Polish infrastructure charges to increase, rail sector calls for action

From next year, prices for freight railway undertakings using Polish infrastructure will increase by 2,3 per cent. The raise means that freight carriers will have to pay 13,09 PLN per tonne-km, instead of 12,80 PLN that they were paying so far. This was proposed by the Polish infrastructure manager PKP PLK, in the 2021/2022 pricing list for track access charges (TACs). To everyone’s surprise, despite this period of crisis and EU’s calls for waiving or reducing TACs, Poland decided to do the opposite.

Currently, the proposal is under revision by the Polish Railway Transport Office. The rail freight sector feels disappointed and frustrated by the decision because it seems problematic and unjustified. Numerous voices had already criticised the high prices in Poland, before the latest development. Following the initial proposal, the Railway Business Forum for Poland sent an objection letter to the Polish Ministry of Infrastructure.

Criticism

The Railway Business Forum was among the first to react in the news of excess charges. In a letter to the Polish Minister of Infrastructure Andrzej Adamczyk, it mentioned that the increased rates are cause for great disappointment. “For carriers, such a policy is completely incomprehensible, and in our opinion, wrong in a situation where many EU countries decrease access rates”, it commented.

The European Rail Freight Association (ERFA), on the other hand, made another call for countries to follow the examples of Germany, Netherlands, France and Austria that have already waived or reduced their track access charges. “There is a need to reduce TACs because this is the best way to assist the sector in a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory way”, commented the association. Especially for a transport mode such as rail freight, which operates under fragile profit margins, this need is even more urgent since it jeopardises operators’ viability.

“The increase in prices is not justified. However, we cannot say that we didn’t expect it”, said Conor Feighan, ERFA’s Secretary General. In the same wavelength, PCC Intermodal considers that there is no justification for this proposal. “It is difficult to accept higher costs of access to infrastructure, as it is not followed by an improvement in quality or an increase in the commercial speed of trains”, mentioned Dariusz Stefanski, CEO of PCC Intermodal.

Pavel Moskala, General Manager of Real Logistics, said that the issue might be even more complicated. A raise in TACs can result in an overall increase in the costs of rail transportation. “Carriers are very willing to transfer the infrastructure access costs to their customers, meaning logistics companies like ours”, he mentioned. Consequently, such a decision is unfounded because it could disrupt the whole supply chain.

Possible drawbacks

For PCC Intermodal, if the situation remains like that, intra-European (East-West) connections will be more advantageous than the domestic and North-South links. Moreover, this could impact its customers, since many of them might decide to turn towards road transport. For Real Logistics unpredictability constitutes the most significant issue in this case. “We work on several railway projects, but due to this situation we have to recalculate our forecasts”, said Moskala.

In general, it doesn’t seem legit for a country with slow rail services to make them more expensive. This might not be the optimal way to promote rail transport development, especially during the European Year of Rail. “The sector argues that an increase of charges is a step towards an even more unsustainable transport market”, mentioned Conor Feighan. There is already a deterioration in competitiveness between rail and road transport, and such moves could prove unfavourable in terms of modal share or even modal shift. The solution could be quite simple, argued Adrian Furgalski, Chairman of Railway Business Forum: “The costs should be reimbursed to the infrastructure manager as part of a subsidy from the state budget.”

Not fixed yet

Nevertheless, as both PCC Intermodal and Real Logistics mentioned, nothing is determined yet. The proposal’s implementation will start in 2022, and until then, many things can change. Interested parties already had the chance to object to the proposal and still have the time to come together and claim a level playing field for infrastructure costs, according to the EU regulations. Hopefully, the situation will not transform into a long-term crisis that will impact conventional or intermodal rail transportation.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Editor at RailFreight.com

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