The Polish rail network requires considerable investment to improve the condition of both infrastructure and rolling stock. Andrzej Harassek finds that EU funding is allowing more projects to start, and high speed line plans are being revived

MANY YEARS of under-funding have left Poland's railways in a difficult position. Obsolete rolling stock and poorly-maintained infrastructure do not bode well for a railway that must now face the stiff winds of competition within the expanded European single market.

Fortunately, help is at hand in terms of international investment, which has enabled many urgent renewal and upgrading projects to get underway.

Even before Poland joined the European Union on May 1 2004, PKP enjoyed financial support from the EU, notably through the Phare and ISPA programmes*. Since accession, the ISPA funding has been replaced by direct assistance from the Cohesion Fund.

Another source is the European Regional Development Fund, which is not only contributing to infrastructure modernisation, but also enabling the purchase and modernisation of passenger coaches and multiple-units.

Main line modernisation

Infrastructure investment is being concentrated on the main lines, notably those that form part of the Pan-European transport corridors. Four European corridors run through Polish territory (Table I).

Infrastructure manager PKP PLK SA is currently working on the E20 and E30 lines, while plans are being prepared for upgrading the Warszawa - Gdynia line (E65), as well as Wroclaw - Poznan (E59) which is not one of the Pan-European corridors. Feasibility studies are being prepared for various routes, including Warszawa - Bialystok - Sokólka (E75), and Opole - Kraków (E30). All of these projects are being undertaken with assistance from the Cohesion Fund.

Manwhile, ERDF is contributing to modernisation of the Warszawa - Lódz line. The first stage of the project began in 2005, and work on the Skierniewice - Lódz section is expected to start in early 2006. With assistance from the TEN-T fund, feasibility studies for upgrading the eastern section of Line E30 between Kraków and Medyka will be taken forward, together with planning for work on the E59 corridor linking Wroclaw, Poznan, Szczecin and Swinoujscie.

Work is already underway on modernisating the Zgorzelec (Görlitz) - Opole section of Line E30, and the link to the important freight border crossing between Wegliniec and Horka in Germany.

PLK has submitted various proposals for consideration in the draft 2007-13 National Development Plan, which is now being discussed. These include the completion of works on E20 and C-E20 corridor; modernisation of the next section of E30 from Opole to Gliwice in the industrial region of Silesia; and modernisation of E65 from Warszawa to Gdansk and Gdynia, plus the E59 corridor and Line C-E59 linking Wroclaw and Szczecin via Rzepin.

The draft NationalDevelopment Plan assumes that at least three sections totalling at least 700 km will be upgraded for 200 km/h operation. These include Warszawa - Gdynia, which will be adapted for tilting trains to run at 200 km/h, and loco-hauled trains at 160 km/h. The Central Main Line (CMK) is gradually being modernised with the aim of allowing operation at 200 to 250 km/h by about 2013. The expectation is that most of these projects will be supported from the Cohesion Fund.

Proposals for further ERDF projects include the second phase of the Warszawa - Lódz modernisation programme, initial works on the Warszawa - Radom - Kielce route, and modernisation of the line from Psary on the CMK to Kraków, in conjunction with the CMK upgrading.

Apart from these complex upgrading schemes, various smaller rehabilitation projects are in progress, encompassing short sections of track and overhead line renewal, repair and replacement of structures, and installation of automatic warning systems at level crossings. These projects are often being undertaken to eliminate local speed restrictions imposed because of track condition or other technical constraints. Rehabilitation work to restore longer sections of line to a state of good repair will continue in the 2007-13 period.

New line proposals

For the first time in many years, the construction of new lines is being considered again. Two projects have been put forward for inclusion in the National Development Plan, because a significant improvement of services is needed if rail's share of the passenger market is to rise.

PLK Vice-President Zbigniew Szafranski says the top priority is to improve the service between Wroclaw and Warszawa. 'We want to build new lines, and modernise the Central Main Line for trains to run at up to 250 km/h. At present the best timing between Wroclaw and Warszawa over the direct 380 km route via Ostrów and Lódz is nearly 6h. Ironically, the fastest service taking about 5h runs via Poznan on a route almost 100 km further.

The proposed high speed link is being heavily promoted by the local authorities in Wroclaw, Poznan, Lódz and Warszawa, and is also supported by the Ministry of Transport & Construction. 'I'd like to stop all the talking about this project, and get on with doing it', said transport minister Jerzy Polaczek following his recent appointment.

A pre-feasibility study was completed during 2005 by the Warszawa-based Railway Scientific-Technical Centre (CNTK). This looked at several options, including upgrading the existing lines for 160 to 200 km/h operation. CNTK recommended that further detailed analysis should be carried out on two variants for a new line permitting speeds of 300 km/h or more. Both variants propose a Y-shaped route, with Wroclaw and Poznan branches splitting west of Lódz. The new line could cut the journey time between Warszawa and Wroclaw to less than 2h.

The first stage of the project has been included in the draft National Development Plan. This could see the section from Wroclaw to Lódz and the branch from Poznan built by 2013. Nearly €1·5bn would be allocated for the first phase, including €1bn from European funds. Total cost of the new line from Warszawa to Wroclaw and Poznan is put at €5·7bn.

Construction of another new line is being proposed in the mountainous southeast. The 40 km Kraków - Tymbark line would shorten and improve the route between Kraków and the mountain resorts of Zakopane and Krynica, as well as the Slovak border crossing at Muszyna. As part of this project, electrification and upgrading would be required on the existing route linking Chabówka on the Kraków - Zakopane line and Nowy Sacz on the Tarnów - Muszyna - Krynica line.

Rolling stock renewal

Infrastructure modernisation will only lead to passenger growth if the train operators provide more comfortable vehicles to meet public expectations. The ageing fleet operated by PKP's inter-city and regional passenger subsidiaries needs comprehensive renewal.

Both operators have launched fleet modernisation programmes. The inter-city fleet is being modernised gradually, and PKP Intercity is planning to order a build of Type Z1 coaches, including a few restaurant cars. It is also considering whether to purchase its own electric locomotives, including dual-voltage units. At present PKP Intercity has no motive power of its own, and must lease locomotives from the freight operator PKP Cargo.

PKP Regional Services has received over €102m towards fleet renewal, including €51m from European structural funds. A build of 11 new EMUs able to run at 160 km/h will be delivered in 2008 to operate services between Warszawa and Lódz, the second largest city in Poland, and another 75 EMUs will be modernised.

PKP Regional has awarded a contract worth 70m zloty to H Cegielski for the modernisation of 81 loco-hauled coaches at its workshops in Poznan. Of these, 24 will be modified to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs.

The voivodship local authorities are now responsible for specifying and funding regional passenger services, and for purchasing rolling stock. The Mazowsze and Silesia regions have agreed to fund 14 EMUs for regional services, and other regions have ordered lightweight diesel and electric railcars. The first four electric railcars have been already delivered by PESA of Bydgoszcz for use in the Kraków and Kielce regions. A number of second-hand units have also been purchased from DB.

Intensive discussions are currently underway about the long-term financing of regional services. In 2005 PKP Regional needed nearly 800m zloty to cover its operating costs, but received only 384m from the local authorities, leaving a shortfall of more than 400m zloty. The regional authorities do not have enough money and are reluctant to increase the level of support payments, so the operator is threatening to cut services by one third with effect from April 1 2006.

A possible solution to this dilemma could be the creation of independent train operating companies with shares owned by the local authorities, which would give them more control over regional operations. The first such company has proved successful, and other regions are interested in following suite. Koleje Mazowieckie is a joint venture of PKP Regional Services (49%) and Mazowieckie voivodship (51%), which runs all regional and suburban trains in the Warszawa region.

Mixed progress on privatisation

Although the restructuring of PKP was expected to lead to the privatisation of the freight and inter-city businesses, this is now considered unlikely to happen in the near future, as the new government wants to improve the financial performance of the companies first.

Consolidation of PKP Group finances would allow for a reduction in taxes, by offsetting the losses generated mainly by PKP Regional Services against the profits of the other operating businesses. Privatisation of the infrastructure manager PLK is in any case prohibited by legislation.

Meanwhile, the spin-off of smaller business units and ancilliary operations is progressing slowly. Contracts were signed on September 30 for the sale of PKP WKD Ltd, which operates the independent 35 km suburban railway from Warszawa to Grodzisk Mazowiecki. This is being sold to a consortium of local governments, including Warszawa, Mazowieckie voivodship and six municipalities along the route (RG 11.05 p669).

Another local operator, PKP SKM, which runs suburban services in the three cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia, is also in the process of privatisation. Connex has expressed interest in buying shares in this company.

Privatisation of PKP LHS, which operates block freight trains on the broad gauge line from the Ukrainian border to Silesia, is also being considered. Two years ago the company started operation of piggyback trains to carry lorries between Kyiv and Slawków, near the western end of the line, where the development of a large intermodal terminal is planned.

Table I. Pan-European rail corridors in Poland

Corridor I: Warszawa - Bialystok - Trakiszki - Lithuanian border (line E75).

Corridor II: Frankfurt/Oder - Kunowice - Poznan - Warszawa - Terespol - Brest (Line E20) and the Lowicz - Skierniewice - Luków freight bypass around Warszawa (Line C-E20).

Corridor III: Gâ€?rlitz - Zgorzelec - Wroclaw - Katowice - Kraków - Medyka - Ukrainian border (Lines E30 and C-E30).

Corridor VI: Gdynia - Gdansk - Warszawa - Katowice - Zebrzydowice - Czech border (Line E65), plus the branch from Katowice to Zwardon and the Slovak border, and the Gdansk - Bydgoszcz - Katowice freight corridor (Line C-E65).

* Phare = Poland & Hungary: Assistance for Restructuring their Economies. ISPA = Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession

  • CAPTION: TOP: An inter-city train crosses the Wistla River in Warszawa; PKP Intercity has no locos of its own, and has to lease motive power from the freight business unit
  • ABOVE: Pending the purchase of new stock, PKPIntercity is refurbishing many first and second class coachesCAPTION: New trackwork at Lewin Brzeski reflects the upgrading of PLK's E30 corridor between Zgorzelec and Opole, which is being funded through the Phare programme
  • CAPTION: A PKP Cargo Class ET22 electric loco heads a typical mixed freight train at Jawozno-Szczakowa
  • CAPTION: BELOWLEFT: A modernised Class EN75 EMU in Koleje Mazowieckie livery works a suburban service at Warszawa Gda«nska station
  • BELOW:An EN94 EMU of the capital's recently-privatised WKD suburban railway approaches Warszawa Zachodnia station en route for Grodzisk