Motorways are public investment, railways - wasteful subsidy

On 14 January 2003 the Polish Government approved a document called Narodowy Plan Rozwoju (National development plan), which will put forward how Poland is going to use the European Union funds in the years 2004 - 2006 (the aid is about 11,4 billion Euros). The National development plan will be the basis for negotiations with the European Union and was delivered to Brussels on January the 20th 2003. It covers various aspects of Polish society, describes current state of and comes up with solutions. We will focus on the environmental impact of transport issues.

The National development plan relies on EU assistance which will come under the structural policy (Community Initiatives and Community Support Framework) and under the Cohesion Fund. Community Initatives are designed to tackle specific problem in the regions (Initatives Interreg and Equal, each financed by one of the Structural Funds). Community Support Framework lay down the general strategy for ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) assistance and benefit from benefit from Structural Funds co-financing within the framework of the priority regional objectives. The objective of the Cohesion Fund is to enable Poland to catch up in the fields of transport and the environment. The National development plan will shape the future of Poland (including its transport system) in a significant manner.

This National development plan is a part of a broader transportation strategy which, if implemented, will mean the destruction of railways in Poland in the near future. The Polish Government persistently supports cars as the main means of transport and neglects railways, seen as a loss-making relic of the past and an obstacle on the way to the "Modernity". Obsessed by the idea to develop highways and other "modern" types of transportation facilities, the Polish government knowingly ignores the need to modernise the railways.

Railways will soon disappear

Most of the railway infrastructure in Poland is outdated, the best example being tracks that in many parts of Poland (especially the former German territories) date from the 19th century. In many places there are tracks or points dating to Kaiser Franz Josef (for example in the town of Glucholazy). After 1991 the situation dramatically worsened and the steady decline of train speed occurred on most local lines. In many parts of Poland (Mazuria, Silesia) trains run much slower than 100 years ago! In main Warsaw railway tunnel serving the Central Railway Station the trains reach the maximum speed of 30 km/h!

Transportation strategy should focus on railway development and should abandon building more and more monstrous motorways The Government has to take urgent action to improve the railway infrastructure. According to estimates, if 2 billion zlotys (500 million Euros) were spent yearly on railways' modernization, it would take 40 years to reach a required standard. Sadly, the Government will provide a mere 0,2 billion zlotys to railway infrastructure this year. This means simply a total decline of railways within a few years!

The demise of local and regional passenger rail traffic is a fact. Some action was taken to improve the situation: in September 2000, the Polish Parliament passed an Act on railways, which assigned 800 million zlotys to local and regional trains in the year 2003. Unfortunately, this has been changed recently and the sum was slashed by more than half! In fact the PKP (Polish Railways) will receive only 300 million zlotys (75 million Euros) for maintenance of regional and local trains this year. This could lead to further closures of thousands of kilometres of railway lines in the coming years (with 3500 km of railways lines already closed in the last years). Although the National development plan does provide aid for upgrading the railway infrastructure within the framework of the Cohesion Fund, it will be restricted to selected trans European corridors for example E 20, E 30, E 65 and E 75 and selected inter- city routes. According to the National development plan, the length of railway lines in use will we reduced by 3000 kilometres (from 22 560 to 19,500 km) by 2006 (p.170). This means: 13.5% of railway lines in use will disappear! The authorities calm down the public: these are only "regional, loss-making" railway routes, so why worry?

Motorways: Roads not rights

At the conference "Poland?s Strategy in years 2004-2015 after EU accession" hosted by President of Poland, Aleksander Kwaoeniewski, on 26 June 2002, one of the experts praised the motorway building programme and stated:

"An improvement will occur when implementing of the motorway and expressway building programme reaches an advanced stage. We can then expect following benefits: (...) domestic and international road traffic will increase (...)"

The expected effects of the implementation of the National development plan are (p. 129-130):

- construction and/or rebuilding of 1750 km by 2010, 550 km of motorways by 2005

- construction and/or rebuilding of 200 km of expressways.

The government is determined to build more than a thousand of kilometres of motorways in the coming years. In a desperate attempt to achieve this goal, the government wants to sacrifice basic civil freedoms and rights. The new law on specific rules of investment preparation and implementation regarding national roads is going to be passed. Although the parliament is possibly going to change some of the most controversial regulations, the legal opinion prepared by the Spatial and Transport Policy Institute as well as Coalition for Just Prices in Transport about the original draft may give you the impression of the government's intentions:

"The draft of the new law violates not only the Polish Constitution, but also the following acts: Environmental Protection Law, Construction Law, Act on Real Estate Management and Administrative Procedure Code. It contradicts basic civil freedoms and rights."

Building motorways and improving car infrastructure will inevitably increase car use, with side effects like urban sprawl occurring in the "cities" in the United States. As a result, cities are going to turn into endless suburbs, and the centres are going to turn into a slum. This process, common in the USA, is also starting in Poland.

The Plan does not explain how the greenhouse gases related to transport will be reduced. There is no explicit forecast what the environmental impact of each transportation project will be. The authors' wishful thinking that more motorways mean lower pollution may not prove true. Common sense and experience gathered in industrialised countries show that the hopes to reduce pollution by building motorways will not be fulfilled and exactly the contrary will happen: the pollution will increase since motorways encourage high speed driving and increase car usage.

Air pollution in cities is due to... buses

With the exception of Warsaw and Upper Silesia, there is no strategy to reduce motorised traffic in urban areas. Absurd remarks like: "air pollution in cities is due to... buses" (page 33) may give the impression how the authors view the role of public transport in cities. Since the Cohesion Fund focuses on big investments, it is no surprise that most "benefits" will be achieved in Poland as a result of the modernization of the transit routes. "Effects in local and regional infrastructure will be limited." (p. 133). Nevertheless, one could hope Community Initatives and the CFR Action Plans "Transport - Maritime Administration" and "Regional Development", which are supposedly region - oriented, will put the emphasis on sustainable local development.

Unfortunately, the Plan focuses on roads. The main effect in railway transport will be an improvement in Intercity connections. Apart from isolated cases like Warsaw and Upper Silesia (p. 117) there is no coherent plan to make railways an important part of local transport system and when it comes to improvement in local railway connections, no positive effects are expected. (p. 112, 120-121)

Pollution not a problem

The problem of car-related pollution and noise in cities is not adequately addressed. The authors admit air pollution concentration exceeds the acceptable level in urban areas and city inhabitants are increasingly exposed to noise (p. 29), however, there is no target when it comes to reduce the number of car journeys, just a vague idea that the environmental impact of cars in cities should be alleviated. The Government knows exactly it wants to build 1750 km of motorways, but when it comes to the reduction in car traffic, there are no measurable goals, no metrics, no digits which would be easy to monitor and evaluate. We do not know how many Poles will live in the year 2006 in areas where noise and pollution levels are exceeded? We do not know what percentage of journeys in cities will be done by cars and what will be the share of public transport and bicycles?

The government has no plan

It goes without saying the Government has no national plan to develop the bicycle infrastructure as the most effective and environmentally friendly means of local transport, especially in urban areas. By contrast, such plans exist in many countries. For instance, the Dutch Masterplan Bicycle, which is a part of the Second Transport Structure Plan, sets targets for the year 2010: 30% increase in the number of kilometres travelled by bicycles, reduction of deaths by 50% and injuries by 40% among cyclists. In this way, the Masterplan Bicycle provides a valuable contribution to the main aim of the Second Transport Structure Plan: the reduction of car use.

Although the authors of the Polish National development plan mentioned that there are no cycle facilities in cities and it is an important factor restricting the quality of life (p. 33), they show a total inability to come up with any solution.

Therefore, the reduction of car pollution and noise in cities is a dream which will never come true.

Summary

The priority of the National development plan is obvious: motorways construction and supporting the car infrastructure. As a result of the National development plan most of journeys are going to be done by cars. In a desperate attempt to build the motorways, the government wants to sacrifice basic civil freedoms and rights.

The National development plan does intend to achieve sustainable development. However, the Plan does not explain how the emissions of greenhouse gases related to each transportation project will be reduced. Common sense and experience gathered in industrialised countries show that the hopes to reduce pollution by building motorways will not be fulfilled and exactly the contrary will happen: the pollution will increase.

Apart from isolated cases there is no coherent plan to make railway the important part of local transport system. Bicycle is not explicitly mentioned as a viable and environmentally friendly means of local transport. Unless the National development plan is changed, cars will be continue to be the main means of transport and railways will be limited to freight traffic and a handful of passenger lines. This could lead to a situation comparable with that in the USA where many states are no longer covered by passenger trains at all.

- Priorities should be given to improve the environmentally friendly means of transport: railways, public transport and bicycle.

- Insane motorways and car infrastructure development should be reduced.

- Clear targets of reduction in car journeys and CO2 emissions must be set.

- More attention should be paid to regional environmentally friendly transport infrastructure.