CZ/SK verze

"Electrification and Modernisation of Lines Are Among the Important Goals of Progressive Slovakia," Says Transport Team Leader Martin Pekár

&quote;Electrification and Modernisation of Lines Are Among the Important Goals of Progressive Slovakia,&quote; Says Transport Team Leader Martin Pekár
photo:"Electrification and Modernisation of Lines Are Among the Important Goals of Progressive Slovakia," Says Transport Team Leader Martin Pekár
01 / 09 / 2023

Martin Pekár, member of the Progressive Slovakia movement and team leader for transport, gave an exclusive interview to RAILTARGET. We talked about the possibilities of uplifting the regions through rail transport, how railways can save the environment, and what to do to make train travel more attractive.

How do you assess the state of rail infrastructure in the regions? In your opinion, is rail transport developed there?

As far as regional rail transport is concerned, we have sufficient coverage of the rail infrastructure network. After all, it is one of the densest in Europe. Of course, there is still much to build, but the higher priority is the modernization of the lines. Unfortunately, we are currently in a state where the lines are not sufficiently maintained. The most important thing, therefore, is to set up the system so that the lines are fully capable of basic operation. We cannot allow the condition of the lines to jeopardize safety and even damage the trains that run on them. Then we can electrify, increasing speed and comfort. 

The reliability of regional transport, in addition to the quality of the lines, which need to be upgraded, also depends on the quality of the trainsets. It is often better in the regions than in the main corridors owing to purchases over the last ten years. However, differences in the quality of trainsets between regions persist, which is a problem. When we talk about the railways' functionality in the regions, we must also mention the timetable. Interference with it affects rail transport as a whole, but it is in the regions that it is felt the most.

The new timetable was intended to eliminate duplication of road connections, whether in bus or rail transport. However, it has provoked a lot of reactions.

In summary, regional transport needs to be improved from an infrastructure point of view. Although it is not insufficient and what runs on it is better than what is on the main corridors.

What impact do you think strategic rail planning has on the regions?

The level of strategic planning is one of the biggest problems of Slovak railways. Insufficient planning results in frequent train delays and accidents. That is why it is crucial to modernize the regional infrastructure.

During the second Smer government, the measure of free trains for students up to the age of 26 and for seniors aged 62 and above was introduced. How do you evaluate this measure in retrospect? In your opinion, is it effective? Do you think that the money may be missing from the state budget?

First of all, it has to be said that nothing is free. Of course, it costs the state money, which is missing from the state budget. At the same time, I believe if we already have this measure, we should continue it in some form. It makes sense since the aim of Progressive Slovakia is to get more citizens onto public transport. Now is the right time, because traveling by car is becoming very difficult economically. Let's look at Germany, for example, where they have taken advantage of the energy crisis by heavily discounting public transport, which has succeeded in attracting many people. In our country, it happens that trains and buses run empty. It is essential to consider whether we need to discount transport and raise fares. The resources that will be lacking will have to be found elsewhere. The question is where we are going to get them from. Nowadays, we have an opportunity in the European money and Recovery Plan forms. Of course, everything needs to be consolidated with public finances, so that we do not create large losses in our budget, which is already taking a beating after the last government. 

With the current timetable, valid from December 11, 2022, many connections have been canceled, which has caused conflicting waves among the citizens of different parts of Slovakia. The connection from Prievidza to the Main Station in Bratislava has been canceled causing the residents of Horna Nitra to write a petition for its restoration. In the Kysucká region, too, many connections have been disrupted, and citizens have written a petition for the restoration of some connections. How do you perceive this dissatisfaction of citizens with the current timetable?

All of us who work in the transport sector have felt the citizens' resentment. Nevertheless, I believe that some changes were necessary. There were duplicate connections which were causing the efficiency of the service to be lost. It is right to open up the debate and accept comments. Progressive Slovakia agrees that specific comments should be taken into account in particular cases where there has been misconduct. Train drivers have also commented on the timetable and these should also be taken into account. Then, we can have quality and efficient rail transport. However, there would be no point in staying with the inefficient status quo.

Which environmental problems could rail transport solve to a large extent?

Rail transport is the most environmentally friendly form of transport. In the rest of the world, especially in the more developed parts of the EU, rail is the number-one priority. We have a 30-year deficit that we are carrying, and we are failing to make up for it. However, if we manage to improve the lines and get freight transport off the roads and motorways and onto the railways, we will also be helping the country considerably environmentally. Both electrification and modernization are, therefore, objectives of Progressive Slovakia, which are also included in our program and which we will work hard to achieve.