Every time, before selecting a market to carry out their activity, rail operators weigh the infrastructure quality and the economic potential of the area. It is not hard to tell that the decision factor is almost perpetually related to the capacity of the infrastructure of making trains run at certain speeds. And an infrastructure in which no money is invested, as it happens in Eastern Europe, is an encumbrance in developing rail-related industries.
This is what happens with the rail mechanisation industry, a segment which includes railway maintenance vehicles, repair vehicles, instruments necessary for maintaining the well-functioning of rail lines. “What we can tell now about the situation of the Romanian rail infrastructure is that it hinders rail operators’ activities. Even if we had an incredible demand for freight transport in the region, we wouldn’t be able to meet this demand because of the poor quality of our infrastructure”, declared George Buruiană, Board President Servtrans Invest, one of the freight operators in the region, member of International Railway Systems Group (Luxembourg). He criticised the fact that, last year, the Romanian Transport Ministry invested only 2% of the amount endorsed for railway infrastructure.
“Eight years ago, crossing Romania with a cargo train from Curtici to Giurgiu took eight hours and today it takes no less than 24 hours. And a journey from Curtici to Galați takes two days. These performances disturb our activity”, pointed out Buruiană. In conclusion, in such a picture marked by local authorities’ lack of interest, players in the mechanisation industry have almost no market. “Although a poorly shaped industry, mechanisation is still part of the attempt of rebuilding the railways. There are many projects were things need improvement, one of them being the bridge on the Bucharest-Giurgiu section, located on Corridor IX and abandoned for seven years”, added George Buruiană.
Offers yes, demands no
Currently, there are several companies in the region, some of them former CFR SA subsidiaries (Romania), that have maintained a lower capacity of production of such maintenance vehicles that help prevent the wear of tracks and repair de surface flaws of the railhead. In many cases, special polishing and electrical welding procedures are used. At the same time, there are widely known companies, such as Wiebe (Germany) or Alstom (France) whose portfolio include a wide range of products for rail-related services. “All infrastructure work projects in which Alstom Transport is currently involved comprise modern tools either for track construction, modernisation or maintenance”, declared Gabriel Stanciu, Alstom Transport’s CEO for Romania and Bulgaria. He gave the example of the patent system Alstom Appitrack based on the construction of railways on concrete and consisting in the insertion of rail fasteners in the freshly poured concrete.
Offers do exist, and if the infrastructure will surpass the investments deadlock, then some rolling stock manufacturers might directed their activity to railway maintenance vehicles as well. “We have recently received an offer to repair track cars. Probably, if railway transport increases, we will receive many such demands from our customers. And, why not, we would be interested in investing in a new segment, that of production of rail machines and railway maintenance vehicles”, declared Ionel Ghiţă, Board President of the locomotive manufacturer Softronic Craiova. For a manufacturer, this means a boost in incomes, a higher number of employees and an improved market awareness. “We have the tools necessary for such a production. What we lack is a project”, pointed out Ghiţă. And this is probably not a single case. The recovery of rail transport in Eastern Europe, in particular freight transport, will definitely stimulate the development of rail-related business activities.