Interview with Krystyna Pękała
President and General Manager of Szybka Kolej Miejska Sp. z o.o.
First, there was an idea that Warsaw, similar to many other large cities, should incorporate railway in the agglomeration system of public transport. This is an obvious practice used throughout the world. Therefore, after the disestablishment of the monopoly of PKP the conditions were right to start surveys and preparations for setting up a specialist railway company to handle passenger transport in Warsaw. In 2004 the city council decided to establish the first in Poland self-governed railway company under the name Szybka Kolej Miejska (Fast Urban Railway). There were no people, no rolling stock, and no space on the tracks and no technical resources. Everything had to be built from scratch. Many people challenged the reasonableness of the project at that time and did not expect it would survive. The first, organisational stage was concluded by launching the carriages on the route Warszawa Zachodnia—Falenica on 3 October 2005. On that day SKM had only one electric unit hired from the Fast Urban Railway in Gdańsk. With time we acquired subsequent vehicles and gradually increased the number of transports.
The company developed systematically, more and more lines and passengers appeared…
The dynamic growth of the company was possible due to funds granted by the European Union for financing of the lease of modern rolling stock. It was a breakthrough. The funds enabled us to extend our offer for passengers. As I have already mentioned, SKM started with a single unit running on a single route. Now, we have more than 30 state-of-the-art trains running on four lines covering nearly the entire railway network in the capital city. For more than 10 years of our operation we have won passengers who gave up railways and used other means of transport, including their own cars. It must be remembered that we had to change our approach to passenger transport and organise it not according to the capacity of the carrier but according to the expectations of our customers. In 2015 we carried more than 25 million passengers. However, this result is far from that of the Warsaw metro, buses or trams. But in comparison to railway carriers, taking into account that the area in which we operate is very limited, the result is very good. During the first years of operation, the basic problem for SKM was the lack of own technical and holding facilities for our trains. The hire generated high costs and caused significant problems coordinating transports. In 2012 as a result of our efforts the grounds of the holding station Warszawa Szczęśliwice were leased from PKP for 20 years.
SKM has become integrated with the transport system of Warsaw and its vicinity. The Forbes Diamond 2013 was not accidental.
In the crowded Warsaw conurbation railway transport reveals its advantages. We can carefully plan carriages and ensure smooth transport from home to workplace or school. Railway transport makes it possible to avoid traffic jams on access roads to Warsaw, and crowded city streets. SKM is already a strong brand recognisable by other railway carriers. The agglomeration ticket, with a price equivalent to the costs of using other means of public transport, and making it possible to change to tramway, bus or metro, is also significant.
Does and to what extent SKM compete with the metro and Koleje Mazowieckie?
We do not compete with the metro since we operate in parallel in different areas. Rather, we attempt to complement each other and coordinate our city public transport offer. As regards Koleje Mazowieckie, the situation is a little different since it carries passengers from suburban areas. In rush hour KM trains, reaching the limits of the Warsaw conurbation, are overflowing with passengers. And here SKM comes to play. Its vehicles provide transport services within the agglomeration only. Thus, we do not compete with KM for passengers; however — with regard to railway network deficiencies — we compete for access to infrastructure. The capacity of the cross-city line is used to the maximum extent, so some SKM trains run via Warszawa Centralna instead of Warszawa Śródmieście. The arrangement of tracks at the station in Piaseczno prevents transport to and from Piaseczno. Similarly, line S9 from the airport to Legionowo ends in Wieliszew although it should reach Zegrze.
What can you say about cooperation with local governments in Warsaw and with the City Transport Authority?
Warsaw is the owner of SKM, so the local government of the capital city determines our tasks and provides financing. Whereas, the City Transport Authority, in its capacity as organiser of collective transport within the agglomeration, supervises their performance and coordinates current activities of all operators within the system.
The company development plan assumes new connections obviously implicating a growth in the rolling stock base. Where will the money come from?
We plan to finance the purchase from European Union grants, a long-term investment loan, lease or issuance of bonds and the company’s equity.
let me ask you about the 21st century technical resources of SKM.
Currently, all maintenance works, including washing and cleaning of trains and running technical service, are performed in our own depot at the holding station Warszawa Szczęśliwice. We are currently modernising our technical facilities. The cost of the modernisation exceeds PLN 40 million.
What can you promise to thousands of passengers using your services on a daily basis?
The carrier's mission is to attract more and more passengers and Warsaw offers a large potential.
I can certainly promise we will take care to improve the standard of passenger transport:travelling conditions, travelling time, service quality and so on. I would like to convince passengers that they can travel from home to the city centre every day without stress and in a much shorter time. Without any doubt, it would be nice if SKM trains were better coordinated with other means of city public transport on respective stations. Besides, I can imagine not only a city bike but also a city car rental service. But we need something to begin with. Thus, is more passengers travel by SKM, the the municipal local government will take more interest in their needs regarding travelling in Warsaw.