Gov’t rethinks alcohol prohibition on trains

Parliament is considering legalizing the sale of most alcoholic beverages in trains and railway stations ? but not vodka, the daily newspaper Polska reported.

A 1983 law prohibits alcohol sales, but it has not been enforced for years. Now members of Parliament have drafted a law that would allow the sales of all but the most potent of drinks – those with an alcohol content exceeding 1 percent. That would include vodka.

Parliament’s Committee on Infrastructure will discuss the proposed change in the law Feb. 25. The government’s Group of Economic Advisers came up with the bill. The proposal would allow sales of high-alcohol-content drinks only with a meal. Beer would be sold in restaurants and bars on trains, and even in sleep carriages.

“To drink a can of beer or a glass of wine during a journey should not be a crime,” says Infrastructure Committee member Zbigniew Rynasiewicz of the Civic Platform Party. The other committee members – Janusz Piechocinski of the Polish People’s Party and Krzysztof Tchorzewski of the Law and Justice Party – share his sentiment. Tchorzewski does object to the idea of selling vodka, however. “It is not about the ideology but the security of passengers,” he said. “If we allow the drinking of vodka we will not be guaranteed that there will be a peaceful atmosphere in trains.”

The government slapped a ban on sales of alcohol in trains and at railway stations in 1983, but enforcement is so lax that train passengers see men with huge bags openly selling beer at stations. And some passengers report alcohol being sold in restaurant carriages. The only exception to the current law is that alcohol is sold on trains that cross the Polish border to or from another country. The ban on alcohol on domestic trains “is unique in the whole of Europe,” said Adrian Furgalski of the Group of Economic Advisers. It’s also absurd that you can buy drinks on cross-border trains but not on domestic ones, he said. Two years ago the Ministry of Health ordered trains and railway stations to start enforcing the ban on drinks because of the outrageous alcohol-related death of a passenger. Drunken hooligans on a train killed a high school student by throwing her out a train window in 2004.

Railway guards began issuing 100-zloty fines to those they caught with drinks on trains. But many passengers hid their alcohol when boarding. And after a time, the ban on drinks was not enforced again. Another reason for allowing sales of alcohol, experts say, is that if the sales are legal, the government can tax them. It is getting no tax income from today’s widespread illegal sales. Not all Poles want the law changed. Katarzyna Lukowska, deputy director of the National Association for Solving Alcohol Problems, thinks the ban should remain in force because many train passengers dislike traveling with those who are drinking.

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