Poland: shifting EU development aid away from rail projects - UIRR's reaction 23/06/11

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Position sent the Vice-President and Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas

 

 

The International Union of Combined Road-Rail Transport Companies (UIRR) represents operators of Combined Transport, the most dynamically growing segment of rail freight, to whom over a quarter of rail freight’s tonne-kilometres can be attributed already today.

UIRR, and its members active in Poland, follow with increasing astonishment the discussion on the planned re-allocation of EU funds earmarked for rail infrastructure improvements to road projects in Poland. Surely, the existing road infrastructure in Poland leaves much to desire but so does the rail infrastructure. Obviously, the Polish government is more efficient in utilising the EU funds for road projects than for rail projects, but this by no means can serve as an argument for a further neglect of much needed rail infrastructure improvements.
Today, Polish hauliers already control the largest European truck fleet – for good reason – as rail services are not competitive mainly due to infrastructure quality deficits (leading to unforeseeable delays caused by frequent disturbances on the network) and very high track access charges (amongst the highest in Europe), which the Polish side justifies by the “high costs of running and maintaining an outdated network” and “high investments costs” which however have not yet materialised. The gap between track access charges and the quality of the network is widening each year.

Combined Transport, being the technique whereby sustainable modes of transport – like electrified rail or inland navigation – are efficiently inserted into unsustainable unimodal road-based transport-chains, will have to play an increasingly emphasised role in the decades to come. Henceforth, considering the European Commission’s aim – as expressed in its recently published Transport White Paper – of diverting half of the road tonne-kilometres realised over a distance exceeding 300km to sustainable modes (in Poland’s case primarily rail), and in light of the accumulated maintenance backlog (general poor condition of rail infrastructure) in Poland, it is entirely unacceptable if any funds slated for the improvement (or the reconstruction) of the rail infrastructure may be diverted elsewhere.

Surely, when applying for allocation of EU funds the Polish government has presented a list of priority projects for rail infrastructure improvements. UIRR demands that these priority projects be implemented in order to increase the competitiveness of rail transport. Generally, any investment into the improvement of rail infrastructure is beneficial; nevertheless Combined Transport operators are especially focusing on the improvement of international corridors linking Wroclaw, Katowice, Lodz and Warsaw to Germany and Western Europe. In attachment we provide a list of concrete problems compiled by our member companies in relation to the Polish rail infrastructure.

The phenomenon that truckers indirectly profit from the poor condition and competitiveness of rail infrastructure (by taking the lead in cross-border freight transportation, including routes where Combined Transport is potentially competitive) is by far not limited to Poland, it may be observed throughout the newly acceded Eastern and South-Eastern Member States of the European Union. Any further improvement of the road infrastructure in these Member States at the cost of rail infrastructure (using EU funds) will exacerbate the competitive advantage of pure-road transport versus Combined Transport aiming to use rail. This is contradictory to the EU goals of promoting both ecologically and economically sustainable transport.

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