Modern, comfortable interiors of PKP Intercity trains: a cinema car, conference car, managers’ car, mother and baby compartment and the “Little Traveller Zone” with a mini-playgroung
Transformations of the socio-economic system in Poland after 1989, and a related rapid decline in rail transport, due to liquidation of many state-owned enterprises, which constituted the most numerous group of PKP customers, resulted in the reorganisation and restructuring of the country's largest carrier. An idea for the railway segment in Poland was to transform the state-owned enterprise into a company. Was it a good idea? That for the customers to judge.
PKP networks were forced to successively implement permanent speed limits, and reduce the allowable axle loads on track. After 1990, infrastructural investments were abandoned, with the exception of replacement work. The Polish railway network shortened from 14,292 miles (23,000 km) to 11,806 miles (19,000 km), of which 7,418 miles (11,938 km) were electrified (which ranked Poland 7th in the world, after Russia, Germany, France, Japan, India and China). Automatic Block Signalling was installed on more than 1,616 miles (2,600 km) of lines, while on 8,886 miles (14,300 km), the semi-automatic system was used. Today, more than 50% of PKP's locomotives are electric locomotives, handling 87% of freight transport service, and a similar workload in passenger transport.
In 1991, the Act from 1989 was amended, which had transformed PKP into a state-owned enterprise. From the current PKP structures, technical support facilities were separated and transformed into stand-alone companies. Railway transport districts were liquidated and replaced with 102 district stations. Sales divisions for passenger and freight services were added to PKP's organisational chart. Customs and operating agencies were established as well.
As the number of passengers using PKP services was decreasing, some secondary line and narrow gauge sections had to be closed. As the freight traffic on those lines was gradually coming to a standstill, the lines were first deactivated and ultimately closed altogether, which usually meant their physical removal. This happened mostly in western and north-western Poland, i.e. in locations where the network had been most dense before. While in the mid-1980s about 13% of active lines did not handle passenger transport, now the figure has exceeded 25%. This is the scale of the collapse.
As no real concept existed for PKP financing, and no infrastructural investments were made, the depleted rolling stock and railway equipment reduced the service safety and quality. In July 1995, the Act on the Polish State Railways (PKP) came into effect, resulting in the establishment of the PKP Council and the PKP Management Board. After two years, the Seym passed the Act on Railway Transport, which liquidated district directorates of the State railways as of 30 June 1998. They were replaced with the following sectors: traction and workshop facilities, railway infrastructure, passenger transport and freight transport, as well as the following divisions: real estate, electrical power engineering, power engineering, and job management services. Each of the divisions had its own directorate and contractor facilities. In 1999, the freight transport sector was split and the cargo sector was established as a separate entity.
The next step in the process of railway transformation took place pursuant to the Act of 8 September 2000 on Commercialisation, Restructuring and Privatisation of the Polish State Railways (PKP). According to the letter of the law, since 2001 PKP has been operating as a joint-stock company, whose sole shareholder is the State Treasury. The PKP Group was formed with 24 member companies, in which the parent company, i.e. PKP S.A. Nieruchomości holds a stake. Also, the parent company remained the owner of more than 3,200 railway station buildings and land. In several stages, PKP was divided into smaller carrier companies and technical back-up facilities. And so on 1 July 2001, the following entities came to life: PKP Linia Hutnicza Szerokotorowa Sp. z o.o. (Broad Gauge Metallurgy Line) in Zamość, PKP Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa (Warsaw Commuter Railway) in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, PKP Szybka Kolej Miejska (Fast Urban Railway) in Gdynia, a training centre in Warsaw and a repair and maintenance company in Wrocław. On 1 September 2001, the present joint stock company PKP Intercity S.A. (a limited liability company until 1 January 2008) and other four maintenance companies started to operate. In the third stage, on 1 October 2001, the following companies were set up: PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe S.A. (infrastructure and its maintenance), PKP CARGO Sp. z o.o., PKP Przewozy Regionalne Sp. z o.o. (Regional Transport), PKP Energetyka Sp. z o.o. (Power Engineering), PKP Informatyka Sp. z o.o. (IT), Telekomunikacja Kolejowa (Railway Telecommunications) and the last six companies from the maintenance group in Kraków, Radom, Kielce, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Kluczbork and Szczecin. In 2001, PKP decided to withdraw from running the narrow gauge traffic.
In 2003, a new Act on Railway Transport provided the rules for the use, maintenance and management of infrastructure. PKP PLK S.A., which had previously made the railway lines available to four companies from the PKP Group companies and 18 carriers from outside of the Group, granted more than 70 transport licences, including 56 freight transport licences. As a result, they soon handled 46% of the freight weight and 16% of the transport activity.
In the passenger transport sector, difficulties were growing with enforcing full amounts due for local transport assignments from local governments. At the same time, pursuant to the provisions of the newly enacted law, it was not possible to cover such losses from freight transport earnings. In order not to increase the deficit, the railways decided to suspend regional connections wherever the deficit on passenger transport assignments would exceed 80%. From October 2007, PKP Warsaw Commuter Railways Ltd. (Polish acronym: PKP WKD), based in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, was excluded from the PKP Group, and taken over by a local government consortium comprising: the local government of the Mazowieckie Voivodeship, local government of the city of Warsaw, and six gminas located along the PKP WKD route.
The multitude of transformations and divisions into separate companies did not bring the expected results. On the contrary, it hampered the railway operations by dispersing responsibilities and areas of service, which was best evidenced by disputes between Intercity and Przewozy Regionalne (Regional Transport) concerning ticket receipts. As the service proposal was unattractive, especially for small customers, it contributed to the decrease in both the weight of transported goods and the number of railway passengers. The number of carriages in trains became smaller too. It was the railbuses that saved the day, as they were introduced to handle local traffic on secondary lines.
In 1992, the first Polish railway company – Lubusz Regional Railways (Polish acronym: LKR) – was established. Its main shareholder was the then Zielonogórskie Voivodeship. LKR launched those lines where train transport had been previously suspended by PKP. To this end, diesel multiple units were imported from Denmark, and attempts were made to handle normal passenger traffic. However, the company was making losses, so 2 years later it was dissolved.
As some Western European companies were interested in the improvement of rail transit across the Polish territory, several international agreements were signed. They have imposed on Poland an obligation to modernise and reconstruct selected lines with a total length of more than 3,107 miles (5,000 km), where trains could run with a nominal minimum speed of 100 mph (160 km/h) (passenger trains) and with a nominal minimum speed of 75 mph (120 km/h) (freight trains) (with an increased authorised mass per axle of 22.5 tons, and on the proviso that combined transport terminals will be built on the lines covered by the AGTC – European Agreement on Important International Combined Transport Lines and Related Installations). The investments were co-financed from EU funds as part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). The requirements specified in the agreements signed by Poland: the AGC (European Agreement on Main International Railway Lines) and the AGTC included some railway lines within the territory of Poland to East-West and North-South international transport routes. These projects were supplemented by modernisation and expansion of the Warsaw railway junction.
The 2000s brought structural changes for the railways, yet they have not prevented subsequent line liquidations. The companies that have emerged from PKP operated in the new economic circumstances with varying success.