparable to that in Germany, for instance, where local transport forms strong foundations for passenger railways.

It is true that PKP Przewozy Regionalne managed to repay the historic debt and the carrier gives a positive evaluation of the measures comprising a far-reaching restructuring plan. However, the company must make up for a considerable backlog in the adaptation of rolling stock to contemporary needs (by modernising the fleet) if it wants to compete in the passenger transport market with local carriers such as Koleje Śląskie (Silesia) or Koleje Wielkopolskie (Greater Poland).

PKP Intercity focuses on new, comfortable rolling stock
The journey time to the destination depends, among other things, on the condition of the railway infrastructure, which is the responsibility of PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe. In turn, PKP Intercity is doing its best to improve the travel comfort of passengers, investing in comfortable and modern rolling stock. The carrier declared that by the end of 2015 it had completed 10 rolling stock projects worth PLN 5.5 billion in total. IC assures that it has accomplished the plans and now its rolling stock is 70 per cent new and modernised, including: sixty new electric multiple units (20 Pendolinos, 20 Flirts and 20 Darts), thirty diesel locomotives (10 new and 20 modernised) and two hundred and sixty three carriages, both new and modernised. PKP Intercity also goes with the flow, taking care to implement modern transport technologies. In 2015 the carrier implemented Lemon — a locomotive positioning system developed by PKP Informatyka.

As regards improvements in travel comfort at the end of 2014 and throughout 2015 the whole of Poland placed hope in the Intercity Premium Express Train, known as Pendolino (informally referred to as “platypus”), bought by PKP Intercity. On 14 December 2014 nine Pendolino trains appeared on the routes between Warsaw and the Tri-City, Kraków and Wrocław. However, doubts were expressed about whether it was reasonable to buy twenty 7-unit ED250 vehicles, along with maintenance worth about PLN 2.64 billion, from Alstom. The purchase of vehicles to run on previously declared routes at 200 km/hour was objectionable so the European Commission reduced the grant awarded to this transaction by several million Euro. However, it seems that more and more passengers have come to see that EIP is a good solution as the carrier increases the pool of tickets for Pendolino at attractive prices. In the first year of its presence on Polish tracks, Pendolino carried 3.56 million passengers. EIP trains travelled for 6.32 million kilometres attaining a punctuality rate of 96 per cent.

The purchase of 20 Dart EMUs, often referred to as “the Polish Pendolino” creates much more controversy this year than the EIP. The units cost PLN 1.3 billion and were supposed to be released by PKP Intercity at the end of 2015. However, due to delays caused by the producer, PESA of Bydgoszcz, only seven vehicles passed final acceptance tests and the remaining 13 were delivered to the carrier but were accepted conditionally upon acceptance of the infrastructure department. PKP Intercity announced that it would claim the agreed contractual penalties from PESA. On 29 December the first Dart of PKP Intercity departed from Warszawa Zachodnia to Lublin. ED161 was adapted to the speed of 160 km/h. The vehicle is equipped with an integrated air-conditioning and heating system, ergonomic seats, electric sockets, facilities for the disabled, a developed passenger information system, modern toilets, bicycle transportation areas and catering services.

A modern Pendolino ED250 train ordered by PKP Intercity — train interior
A modern Pendolino ED250 train ordered by PKP Intercity — test ride
The launch of the first Pendolino set was celebrated on 12 August 2013 at the Main Station in Wrocław

Stadler, forming a consortium with Newag, did considerably better with the delivery to PKP Intercity. By the end of 2015 they were supposed to supply 20 Flirt3 trains to the carrier.


The first of them set off on their journey on 13 December 2015, simultaneously with an updated train timetable. As the manufacturer assures, all Flirts are approved and can travel at speed of 160 km/h.

Passengers travel in first and second class compartments and can use a separate bar space. The trains are equipped with ergonomic seats, modern toilets and are air-conditioned. Every seat comes with an electric socket and individual light. The vehicle is also equipped with electronic displays and a modern public address system. Passengers travelling with babies in selected toilets will find changing tables and those with non -standard luggage — a separate area for transporting bicycles, skis etc. The trains will also be adapted to the needs of the disabled.

Ultimately, more than 300 new InterCity trains will run on the tracks. Investors assume that at the end of 2020, the entire rolling stock will be new or modernised. 

Stadler’s Flirt train and Pesa ’s Dart operated by PKP Intercity
Newag’s 220M diesel multiple unit operated by Przewozy Regionalne

A slow revival of Przewozy Regionalne?
The activities of local railways do not match the successes and investments of long-distance carriers although they are fighting to maintain their position in the competitive market more and more keenly. As a part of the process of restructuring PKP Przewozy Regionalne, a decision was made to introduce a new owner, that is, the Industrial Development Agency representing the State Treasury. The President of the carrier company, Tomasz Pasikowski, ensures that in 2015 the restructuring was according to plan and has produced positive effects, which is testified, for instance, by the repayment of the debt of PLN 600 million. In addition, the company gives a positive evaluation of its rolling stock policy, according to which 60% of the carrier’s fleet should comprise new or modernised vehicles by the end of 2018. PKP Przewozy Regionalne has already modernised 21 EMUs (under OP IE, project worth PLN 160 million) and introduced mobile ticket sales — in December 2015 ticket sales via SkyCash were launched.

Irrespective of the improvements, strong competition — from the point of view of passengers — is railway carriers administered by local governments (Koleje Mazowieckie; Koleje Wielkopolskie; Koleje Śląskie; Koleje Małopolskie; Łódzka Kolej Aglomeracyjna; Pomorska Kolej Metropolitalna) and providing transport services in respective voivodeships. Their future seems safe.

A train owned by Przewozy Regionalne on the route to Bydgoszcz

At a greater speed
From the point of view of freight transport it is essential to ensure conditions for complementary services in connection with other branches of transport. The structure of branches in the transport market will be balanced thanks to the development of interoperable and intermodal infrastructure. This aims to offer a complete transport chain to customers as well as provide “door to door” and “just in time” services.

Two segments of the freight transport market are identified as being the most promising. These are: intermodal transport, allowing the complete use of the advantages of respective means of transport and full train loads, which are the most effective form of transporting bulk cargo.

The system of intermodal freight transport is particularly promising, considering the objectives and tasks of the transport policy. This is mostly due to the fact that it is environment-friendly, relieves the road infrastructure and reduces the external cost of transport. It is assumed that containerised cargo transport will predominate.

Unfortunately, it is forecast that in the coming five years the significance of hard coal will be reduced for the system of full train load bulk transport. Estimates regarding transport of oil derivative products and other chemicals are certainly better. Railway freight carriers are already preparing for such a possibility, diversifying their activities and becoming full-service logistics operators.

In 2014 the commercial speed (the relationship between the distance a train travels between two points on a road and the total travelling and stopping time) for railway freight transport in Poland was 23 km/hour. To compare, in Germany the average speed at which goods are transported is 50 km/hour. What must be done to improve this relationship and when is it possible? This is a significant challenge for railway freight carriers who, wishing to be competitive with air and marine transport, must in the first place take care of the fast transfer of cargo and just in time deliveries.

In addition to the unsatisfactory condition of railway infrastructure, Polish freight carriers must deal with the problem of bottlenecks often occurring in the railway network. Not only do they make train timetable planning difficult but due to the disturbances caused they prevent timely delivery of cargo to the customer. Examples of bottlenecks are single-track sections of lines or lines with a considerable load of mixed traffic, that is, passenger and freight traffic. There are also some controversial restrictions such as those requiring the admissible length of freight trains and axle load to be reduced due to the poor condition of the infrastructure. Another, very significant barrier for freight carriers is the high cost of access to the infrastructure which CTL Logistics or DB Schenker Rail Polska have stubbornly attempted to overcome.

To prevent this, the background document for the “Transport Development Strategy until 2020” provides for numerous constructions and modernisations to be carried out in the 2014—2020 EU financial perspective. This in particular involves the elimination of bottlenecks reducing the throughput on the railway network. Other investments included installation of modern railway traffic control units, allowing the passage of trains with a maximum length of 740 metres and increased axle load. Lines forming part of Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) will be adapted to the requirements of this network. In addition, provisions are made for separating passenger traffic from freight traffic on the lines and improving access to Polish ports.

Thanks to considerable funds granted under the operational programme “Infrastructure and Environment” (5 billion euro until 2020) the rolling stock will be replaced and the modernisation of the lines will enable increasing the average speed on the main freight routes up to 50 km/hour.

Intermodal and full service as a formula to overcome crisis?
PKP Cargo has been a long-term leader in the freight transport market in Poland. During the first ten months of 2015 the market share of freight transport in terms of the cargo transported was 47.71 per cent, and in terms of transport work — 55.84 per cent. A decrease in railway freight transport in 2015 and quite a difficult situation in the cargo industry, as well as the forecasted decrease in coal transport in the coming years make railway carriers diversify their activities. Both PKP Cargo and CTL Logistics decided to develop their activities extending the scope of their services. The carriers have increasingly braver ideas about their activities outside Poland – the above-mentioned companies and Lotos Kolej decided to develop freight transport in Germany. PKP Cargo hopes for the development relying on intermodal transport which it wants to carry out on a wider scale with the help of the Czech carrier AWT acquired in May 2015. 

A freight train owned by PKP Cargo

Road versus track
Although transportation of bulk cargo by rail is still a cheaper option for the customer, road transport has remained the largest beneficiary. Therefore, railroad carriers should take care to invest in new rolling stock and create conditions for implementing forms of transport competitive to cars. Thus, under the “Fourth Railway Package” the European Commission proposes that by 2019 all railroad carriers should be given an opportunity to provide their full services in all EU member states. This means that all limitations must be deregulated. The administration of railway infrastructure must be compulsorily separated from providing transport services, which will be very beneficial for smaller carriers (e.g. access to terminals).

Apart from the interoperability and harmonisation of the technical standards determining the competitiveness of rail transport in relation to road transport — the construction of TEN-T is also believed to be helpful. The attractiveness of freight transport by rail can be further enhanced by two transport corridors passing through Poland, namely the North-South corridor (Baltic—Adriatic) and the East—West corridor.

Transport corridors and the development of intermodal transport.
Intermodal transport in Poland has been developing year on year. In order to make use of its potential it is necessary to improve the railway infrastructure and optimise the access rates. Experts estimate that a railway-friendly policy of differentiating the rates for access to the infrastructure in Poland can result in a reduction in external costs of transport to PLN 2.7 billion in 2014—2022. The multimodal transport corridors that provide a chance for intermodal transport to spread its wings include Corridor No. 5 North- South (Baltic—Adriatic) and Corridor No. 8 East—West. Both investments were completed by the end of 2015.

Intensively developed intermodal transport, using and combining a number of means of transport, at the same time maintaining uniform unit load on the whole route, is the future of freight transport

The Baltic—Adriatic corridor begins in Gdynia and passes through Tczew, Bydgoszcz (CE 65), Warsaw (E 65), Katowice, Ostrava, Vienna, and Triest to Ravenna. The most important Polish investments along this corridor include further modernisation of railway lines E65 and E59 that are the key trunk lines in Poland on the north-south axis. Transport Corridor No. 8 connects Bremerhaven (via Berlin, Warsaw and Terespol) with Kaunas. According to the representatives of the local government of the Pomeranian Voivodeship and the Association of Polish Regions of the Baltic-Adriatic Transport Corridor, reaching a 30% share in the intermodal market, for instance through activating the flow of cargo via both transport corridors, would be very challenging for Poland. In the coming years Poland can become a logistics platform for the flow of goods between the East and the West and the North and the South.

One of the largest intermodal terminals in Poland — Poznań Franowo — was opened at the end of 2013. The terminal is adapted for providing service to containerised cargo carried by combined transport, i.e. by rail and road. As estimated by PKP Cargo, in 2014 Franowo handled TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) — a unit equivalent to the volume of a 20 feet long container. Forecasts for the coming years assume transshipment of 26 thousand tonnes in a year, which is quite a good result for a terminal at the stage of development. However, the transshipment capacity of the Container Terminal in Małaszewicze reaches 40,000 TEU on an area comparable to Franowo, but this is affected by several factors. First, it was established in 1975, and lies on the main transit route from the EU to Russia, which determines its cargo transshipment capacity. It is also worth emphasizing that in a further perspective the carrier is considering the possibility of expanding the terminal, depending on the weight of cargo to be transhipped. At the moment the terminal accepts not only domestic shipments but also those from Germany and China.

Investments to improve integration?
In 2015 every sector of railway transport was allocated distinct priorities. In the case of passenger transport the largest emphasis was put on projects connected with purchasing new rolling stock and modernising the fleet. All of this to fulfil two basic conditions determining passenger satisfaction: shorter travelling time and greater travel comfort. Przewozy Regionalne can boast different achievements from a year ago; they managed to repay a long-term debt and give a positive evaluation of the previous company restructuring activities.

In turn, freight carriers set themselves different goals. At the moment, with regard to the forecasted decrease in coal transport in the coming years, they have already commenced diversifying their activities. Their main direction is to aim at full logistics service of the customer and developing activity abroad, e.g. in Germany. The development of intermodal transport also offers hope for a better future of railway transport. Such a type of transport has a lot of potential taking into account that at the end of 2015 two freight transport corridors were put into service: Corridor No. 5 and Corridor No. 8. Thus, great importance is attached to improving the railway infrastructure, in particular eliminating bottlenecks, and the closely connected commercial speed.

As assured by PKP PLK, 100 per cent EU funds allocated to investment connected with improving the railway infrastructure were used up. In 2015 alone 300 km of lines adapted to the speed of 160 km/h were put into service. On some sections trains can reach 200 km/h. In addition, in the next EU financial perspective the administrator of infrastructure plans to look more carefully at projects related to railway freight transport — one of the priorities is to increase the speed of freight trains up to 60 km/h.

It is also worth mentioning that the challenges that rail transport in Poland has to face during the term of the financial perspective of the European Union until 2020 will include: continued modernisation of line and spot infrastructure and railway rolling stock; creating conditions which facilitate the construction of an information technology system for settling accounts for the sale of public transport tickets of various railway carriers, including the common ticket; aiming to include railways in the system of city public transport: tariff and ticket integration; Polish Pass II – return to the concept of a single document integrating the authorisation to travel by various carriers’ trains and other means of transport.

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© Całość praw autorskich - Antoni Bochen, Filip Wiśniewski