Polish HSL challenge to European community

Interview with Marek Pawlik, Vice President of PKP Polish Railway Lines

On June 1st 2010, the idea of incorporating Polish High-Speed network within the European one was introduced in Brussels by representatives of the Ministry of Infrastructure of the Republic of Poland and PKP Group (Polish State Railways). A HSL network is planned to be constructed in Poland, starting 2014, as to meet the European standards and the demands of the XXIst century that would enable travelling between the biggest agglomerations in Poland at the average speed of over 200 km/h.

Railway Pro:
How is the project of a HSL network to be constructed in Poland perceived at European level?

Marek Pawlik: The high speed rail construction programme currently under implementation in Poland is co-financed with EUR 80 Million of the EU money within the present European budget. This money is dedicated for the preparation of the HSL project in Poland and used for financing the feasibility studies for the line itself and for solving the questions how HSL will enter respective railway nodes. I have to say, that funds, included in the European programmes Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment and Regional Operational Programme, do not cover all work that has to be fulfilled in order to achieve technical parameters ensuring HSL influence on the whole railway network in Poland. Using EU money we are required to ensure interoperability (with exact fulfilment of the European standards) but at the same time we have to ensure intraoperability (coherency between HSL and the conventional part of the existing railway system). Interoperability is a must from the point of view of EU funds as well as from the point of view of trans-European railway services while intraoperability is a must from the point of view of national high speed railway services which are expected to use both high speed line and existing conventional railway lines.

Railway Pro: How do you envisage obtaining the funds for construction? What are the sources of financing railway investments?

Marek Pawlik: Obtaining the funds for construction is one of the topics of the feasibility study. We already have funds for preparatory works including the feasibility studies and we estimate starting the construction works in 2014. Therefore we still have time for defining financing scheme. We assume that for construction works a complex financing scheme will be necessary. During works on construction financing feasibility study contractor will have to analyse possible use of: EU funds, Polish state funds, PKP PLK S.A. own funds, obligations, public-private partnerships and others. Taking into account the scale of the project we assume that dedicated financing instruments might be necessary.

Railway Pro: What are the main challenges of the project?

Marek Pawlik: The first main challenge would be to ensure interoperability and intraoperability at the same time – to keep the EU HSL requirements and ensure compatibility with the conventional railway system in Poland. Secondly, we need to define really good financing scheme that would cover HSL construction and all necessary complementary works (e.g.: upgrading and adaptation of the railway nodes, maintenance works). Thirdly, there is a need of legal changes. At present, there are regulations for running up to 160 km/h on the basis of the trackside signalling. We will speed up to 350 km/h on the basis of the cab signalling. We therefore need changes in the national legislation and a full set of internal railway regulations related to signalling, maintenance, staff, traffic management etc.

Railway Pro: What are Poland’s advantages over other CEE countries for building a HSL?

Marek Pawlik: People using the network. Poland has a population of about 40 million people. One of the main aims of the project is to provide 80% of the population with direct access to the HS trains while the time of transfer to the nearest HS station would be no longer than 1 hour.
There is also the big surface of Poland. Using HSL, we will reach Warsaw in 2 hours from any major city, while it will take about 5 to 6 hours to cross the whole country. Travel time from the centre of Poland to border regions would be radically shortened up to about 3 hours.

Railway Pro: Is it also a strategic project for Poland?

Marek Pawlik: It is. On December 19th 2008, the Council of Ministers took the Resolution No. 276/2008 on adopting the trans-regional strategy for construction and launching high speed railway transport on the territory of Poland. Government invested EUR 18 Million in the prefeasibility works. This means that there is a political wish for HSL. Without political wish, there is no high speed railway system. Spain is the perfect example that illustrates this. An important part of the strategy is to include Polish HSL programme in the frames of the EU programmes for the development of High Speed Railways TEN-T. In the next phase of the development of the TEN-T, international high speed connection for Central Europe should be drawn up.

Railway Pro: How would you comment on the ecological implications and the environmental aspects of the project?

Marek Pawlik: HSL has a number of advantages from environment point of view. It will use 25kV alternating current. Compared to conventional lines using 3kV direct current, we will lower power consumption. Smaller amount of power will be used for the same amount of weight being transported. Also, we will be able to take over a lot of traffic from roads and this means road traffic would be safer. In Poland, we have nearly 5.000 fatalities on roads per year compared to less then 180 fatalities in railway transport including accidents on level crossings. The amount of accidents will considerably decrease. Moreover, the HSL project implies the construction of viaducts (so no additional level crossing) which takes into consideration environmental protection according to EU norms related to vibrations, noise etc.All necessary protective measures are taken into account in order to protect the environment.

Railway Pro: What importance/priority is given to Gdansk-Constanţa rail link and how is the possibility of reopening connections to Caucasus, Central Asia and the Far East seen by the Polish side?

Marek Pawlik: Looking on Gdansk-Constanţa rail link from Polish perspective we can say that Gdansk-Warsaw line is under upgrading within present EU budget with use of EU finances, Warsaw-Lublin is expected to be upgraded after 2014 (a feasibility study financed by PKP PLK S.A. own funds is ongoing at the moment). Regarding east-west railway connections we are upgrading both second and third trans-European railway corridors on Polish territory partly with useing EU funds, partly using Polish budgetary funds. Moreover HSL construction will take over from those corridors long distance passenger traffic and therefore more capacity will be available for freight. Reopening of long distance east-west connections will therefore depend on economics and politics.

Interview recorded by Delia Lazăr

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