POLAND: Once Again, The Polish Rail Regulator UTK Excels In Blatant Double Standards

On 10th June 2022, 14 applications for new commercially driven services were filed by the Polish long-distance state-owned rail incumbent PKP Intercity with the President of the Polish rail regulator UTK.

UTK always acts astonishingly fast for PKP Intercity: by mid-March 2023, UTK had already published a total of 11 decisions. However, UTK’s latest decision on the long-distance services between Kołobrzeg and Przemyśl route is unique, as it concerns the most lucrative commercially driven route in Poland, between Gdynia and Kraków, for which UTK has allowed PKP Intercity to run 16 pairs of trains.

So – yet againwe witness the double standard of the Polish rail regulator UTK. It decides that state-owned incumbent PKP Intercity’s commercially driven trains pose no threat to subsidised PSO trains on the same route, whilst similar but less frequent commercially driven services applied for by independent operators allegedly pose a huge threat to PSO services.

Rather than continuing to decide against independent operators, UTK now needs to be investigated itself – for consistently biased behaviour in favour of PKP Intercity.

Including the decisions issued from previous proceedings, the commercially driven services granted to state-owned incumbent operator PKP Intercity will include:

  • 6 pairs of trains on the route between Gdynia and Kraków,
  • 11 pairs of trains on the route Warsaw and Kraków,
  • 5 pairs of seasonal trains on the route between Warsaw and Gdynia.

Taking into account only segments of the route, what UTK has approved for PKP Intercity translates into the following:

  • 17 pairs of trains between Warsaw and Kraków,
  • 6 pairs of year-round and 5 pairs of seasonal trains between Warsaw and Gdynia.

At the same time, it is worth comparing all of UTK’s positive decisions for PKP Intercity against its refusal of commercially driven services by the independent operator RegioJet in summer of 2022, which RegioJet – according to media reports – then appealed against and which still has not been reconsidered to this day.

In June 2021, RegioJet applied for 9 pairs of trains on the same Kraków-Warsaw-Gdynia route. The President of UTK took a whole year and then refused RegioJet’s commercially driven services, based on the alleged negative financial impact upon PKP Intercity’s subsidised PSO long-distance services on this route (though it is questionable whether these PSOs are justified – has there ever been market testing?) and also alleged capacity problems.

As everyone can now see, in UTK’s opinion, 17 pairs of PKP Intercity’s commercially driven trains on this route pose no threat to subsidised trains, whereas strangely 9 pairs of trains from a different operator pose a huge threat. Moreover, UTK has not even issued a decision on restricted access yet, which indirectly means that even just 1 pair of RegioJet trains on this route would be considered a threat by the regulator. This hard data needs no further comment – it proves that the Polish regulator UTK is heavily biased against new entrant independent rail operators. The Economic Equilibrium Test to ‘protect’ PSOs is actually being abused – to ‘protect’ against market opening.

Another issue worth mentioning is the aforementioned capacity problem, the availability of which according to UTK (based on the analyses of the PKP Intercity’s sister company, the Polish infrastructure manager PKP PLK), is limited or almost completely exhausted. In the refusal decision for RegioJet one can find the opinion of PKP PLK indicating that “on sections covered by modernisation works such as Warsaw West – Warsaw Central the capacity utilisation reaches 100%.” This factor is indeed one of the reasons why RegioJet’s application was rejected.

However, “100% capacity utilisation” is suddenly no longer a problem for PKP Intercity commercial trains running on the same Kraków-Warsaw-Gdynia line via Warsaw Central and Warsaw West. The lack of capacity argument is no longer taken up by UTK and PKP PLK at all. In fact, the President of UTK himself authorised that 40 year-round and 6 seasonal commercially driven services by PKP Intercity can all be routed through exactly this same capacity critical section.

ALLRAIL has already repeatedly drawn attention to the unequal treatment of passenger operators in Poland. These new examples again demonstrate the blatant double standards of UTK, and they join the litany of previous objections – from extending procedures after applications for commercial services from independent operators for up to several years (whereas PKP Intercity applications are expedited), to using false political spin in the media, arguing that a small number of insignificant positive decisions for independent operators are great evidence of the opening up of the market. Fact: Polish passenger rail ridership per citizen is below the EU average, despite a denser network than most other countries. PKP Intercity’s continued long distance monopoly keeps the rail market small. The Polish rail regulator UTK and its President must now be urgently investigated – due to their heavily biased behaviour.”

ALLRAIL’s Secretary General Nick Brooks