Having issued a public railway bill, the Polish government forgot to point out the entity responsible for inter-voivodship passenger connections, as a result of which many people in Malopolska lost their only source of transport to schools and work. The impasse has now lasted for over two months.
Passenger railway connections (the so called osobowy trains that stop at every station on a given route) are in some cases unprofitable, as few people use them. However, since it is the only means of public transportation in many areas, the services have to be upheld. The Ministry of Transport’s “Strategy for Railway Transport” assumed that the Polish Railway (PKP) would hand over the subsidisation of passenger connections to the appropriate voivodship governors. Malopolska’s osobowy trains were to be funded from the Malopolska governor’s pocket since December 2008.
The problem started when in early December five out of 10 connections in the northern Malopolska area were cancelled. These turned out to be intervoivodship passenger trains, going from Katowice in the Slaskie voivodship, west of Malopolska, to the Swietokrzyskie voivodship, through northern parts of Malopolska. Previously, these trains were subsidised by the state, but the bill doesn’t state clearly who is to pay for them now. None of the governors of the above stated voivodships had spare money to sponsor the unfortunate trains as their budgets had been fixed the year before for two years in advance. In addition, the governors were not informed about the state quitting the subsidy. Although the Malopolska governor donated 12 percent more to uphold the connections, it turned out to be insufficient and half of the routes were cancelled. Protests by trade unions, governors’ petitions sent to the ministry and a citizens’ petition with 1,300 signatures all failed to make an impact, and as a result, 100 desperate citizens who suddenly lost their only means of transport launched a strike on December 18th at the station in Kozlow.
“Since my train was cancelled I use a bus to get to school in Olkusz, but I need to leave my town, Bukowno, very early, and the route itself is long and more expensive,” said Piotr, a high school student.
“My husband has to get to Katowice somehow every day, [otherwise] where can he find another job around here?” asked Janina, a resident of Buczkow. “The trains are not planned [properly], you need to wait for a train home for three hours,” she says. Her neighbour, Jozef, echoed her sentiments: “I’m over 50, I get up at 2 pm and get back home at 10 pm because that’s the connection I’ve got now. How much longer can I do this?”
To add to this, taking advantage of the state bill, PKP has independently created a company operating only inter-voivodship fast connections, the so-called pospieszny (stopping only in major stations), as well as express trains, called PKP Intercity. As a result, the governors wanted PKP Intercity to operate cancelled passenger connections.
“It is not true that inter-voivodship connections should be operated by the governors, however in my opinion the bill should have guaranteed it,” said vice-governor of Malopolska Roman Ciepiela. “The approved bill mentions only passenger trains inside a voivodship. It is up to PKP Intercity to operate inter-voivodship trains,” says Ciepiela.
“The government strategy intends PKP Intercity to operate only fast trains,” stresses Beata Czemerajda, a spokesperson for PKP Intercity.
Negotiations are ongoing, but if Malopolska, Slask and Swietokrzyskie governors will not convince the Ministry to create subsidies, it will be up to them to find the money. It has been unofficially said that Malopolska alone would have to give 1.7 million zloty. No progress on this issue is expected until the beginning of March.