‘When average speed dips below 40km/h, railways should be free’
“Why not make the track access charges of railways in Poland dependent on the average commercial speed of the train?” It was the suggestion of the CEO of PCC Intermodal, Dariusz Stefanski, at the RailFreight Summit in Poznan. He may have been a little sarcastic in tone, but touched upon a major bottleneck on the Polish railway network. The average speed of an intermodal train is 31.7km/h, a conventional train has an even lower average.
Anyone who hears this for the first time is rather surprised. A train at a speed of 30km/h per hour in a country that large and that important on the international corridors, is something hard to imagine. However, at the summit everyone seemed to agree that this is old news, something hard to change, at least over the long-term. “Sometimes I have the impression that many people are still hoping that these problems will disappear by themselves, like snow in the spring”, Stefanski said about the infrastructural bottlenecks in general.
Paying for it
“It must be made clear to everyone that these problems will not be solved by themselves”, he iterated, followed by the mentioned proposal to make speed the main nominator of the user fee. “In Poland we do have one of the highest access rates to railway infrastructure in Europe. It means that we have a railway infrastructure, on which our trains run twice slower than in Germany or in the Netherlands, but at the same time we pay for it, two times more than our German or Dutch colleagues!
“Now seriously, there might be quite a simple and obvious solution. Why not make the access rates dependent on the offered and guaranteed average commercial speed of the train? Why not treat rail transport exactly the same way as road transport?” he argued.
Luckily, not all trains pass with an average speed of around 30km/h. The speed is higher on the route from Gądki, nearby Poznan, to the German border. On the route from Gądki to Rzepin and Oderbrücke, the average speed was 62km/h in 2019. On the north-south route from Gdynia to Kąty Wrocławskie however, the average speed was 19kmph. Conventional freight trains on average did 25.5km/h. These numbers were presented by Michal Jaworski from the Polish Office of Transport (UTK).
Meanwhile, intermodal operator Metrans had a more optimistic figure to present. “Our trains do an average of 60 kmph, said Martin Koubek, Director Silk Road of the company at the summit. What is the secret? A large network and good planning, he explained. If you plan ahead and communicate with the infrastructure managers, it is possible to operate much faster.” He narrated an example where his company and the infrastructure manager came to a solution for spare capacity, by dedicating a time slot for freight and passenger trains. “It was just about communication.”
Free access below 40kmph
However, compare these numbers to other European countries and you understand that a lot of work remains to be done. For example, in Germany 60km/h is the average speed of a freight train. If you ask Stefanski, the higher rates should only be levied for sections where an average commercial speed of over 70km/h can be guaranteed.
“Lower or discounted rates should apply where the average commercial speed is between 40-50 km/h, and access should be free if the offered commercial speed is below 40km/h. With such a solution also the infrastructure manager will be really interested and motivated to improve the efficiency and to offer the highest possible commercial speed. Currently, this is only a concern of the railway undertaking.”