Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Interview with Polish Railway Trade Union Leader (Part One)

The following interview, with the President of the Polish Railway Trade Union Conferderation, recently appeared on the site Polish Labour Notes. This site provides news and information about trade union activities in Poland. I will publish the second half of the interview tomorrow.

How the Polish Railway is being destroyed… and how to fix it? (Part 1)
By jadakiss05, on February 18th, 2011

Wojciech Figiel and Bojan Stanisławski speak to Leszek Miętek , the president of the Confederation of Railway Trade Unions.

Could you please tell our readers how the process of restructuring the Polish State Railways was done?

The railway company was functioning as one state company up to September 2000 when the commercialization, restructurisation and privatisation of Polish State Railways law came into force. In accordance with this law Polish State Railways S.A. was created along with its subsidiaries. It was all about that PKP S.A. take over the railway debts and the whole burden of restructurisation. The “sick mother” was supposed to give birth to healthy unindebted children. Let us add that this law lobbied for a foreign consulting company that gave advice in the privatisation process of British Railways. It was a fiasco. The British paid a lot of money for this re-nationalisation than they did in World War II.

The breaking up of the Polish State Railways was motivated by the need to put Polish railway regulations in line with European Uniom directives which stated the separation of Railway infrastructure from trains.This time not only trains were separated but also other companies which were important in serving the Railway infrastructure such as for example energy or Railway telecommunications. Besides that the companies that were in charge of transporting passengers and goods were isolated. The Cargo company was trusted with managing the whole stock which it rented to passenger transporters. In a space of ten years of restructurisation , locomotives and wagons have been taken from Cargo to passenger carriers,and commuter trains.

How many subsidiaries are in the PKP

No one knows that. For sure there are a number of subsidiaries affiliated with trains . It is worth remembering that when a client buys a ticket he thinks that he is travelling by train, travelling by PKP (Polish State Railways) considering both as one thing.

Railway transport as opposed to road transport is a structure that is inter-dependent. Dividing the railways into many subsidiaries brings complications associated with organising the timetables of trains. We use tracks that belong to Polish Railway lines. The controlling of trains is done with the help of isolated subsidies- Railway Telecommunications. However electricity is provided by the energy subsidiary. All these subsidiaries are interdependent and they cannot operate if they do not cooperate. Their division creates the need for the separate paying of tax and transferring of money. A number of different transporters operate in this kind of infrastructure. However each one of them have their own norms as well as safety in the workplace.

What kind of “complications” associated with train services came about after the breaking up of PKP?

Transporters function in accordance with business law- they must compete amongst themselves. The Intercity squad and the Regional Transporters compete on the Polish railways. The second company introduced InterRegio trains which service the routes between voivodships. The InterRegio routes are made possible with the help of commuter trains(EMU’S) which are made for local routes and not for the whole of Poland. On the same route trains go one after the other with a difference of ten minutes or they go unannounced. However it used to be like this, at the station trains for different destinations were available, people could get in and after that the trains would leave for their respective destinations. Nowadays I have a problem with getting to Warsaw because at the station the train for Warsaw leaves ten minutes before the arrival of my regional train. It also happens that the passenger buys a ticket then it happens that it is not valid because it was given by another company.

What processes of restructurisation backfired when it comes to safety?

The security systems were not consistent with the process of liberalisation. That is why we can expect shortly, very serious complications in this area. At present each transporter gives their own instructions to the train engineer. In reality all norms should be confirmed by the government organ regulating railway line transportation but that does not give any guarantees that they are in agreement with each other.We have one instruction on the technical controlling of railway movement but all the other factors like braking systems and other important instructions set by the transporter personally.

The workers working in the railways, train engineers,train dispatchers and so on are mostly people who have 30 years experience. Let us tell ourselves the truth the railways function thanks to their work and experience. I do not know how it will be when young people come who are without railway education,(railway schools were closed 10 years ago),trained too quickly, unused to dealing with extreme situations and
taught according to different railway rules. I do not want to be a prophet of doom but honestly speaking it can be a catastrophe.

How are train engineers trained at the present moment?

In line with the Third Railway Package which was accepted by the European Union the train engineer is trained and he gets a licence and a certificate soon after. The licence is given by the government office regulating Railway Transport and the certificate is given by the transporter. The problem is that the European Union set some standards which train engineers are supposed to master but it was not precise on the time frame. The minister of Infrastructure did not consider our regulations. In the regulations book there is nowhere where they address the amount of time needed by the train engineer to master certain topics. The result is that private training firms save on time and make the training shorter.

The Third Railway Package also liquidates the position of train engineer assistant. Up until now that position was very important. The assistant learnt the required skills, he learnt the routines and habits of the train engineers. Nowadays a young person, from the street without the knowledge of any compatible skills will operate the train. Alone.

Sometime ago in the Polish State Railways there were the same security standards. Nowadays every transporter employs his own train engineer. It is reaching such a point that private transporters employ train engineers on short term contracts or they hire services from a “one man company offering train engineering services”. There is no central registration of self employed train engineers. It is hard to tell at the moment how many transporters have such train engineers.

In some private railway businesses the working hours of a train engineer are are counted from the the moments “he gets into the locomotive”. If the train engineer lives in Warsaw and the train is supposed to travel to Gdańsk, the time that the journey takes is not counted as working hours. He rests in the train because he has not yet made it home then gets another phone call with the next task.

Catastrophes are now prevalent on Polish railways, in Korzyb (North Western Poland). There are such locomotives made in such a way that the train engineer can only see from one side because from the other side the engine blocks his view.If he wants to go in another direction he must reverse looking behind him. That led to the accident in Korzyb. Sometime ago the assistant sat there and informed the train engineer of any danger. Nowadays that place is empty. Sometime back those kind of situations were regulated by the R1 rules which stated that one man service was only possible in locomotives which had two cabins.(those which had cabins from both ends), those which had automatic train braking systems. However in the year 2003 the minister amended the formula which said “single person service is possible for twin cabin locomotives”. The words “twin cabin” were “removed”. After last year’s catastrophe in Korzyb the prosecutor took over but then refused to open an investigation when she did not see the presence of any criminal acts.

You mentioned InterRegio trains. What is the situation at the present moment in the regional transporting company?

The regional transporters are pro-social transporters who should be sponsored if the costs of running trains are more than the income generated from the sale of tickets. A few years ago all the equipment was the property of the Cargo company which subsidised passenger trains leasing locomotives and electric multiple units on some routes. Little financing from the earnings of Polish State Railways Cargo led these companies to lose their position on the market. Successive governments cut funds meant for passenger transporters as the wanted to get rid of them. In the end the government managed to accomplish its mission. The regional transporters company was given to local government. Earlier, commuter trains had been given away to Regional transporting companies , all the locomotives were added to the inter-provincial trains and the wagons were given to Intercity so that the Regional transporters would not have the equipment to service the inter-provincial routes.

The Regional transport company has got 16 owners. Each one of them has 4-5% shares. The largest part is owned by the Voivodship Marshal and that is absurd when the passengers in this voivodship are transported by the Mazovian Railway company. The voivodship Marshals in a space of 2 years were unable to work out a collective expansion strategy. To finance the subsidised trains the personal income tax and corporate income tax to the local government was increased. There is no controlling how much of that money reaches the passenger train department. Already after 2 months in business, because of the mistakes committed during the process of subsidising the Regional transport company was around 400 million in debt and it filled the criteria for bankruptcy. Besides that the Regional Transporting companies are the property of local governments-there is no obligation to sign contacts with them. It is not an inside company so the local governments must organize bidding for certain routes. And the bidding is done in different ways. For example the Marshal of the Kuyavian- Pomeranian voivodship announced bidding for the servicing of diesel traction on which around. 10% of routes in the region are made. A 10 year contract has been signed with Arriva for which the Marshal gave 40% of all resources. From the information from Arriva which I have, it shows that during the last time when there was a lot of snow there were days when there was not even one train on the routes serviced by this transporter. And there was no outcry in the media but only the exact opposite. The media hyped the rise of competition in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian voivodship. The truth is that when Arriva started to compete in this transporting business it did not have the right equipment and it it did not prepare qualified train engineers. The last ones were taken from mines!

The Marshals are obliged to finance trains only in one given voivodship. It also happens that passengers travelling with Regional trains go to small stations which are on the peripheries of the voivodships. From those stops they are then taken to their intended destinations in the next voivodship by bus. We have that situation with the line that is servicing Białystok (In the North East of Poland)and Warsaw. Trains only go up to Czyżew (North East Poland)-which is the border of the voivodship and most travellers would want to travel to Małkini. The problem is that Małkini is already in that same Mazovian voivodship which does not want to fund these trains. In the near future passports will be needed at the borders between voivodships…

I would like to underline that a lot of costs that are encountered by transporters are equipment costs and costs in the everyday running of the company.We have a tendency that, the voivodship Marshals organise their own companies that are Regional transporters. How does that influence permanent costs? If equipment is going to be repaired only in the voivodship then instead of a number of service points that are open around the clock there will be fewer service points. Which are more expensive to manage.

The minister of infrastructure promised us that before the process of subsidising there will be a package of guarantee for the workers. Up to now it is still not in place. The company separated itself from the trade union of railway workers. It announced a Company Collective Bargaining system and it does not want to go along with the rules of of workplaces. For the government the problem is public debt and for us the fate of 15 000 people who work just in Regional Transporting. At the same time the government is showing off commercialisation laws in parliament which are slowly causing the collapse of railway companies. If these laws are passed then Regional Transporters will collapse at once.

And how is the situation in Intercity?

When 2 years ago inter-provincial trains were given to Intercity the capital of the company increased by 300% and capital inflow increased by 50%. Already we had noticed that the situation of this company would get worse in dramatic fashion. 2 years ago the directors went around the country and requested that the train engineers and other workers that they leave Regional Transporters and come to Intercity. And now the president of the same company in a meeting with trade unionists said that he has 50% more people than he needs and they need to retrench some.

The actions which are worsening the results of the company are a lot. The management of the company is blaming everything on the introduction of cheap trains by InterRegio. In my opinion the main reason for the loss of passengers in inter-provincial transporters is the catastrophic state of railway infrastructure. Who would want to travel by train from Warsaw to Gdynia (Northern Poland) when the journey will take 7 or 8 hours. That line has been under renovation for 6 years. On the other lines the commercial speed is not above 40km/h. A train needs more than 1 hour to cover a 60 kilometre distance between Toruń (Northern Poland) and Bydgoscz. The businessmen travelling by Intercity cannot allow that. Let us note that Intercity does not complain on the number of passengers on the Warsaw-Kraków (Southern Poland) route or Warsaw-Katowice (Southern Poland). The infrastructure for the central railway route is in a better state and sometimes rail transport can compete with road transport.

Translation: Marlon Nziramasanga

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