It is obvious that when talking about mobility, infrastructure is essential and a modernised and expanded one can meet future transport demands as well as shape the travel patterns. Given the trends towards emissions reduction, they can determine the creation of a sustainable system that meets environmental policy objectives.
The authorities are betting on the development of railway transport which can take place not only through the modernisation of the existing infrastructure and the procurement of vehicles compliant with the latest standards, but also on its expansion to offer passengers optimal connections that will attract them to these services and persuade them to leave their cars at home. Planning the new infrastructure projects means considering traffic forecasts and the new policies that can have ‘a say’ on a decision to be made.
This applies to the projects Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK) is implementing to deliver a new infrastructure and increased accessibility from the capital city of Warsaw to the largest Polish cities with later impact on the entire Polish transport system. CPK is an emerging infrastructure mega project, which includes, among others a transport hub at the new international greenfield airport in the centre of Poland and a network of new railway lines. They are planned to be used primarily for long-distance services, including high-speed designed to reach initially 250 km/h with the possibility of achieving 350 km/h in the future. The structure of the programme includes regional services, and, on the selected sections, freight traffic will be allowed. Key sections such as Warsaw – Łódź are expected to be available as early as 2027 with the completion of CPK airport. The new rail infrastructure is to ensure high accessibility to the airport, with up to 40% of people using the airport arriving by train.
In short, Poland’s investments in the development of new country’s rail network is based on ca. 2,000 km of new high-speed rail connections and over 3,000 km of modernised lines ensuring connections throughout the country. In the Central and Eastern Europe region, CPK system, together with Rail Baltica and high-speed rail projects in the V4 countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) which are on the development path, will revolutionise the way people will choose to travel in the future.
In Poland, as part of the CPK’s project’s rail investment, the planning and design works are advanced as feasibility studies are underway for 1,500 km of lines of the 2,000 km network. This includes the 140 km Warsaw – Łódź high speed rail section for which CPK selected the investor variant in June 2022 and is expected that preparatory construction work would start in the second half of 2023. Another important project is the 200 km Łódź – Wrocław high-speed rail via Sieradz with investor variant selected in August 2022. The construction of its first Sieradz – Czernica section (near Wrocław) is scheduled to start in 2024. The line will reduce the travel time between Łódź and Wrocław from currently over three hours to approx. one hour.
The 4 km Łódź tunnel is another key element of the high- speed rail connections CPK is to develop in the Warsaw – Łódź area. At the beginning of 2023, CPK applied for CEF funding to build it. Earlier, the company received funding in the amount of PLN 60 million (EUR 12.8 million) from CEF Transport Reflow for tunnel design documentation. Recently, the company has launched construction tender covering the chambers for the Tunnel Boring Machine at Retkinia and Fabryczna with works expected to start by the end of this year.
The Passenger Transport Model offers the best scenarios
Network traffic forecasting is a fundamental element of the large scale transport infrastructure development projects. The algorithms and structures of the entire model and consistent assumptions in terms of methodology, make it possible to develop forecast for the entire country, which include the road, rail and air transport. While implementing the investment plan, CPK not only cooperates extensively with science, but also creates and develops on its own tools necessary for forecasting domestic and international traffic, such as the Passenger Transport Model (PMT). Detailed analyses are developed at a later stage for each specific line, considering different routing options, station locations, connections to other modes of transport and the share of above-average seasonal tourist and international traffic. While developing these analyses, additional research designed specifically for a particular investment is used. In selected cases, anonymised data from mobile networks (BIG Data) is used.
The Passenger Transport Model (PMT) is an advanced planning tool which was presented by CPK in December 2020 (ver. 1.0). Its technical capabilities make it is possible to estimate the impact of both strategic railway investments, such as the construction of high-speed rail in Poland as well as the development of local or regional rail connections. The PMT undergone four updates since its inception processing new data and has already been made available free of charge to almost 50 entities in Poland and from all over the world, including research institutions, local governments, and transport stakeholders, such as GDDKiA (the National Roads Authority), PKP Polskie Linie Kolejowe (PKP PLK – the Polish rail infrastructure manager), PKP Intercity (a long-distance train company based in Poland), Koleje Mazowieckie (The Masovian Railways – KM – the regional operator in Masovia) and Łódzka Kolej Aglomeracyjna (Łódź Metropolitan Railway which provides commuter and regional rail services). PMT forecasts have already been used to create about 150 studies and projects. The latest data, considering the conclusions of the feasibility studies for new lines implemented by CPK as well as the modernisation and construction of railway lines built under the Kolej Plus programme (Program for Complementing the Local and Regional Railway Infrastructure – “Rail +” until 2029), allows CPK to look with optimism at the development of this mode of public transport.
“Recent years have shown a lot of changes that have fundamentally affected rail traffic forecasts. First, the pandemic overturned the thinking about transport, and when the situation returned relatively to normal, the war began. Forecasts, therefore, require changes in determining passenger flows, types of cargo and even the number of inhabitants of the individual countries in our European region. The updates are essential and allow us to plan future projects in an optimal, economically viable way to meet future passenger needs,” says Michał Pyzik, coordinator for traffic modelling and forecasting at CPK. In the latest version of the PMT, the status of the existing and planned railway network has been updated and supplemented as part of the forecasting process, for such parameters as line electrification, number of tracks and permissible speeds.
Comparing to the PMT 1.2 version, which considered that the number of long-distance rail passengers would reach 120 million in 2050 with 95 million for InterCity and InterRegio trains and 25 million for regional express trains, the latest forecast (version 1.4) shows a 12% increase (+14 million passengers), which translates into 134 million passengers, of which 26 million for regional express services and 108 million or InterCity and InterRegio connections.
The analysis of the data for individual lines clearly shows a moderate growth trend for the railway lines not covered by investments and optimistic forecast results for newly planned and modernised railway lines. This is certainly due to the increased attractiveness of railway transport as well as its competitiveness in relation to other, often more expensive modes of transport. The forecasts reflect to operators’ figures for 2022, which in terms of passenger numbers come close to the PMT forecast for 2030 for the non-investment variant (i.e. without the construction of new railway lines by CPK and without significant improvements to the timetable). However, it must be remembered that, due to the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the associated large influx of refugees and increase in prices of fuel, it was exceptional and is likely to be unreliable in the long term.
The PMT model and network traffic forecast were updated considering the recently completed railway stations and stops as well as the selected investment variants for the Warsaw – CPK – Łódź, Łódź – Wrocław and Łętownia – Rzeszów railway sections. The new data from GPR (nationwide traffic counts carried out by Polish national road authority) or the Kolej Plus programme, as well as a data on international railway forecasts developed as part of the HSR in the V4 countries project have also been considered.
The modelling also takes into account investments in other modes of transport competitive to railways – “The Government’s National Roads Construction Programme until 2030 (with a perspective 2033)”, which has enabled a thorough analysis of the impact of railway investments on road transport and vice versa.
The new data from PMT forecasts show increase in passenger numbers in the CPK railway node area for which train connections and link loads have been accurately mapped. The projected number of passengers for the high-speed line between Katowice and the state border in Ostrava direction has increased fourfold compared to the previous forecast, and the PMT assumes the highest loads on such routes as Warsaw – Poznań/Wrocław, Krakow – Katowice and on the extension of Central Rail Line (CMK) to the north of Poland. New forecasts confirm that in 2050 rail transport is going to be an attractive alternative to road transport in long-distance connections.
Significant increases are also visible in the latest PMT forecasts for regional rail, which is the largest beneficiary of the Kolej Plus programme. When the target comprehensive transport offer for the entire Poland is considered and cyclic timetables are introduced into the modelling, a significant increase in the forecasts for railways, in general, can be seen. Considering the 134 million passengers per year on long-distance connections and adding the current traffic forecasts for regional railways, it is estimated that the total number of rail trips in Poland could ultimately exceed 500 million passengers in 2050. The regional railway, despite increased forecasts, still has huge capacity reserves in terms of passengers carried. The potential for further growth is particularly visible within the urban and agglomeration railways being developed. Detailed studies in this area are being carried out as part of the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans for individual metropolitan areas. Depending on their results and the future solutions introduced to integrate public transport with regional railways, passenger numbers could increase significantly because of taking over shorter daily commutes from other modes of transport.
Complementary development of Poland’s railway network
The market prospects and the results of the CPK forecasts resulting from the modelling in the PMT indicate not only the development of the long-distance, but also regional and agglomeration transport in Poland. As a result, rail modernisation programmes can be implemented in a complementary way, based on reliable data. The Poland’s Government and PKP PLK’s Kolej Plus programme is to boost rail connections at local and regional level, integrating them into the national railway network. It is designed to create, restore or improve to the cities and towns with a population of more than 10,000 inhabitants. Under the programme, 34 projects totalling 1,200 km have been selected to be implemented in 12 voivodeships which will provide 1.5 million inhabitants with access to the country’s railway connections. With this strategy, a total of 189 km of new lines will be constructed (to be implemented in seven projects), 516 km of lines will be reconstructed or extended (within 14 projects), 315 km of rail will be revitalised (within 10 projects), and three projects are in the documentation phase covering 183 km of rail sections.
All projects implemented under the Kolej Plus programme are expected to be completed by 2029. They will improve transport connections and increase the attractiveness of rail services throughout the regions and beyond, boosting their competitiveness.
Cross border cooperation
The Passenger Transport Model also estimates an optimistic international traffic, considering new connections within the HSR V4 project with the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. In the future, it is planned to include the data related to the cooperation with the RB Rail AS, which implements Rail Baltica project aimed at connecting Kaunas and Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki and Warsaw, as well as resulting from cooperation with Ukrainian Railways (under an agreement signed in January 2023).
The results of modelling and forecasting using PMT often constitute the basis for applying for EU funding. The increased attractiveness of railways and rising passenger numbers are in line with the European Union’s priorities to protect the environment and promote low- carbon transport. As the global impact of infrastructure becomes increasingly important, the PMT 1.4 network has also already been adapted to the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS).
The authors of the model emphasise that the forecasts were based on neutral rather than optimistic assumptions (the demographic decline was taken into account, while it did not take into account that several million Ukrainians or several hundred thousand Belarusians might permanently move to Poland).
With billions being invested in Polish roads, without investment in railway transport there could be fewer people willing to travel by train over time.
Numerous changes to the railways should ensure that this environmentally friendly mode of transport continues to gain supporters. A necessary condition for this success is the further development of the rail services, supported by the liberalisation of the railway sector in Poland. It is expected that, as in other European countries, the emergence of market competition should contribute to a significant increase in supply and a reduction in ticket prices, resulting in a dynamic increase in rail transport popularity.
Implementing this objective further proves that CPK is not just an airport. As a new transport system, the government of Poland assumes the creation of a transfer hub between Warsaw and Łódź. This is where air, rail and road transport are to be integrated.
Considering the international context of its project, CPK has signed in January an agreement with RB Rail and Správa železnic, the rail infrastructure manager of the Czech Republic, to create the core part of a 4,500 km high-speed rail network in the Three Seas region until 2050. EUR 60.3 billion is the total estimated value of the projects to be implemented in the next five years in this region with the largest share of investments expected to be allotted between 2025 and 2029. This investment will bring benefits to the Three Seas Region’s countries of more than EUR 120 billion, twice the value of HSR’s initial cost. As part of the international connections, recently CPK has selected the investor variant for the high-speed section between Katowice and state borer (towards Ostrava and Brno), connecting Poland with the Czech Republic. The line is part of the V4 high-speed rail system. In the Czech Republic, the Ostrava – Brno connection is part of the Prague – Ostrava future high-speed corridor crossing the country from the central part to the state border with Poland.
This line will allow trains to run at 320 km/h with an expected ridership of 60,000 passengers a day and the travel time will be reduced from currently 3 hours to only 50 minutes. From Brno, the line is designed to provide connections to Vienna and Bratislava and from Ostrava to Katowice.
It is expected that the first sections of the Rail Baltica will enter operation from 2027 when the high-speed rail line in V4 linking Prague, Brno, Bratislava and Budapest will also be built. The Warsaw/Katowice – Brno – Bratislava – Budapest corridor has been proposed in 2018 by the V4 countries to strengthen the connections between them and to increase the train speed up to 300 km/h and in favour of the project, a Joint Declaration has been signed in 2019.
Under the agreement signed in January, the sides plan to create the 1,700 km Tallinn – Warsaw – Katowice – Budapest and 1,500 km Tallinn – Warsaw – Wrocław – Prague routes including the 365 km corridor connecting Łódź, Wrocław and Poznań. According to the “High Speed Rail in the three Seas Region” study developed by Steer for CPK and released in January 2023, Warsaw – CPK – Łódź high-speed line will be the most busy HSR section in Poland (the number of passengers on the section Warsaw – CPK is expected to be ca. 22-25 mln), while Brno – Jihlavain HSR in the Czech Republic and Budapest – Győr in Hungary which are expected to carry between 14 and 18 million passengers annually.
With the situation in the East part of Europe, Ukraine has come strongly onto the EU’s transport agenda. In July 2022, the European Commission proposed extending the European Transport Corridors to Ukraine. CPK also has plans in this regard and intends to create a link to Ukraine. It would be part of the extended route Warsaw – Lublin – Bełżec to Lviv, including a new line Trawniki – Zamość – Bełżec (Poland / Ukraine border) As part of the agreement signed in early 2023, CPK and Ukrzaliznytsia will develop a feasibility study for a route between Warsaw and Lviv and on to Kiev, which would allow trains to run at 250 km/h.