Constructing and launching high-speed lines in Poland

Posted: 4 April 2010 | | No comments yet

In recent years there has been considerable growth in high-speed rail. In many countries, the development of a high-speed rail system plays a key role in economic development and it is treated as an element to improve prosperity considering the great value of public procurement and increased attractiveness of the regions to which it reaches. New high-speed lines projects have not only been rising in Europe and Japan, but also in the United States, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Iran.

This rapidly expanding new transport mode is often described as the ‘transport mode of the future’ for a number of reasons. As well as improving rail services, promoting the modern image they seek to convey and yielding greater customer satisfaction, high-speed trains also play a key role in achieving territory integration and helping to create socio-economically balanced societies. This highly efficient transport mode makes significant demands in terms of investment, technology, industry, the environment and its political and social aspects.

Graph 1 shows the development of high-speed lines in Europe. In spite of the ambitious plan of building high-speed rail in Poland (Y-shaped corridor Warsaw-Łódź- Wrocław/Poznań) and modernising the Central Main Line (from Warsaw to Katowice/Kraków) the distance between Poland and other countries will still continue to grow.

Graph 1: Development of the high-speed network in Europe

Graph 1: Development of the high-speed network in Europe

Trends in high-speed rail and policy development indicate that a destination model of European railway transport will be based on division, where essential parts of traffic will operate on priority rail network freight traffic or on brand new high-speed lines for passenger traffic. In the near future, high-speed rail service will increase by 170%. High-speed rail share in the European Union (EU) passenger rail market exceeded 20%, and in some countries with expanded high-speed rail systems, it is significantly larger (over 60% in France). The economic importance of high speed rail:

  • Determines regional attractiveness
  • Affects economic development of the country and its regions
  • Provides economic and political cohesion through short journey times to the centre of the country and between regions
  • Reinforces the international position of a country by including it into international high-speed rail network
  • Shows a technological level (so called ‘high-speed club’)

High-speed transport systems make a significant contribution to the revitalisation of a railway and to supporting sustainable development policies. The commercial success of high-speed trains is currently creating a modal shift from less environmentally-friendly transport modes (mainly cars and planes) to rail, while helping to reduce overall ‘external costs’ (the costs borne by society for road accidents, pollution, climate change and noise).

High-speed rail systems play an important role in economic and social development wherever they have been introduced. Because of the high return for market and society, new high-speed rail projects (new lines and infrastructure, line upgrades, new operating systems and rolling stock) should attract funding from all public stake-holders. It is a way of ‘internalising’ the external environmental costs.

Plans of constructing high-speed rail in Poland The European Union (EU) supports the modernisation of railway infrastructure in member states. High-speed railway networks help it to reach its crucial goals of enhancing common market and strengthening economy and social cohesion. Furthermore, high-speed rail is emerging in Europe as an increasingly popular and efficient means of transport. Developing a trans-European high-speed rail network is a stated goal of the EU and most cross-border railway lines receive EU funding.

The current rail network in Poland originates from the 19th century and does not answer to the needs of today’s economy. Today, the main cities in Poland are linked by railway transport reaching speeds of 160km/h. Several sections of the Central Main Line are able to allow speeds of 200km/h (with a current speed record in Poland of 250km/h) however Polish Railways haven’t yet possessed the rolling stock to achieve this speed.

The main objectives of constructing highspeed lines in Poland are:

  • To reduce the travel time between the majority of the provincial capitals
  • To increase rail modal share in Poland in passenger services and increase the competitiveness of Polish railways against other means of transport
  • To obtain an unrivalled level of safety in transport
  • To reduce CO2 emissions in passenger transport
  • To create an image of a modern means of transport

Today Poland has a possibility to take a step forward to ensure sufficient and effective rail transport. A perfect mean of transport which satisfies needs of inhabitants is high-speed rail which uses new railway lines which give an average speed of approximately 200km/h.

Poland’s railway network density is the lowest in countries across middle Europe. There are low quality and long journey time connections seen from south-west and north-west parts of Poland to Warsaw and further to east provinces. Also, a Łódź node, which is a relic of the partition age, is a barrier in the development of rail links between eastwest and the south-north. At present, there is no high-speed rail section in Poland.

Current modernisation of railway lines insufficiently improve travel time and require high investment cost (expressed in a minute of shortened travel time), which are uncommonly a few times bigger than constructing a new high-speed line. According to European standards Warsaw should be reachable from the largest urban areas within a 300km distance in 90 minutes. This will only be possible after construction of the high-speed rail network, which will significantly contribute to the improvement of country cohesion, economic cooperation between regions, using synergy effects and also increasing social mobility as a condition to improve service market, labour economics and radical improvement in the conditions of conducting business activities.

The following facts call for building high-speed rail in Poland:

  1. Poland is too big a country to guarantee efficient transport between main economic and administrative centers by use of only modernised railway lines (up to 160km/h) and motorway networks.
  2. Modernisation of lines is not always sufficient to provide good connections with cities located outside of the polygon Warsaw-Krakow-Katowice-Wroclaw- Poznań-Warsaw.
  3. It is necessary to remove the barrier in the form of deficiency of railway lines withhigh technical parameters to organise high-speed railway connections between east and west Poland.
  4. High-speed trains on conventional lines limit traffic capacity of the line for freight and regional trains (for instance Warsaw- Sochaczew-line E20).
  5. Part of the line, especially the E20 line, should allocate ultimate priority for rail traffic on the east-west axis according to the draft regulation of Parliament and Council of European Union.

km of line

on 1,000km2 area

Germany 120
Czech Republic 101
Hungary 85
Slovakia 75
Poland 64

Furthermore, it is very important to notice that the topic of high-speed rail in Poland isn’t new. Table 2 presents its developments.

Project Calendar
1995 Guidance programme of development of Polish high-speed lines
2002 Presentation of ‘Y’-shaped corridor Warsaw-Łódź-Wroclaw/Poznań
2005 Development of ‘Constructing Warsaw-Łódź-Wroclaw/Poznań high-speed line’ pre-feasibility study
February 2008 Creation of Interministerial Group for constructing high-speed lines
March – September 2008 Development of ‘Constructing and launching high-speed lines in Poland’ programme and pollution forecast for High-Speed Lines Programme, consultation in Ministries and province offices
April – June 2008 Working of the Forecast of the influence on the environment for the HSL Programme
9 December 2008 Public invitation to put a development of feasibility study out to tender
19 December 2008 Polish government resolution of acceptance strategic document: ‘Constructing and launching high-speed lines in Poland’ programme and Master Plan for Polish railways to 2030

PKP Polish Railway Lines Company, as the company responsible for the development of railway lines in Poland, reported a project to the Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment (OPI&E) under the name of ‘Preparing constructing high-speed lines’ linking Wroclaw, Poznań, Łódź and Warsaw (the so-called ‘Y’ line– see Figure 1 ).

y line map

Figure 1 ‘Y’-line route map in Poland

Activities of PKP in realisation of the government programme ‘Constructing and launching high-speed lines in Poland’ are:

  • Constructing a new high-speed line preparatory works for Warsaw-Łódź- Poznań/Wroclaw with links to central Main Line
  • Modernising E65 line (Central Main Line) from Warsaw to Katowice and Kraków and further to the south border: First stage – up to 200km/h; Second stage – up to 300km/h with an extension southwards

Current plans call for a ‘Y’ line that will connect Warsaw to Łódź, with branches to Wroclaw and Poznań. The geometric layout of the line will be designed to permit speeds of 350km/h. Construction is planned to begin around 2014 and finish in 2020. In the centre of the city of Łódź, the ‘Y’ line travels through an underground tunnel which would link two existing railway stations. One of them, Łódź Fabryczna, would be reconstructed as an underground station.

The E65 (Central Main Line) railway line is part of the VI Pan European transport corridor connecting the Baltic Sea with the Adriatic Sea and the Balkans. In Poland, it is the main northsouth railway connection linking a number of the main cities. Modernisation and extension of the E65-south should allow the main trunk-line to reach the standard of high-speed line that will increase the competitiveness of Polish railways against other means of transport. The Warsaw-Krakow/Katowice line would possibly be upgraded to the maximum speed of 200km/h along with the Warsaw- Gdansk line, where reconstruction has already started. It is planned to modernise the Central Main Line until 2012 with European Rail Traffic Management System (ERMTS).

Both lines (‘Y’ and CMK – Central Main Line) will be connected with each other by modernised lines in order to create a high-speed lines network which will include agglomerations with more than 10 million inhabitants.

At present, PKP is realising preparations to build high-speed lines, including the development of necessary feasibility studies and design works which are planned to be finished by 2011/2012. Building the new line is expected to begin no later than 2014 and to be completed by 2020.

On 15 February 2010, bids were opened in tender for the development of a feasibility study ‘Constructing Warsaw-Łódź- Poznań/Wroclaw high-speed line’. Five consortiums answered the invitation. Signing of the contract is expected to take place in April 2010. The feasibility study project has been granted €85 million with an 85% subsidy from EU. However, EU funding is not the only source being taken into consideration – there are many other possibilities to fund any future works on high-speed lines, for instance Public Private Partnerships.

Taking into consideration projects and feasibility studies which have just begun or have a long development time, it is only possible for preparatory works to be done until 2012.

The Warsaw-Łódź-Poznań/Wroclaw line project has also been put to a feasibility study European High Speed Railway (2009) deputed by the European Commission (Directorate – General Energy and Transport). Figure 2 shows a map with plans of the development of high-speed lines in the EU.


Figure 2 The 2020 map of high-speed rail lines in Europe

The project of constructing the new highspeed line Warsaw-Łódź-Poznań/Wroclaw, together with the project of modernising the Central Main Line to high-speed line parameters have also been published in the following documents:

  1. Expert project of spatial development of the country till 2033. Warsaw, December 2008.
  2. Developmental challenges. Warsaw 2009.

PKP have ordered a feasibility study ‘Guiding programme of Polish high-speed rail development till 2040’ to be developed, which will be an analysis of possible further development of high-speed rail in Poland and will answer to the proposals and challenges which these documents contain.

There are plenty of complementary high-speed lines activities in realisation in Poland, including:

  • Constructing/modernising associated infrastructure (alteration of rail junctions which enables high-speed rails to be introduced into the conventional rail network, constructing/modernising stations)
  • Coordination with other investment projects (including The Operational Programme Infrastructure and Environment – OPI&E 7.1-24, agglomerative rail projects and others) and also with regional programmes (Regional Operation Programme)
  • Constructing operational and technical facilities
  • Modernising lines which are a direct extension of the ‘Y’ line
  • Promotional activities towards all stakeholders of the programme (on every stage of its realisation)
  • Preparing human resources to design, construct, supervise and operate high-speed lines operation

The high-speed lines network shown in the project will enable travel from Warsaw to Berlin in 3 hours and will create an attractive night train going further to cities in West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands for passengers. Furthermore, it will be possible to introduce high-speed trains from Krakow to Berlin through Łódź and Poznań with travel times of approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes. This is the best way to create the connection of Polish high-speed lines with the European network of high-speed lines in Berlin. By the time of building the new line it will be possible to use the modernised line E20 at speeds of up to 160km/h.

Great improvement of the rail connection from Warsaw to Wroclaw and the modernisation of the E30 line from Wroclaw to the border will create good conditions to bring back trains from Poland to Dresden and Leipzig which were eliminated a few years ago. It will also be possible to create a good connection from Warsaw to Prague through Wroclaw on account of the short travel time to Wroclaw that will be achieved after the new high-speed line is built.

However, problems may occur on borders. The current passage in Międzylesie may be treated as a temporary solution. Construction of a new line in the Wałbrzych direction through the tunnel under the Sudety Mountains and from Prague by a new high-speed line to Nuremberg has been also considered.

After realisation of the Baltic rail line project, it will be possible to achieve convenient connections from Wroclaw and Poznań to Lithuania. The line Warsaw-Łódź- Wroclaw is a natural extension of E75 line (I paneuropean corridor). There are also other planned connections with European countries, from Warsaw through Katowice to Prague, Vienna and Bratislava.

Building high-speed lines in a country where no lines of this class currently exist is a great challenge for the Polish government and PKP Polish Railway Lines Company. It requires many years of work, millions of Euros and also to build on the experience of other countries.

About the author

Jan Raczyński
Mr. Jan Raczyński is an expert in terms of new technology and software for maintenance of rolling stock, analyses of reliability, technical stand – ardisation and preparing specifications. He has been a Member of Interoperability Expert Task Force in Ministry of Infrastructure and PKP’s representative in international organisations such as UIC, AEIF and ERA. He has been President of the Regional Branch in Łódź of the Association of Polish Engineers and Technicians of Trans portation. Mr. Raczyński was also a Chief of the Committee for the Development of High-Speed Railways in Poland within the Association of Polish Engineers and Technicians of Transportation. He has been working in his present position since 2009.

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