CZ/SK verze

"DAC Must be 90-100% Publicly Funded," Says METRANS Rail Director Martin Hořínek

&quote;DAC Must be 90-100% Publicly Funded,&quote; Says METRANS Rail Director Martin Hořínek
photo: RAILTARGET/"DAC Must be 90-100% Publicly Funded," Says METRANS Rail Director Martin Hořínek
06 / 04 / 2023

RAILTARGET presents an interview with Martin Hořínek, Director of METRANS Rail and President of the Association of Rail Freight Carriers Ž The topic of the interview was Digital Automatic Coupling (DAC) and the implementation of ETCS.

How do you see the future of rail freight transport in the Czech Republic and Europe as the director of METRANS Rail and the president of the Association of Rail Freight Carriers Ž

I see the future of rail freight transport positively. Otherwise, I would not be able to do what I do. But it will not be easy, and we have to deal with many pitfalls and obstacles. Rail, even freight, has always been a vital part of the transport spectrum. Earlier and more prioritized until 1989, and with the advent of the market economy, it has to earn its position hard to compete with other modes of transport.

In 2021, in an interview with RAILTARGET (Špindlerův mlýn), you identified the most significant problem as the capacity of lines and cross-border connections in our neighbours. Line capacity seems to be the main limit to the development of rail freight transport. How do you see the situation after two years? What has improved, and what, on the contrary, poses even more obstacles?

There have been no major changes, and there could not have been any in such a short period. Throughput will not increase by magic, ordering entities will not reduce the number of orders, carriers will not order fewer trains, and closures on lines must continue because, without maintenance and repairs, the infrastructure will quickly become unusable. The construction of new lines, which, unfortunately, did not take place after the Velvet Revolution, became a necessary task and priority only a few years ago. We are thankful for that, but the results, given the very long lead times for preparing and implementing railway construction, will only be a decade or more away. Sadly, it will not be faster than that.

How are you managing the ETCS equipment on the locomotives?

It is a very complicated situation. Unfortunately, Europe is not united in the Masterplan as to when ETCS is to be used across Europe, even though the name says 'European', and there is no unanimous opinion on which version of ETCS the lines are to be equipped with. For us, it means investing very quickly in converting our locomotives to ETCS, as we would not be able to run on the main corridors in the Czech Republic after 1 January 2025. In Europe, there is still hesitation, and our interoperable locomotives have to solve the significant problem of how to meet the obligation to have ETCS in the Czech Republic from 1.1.2025 and, at the same time, operate on other infrastructures in neighbouring countries where ETCS is behind us. The promised support from European or national sources of up to 85% of eligible costs is not happening. We are hovering somewhere around 50% of the eligible costs, and this is due to the very high installation cost and the lack of capacity. But it is the support to improve safety on the railways, so we see it positively and have to deal with it.

What issues do you consider to be the most important concerning the state and Czech politics? We have managed to resolve the POZE and, for example, the so-called special infrastructure by legislation, i.e., the state can prioritize certain lines for rail freight transport. Should the debate on road user charges be opened in the Czech Republic? In some countries, such as Germany, charges are a government tool to encourage the transition from road to rail by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving climate neutrality as we have committed to in the EU.

The state should make it clear whether it wants to support rail and the resulting benefits of green transport by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving climate neutrality as we have committed to in the EU. If we leave everything to the market and do not intervene, rail freight transport will not be more beneficial for customers transporting goods. The aim should be to use rail for longer distances and road transport for deliveries and shorter distances.

The big issue is undoubtedly the Digital Automatic Coupling. The prototypes are slowly heading for testing. Not long ago, a meeting of Central European rail freight operators' associations was held in Prague under the auspices of Ž What do you see as the biggest risks of introducing DAC?

Thank you for bringing it up. I am known for my reserved approach to forcibly introducing DAC. Even DAC has to make economic sense. Here, unlike ETCS, which we mentioned above, it is not primarily about improving rail safety but an initiative of the DB Group with the support of some railways in Switzerland, for example. I do not accept the argument about how many shunters we will save and how much faster the train clearance process will be because the vast cost of rebuilding a single carriage is against that. For example, our company only operates complete trains without the need to move individual wagons at the marshalling yards, as DB Cargo calculates, and so the price of EUR 35,000-40,000 for a single rebuilt wagon does not make economic sense. Maybe someone will save a few shunters but employ new electro-mechanics in their workshops to maintain the wagons, as a locksmith alone will no longer be enough. What I am asking is, who will pay for all this? Certainly not our customers. They don't care whether the car has a DAC or not. It is the cost of transport. I believe we should let the carrier and wagon holder decide whether to go for DAC or stick with proven TSI technology that is fully approved and compatible across Europe.

How do you think the DAC introduction should be financed?

90% - 100% from public funds. It will not bring us carriers anything in the final sum.

How do you assess the cooperation with the Czech government in rail transport so far?

We are meeting regularly with the Minister of Transport, Mr Martin Kupka, and trying to find common ground. I have a good feeling about it. We appreciate his openness to negotiations. The completion of POZE and ROCET is an example of our cooperation. We hope for further partnerships leading to new rail shipments.