CZ/SK verze

Live from IRFC 2022: The penultimate section is here! Can VRT drive new mobility?

Live from IRFC 2022: The penultimate section is here! Can VRT drive new mobility?
photo: RAILTARGET/Live from IRFC 2022: The penultimate section is here! Can VRT drive new mobility?
06 / 10 / 2022

The 4th session of the IRFC 2022 conference on VRT is about to start. Presentations will be given by Martin Švehlík, Director of the VRT Preparation Department, Johann Pluy, Member of the Board of OBB Infrastruktur, and Misho Hirato, Deputy Director of the EJRC Paris Office!

11:55 Jindřich Kušnír, Director of the Department of Rail Transport of the Ministry of Transport of the Czech Republic, will start. The whole VRT construction project in our country started in March 2017 and since then the legislation and/or necessary documentation has been in the works. We need to amend the Railway Act to be able to fully use the VRT. At the moment we are working on a study for sector 5 (Prague - CZ/PL) and other sectors for interconnection across the country, but also with Vienna. The requirements of this infrastructure are mainly speed, higher capacity, and safety. At the European level, we are in the process of revising the TEN-T and we want to do the Via Vindobona project (Berlin - Prague - Vienna) together with the V4 (Budapest - Brno - Ostrava - Warsaw). With this, we are also planning other interconnections. International cooperation is necessary for the success of the VRT project because we are not only doing it for us - we want to connect the neighbouring countries as well. That is why we work with them based on bilateral agreements. We aim to use the capacity of the VRT efficiently and we have created an operating model with several stages (Sprinter, Express, Fast Train, and suburban trains), where the highest will run at speeds of up to 320 km/h. But we also need to prepare the carriages for this use and secure them before the VRT is completed so that they can then go straight out. By 2030, we want to be running at up to 230 km/h on selected sections, and then further increase and extend this speed for other sections. The cost is estimated at around CZK 800 trillion and the investment will take place between 2025 and 2050. EU funds (CEF) will help with the co-financing, as well as public money and other sources. And we are also working on a VRT financing project. It is also one of the themes of the Czech EU Presidency.

12:10 Martin Švehlík, Director of the SŽ VRT Preparation Department, continues on the topic of VRT. We do not see this project as a railway project, but rather as an economic one - for us, these are new trade routes of the 21st century. Connecting the VRT with modern lines will bring 75% of the population within 15 minutes of the VRT terminal. It is also good that several levels of train types are planned, as Mr Kushnir said. The economic resilience and benefit are then indisputable, we expect an influx of tens of thousands of passengers. Then the cooperation with the French side also enables us to speed up the whole project. It is also communicating directly with the people at the regional and local level about where the VRT will lead and discussing their comments and questions with them. This is actually how we spread awareness about VRT. And we are also working on documentation to show what the environmental impact of the VRT is. We are happy about the strong feedback from the regions, especially from Jihlava, where they are very supportive - it will significantly shorten the distances between Czech centres. And we won't stop at just building the lines themselves, but we would like to help with the development of local infrastructure. We are also ensuring that noise impacts are reduced through noise barriers. Today we did a review of funding and this year 500 million crowns will go into the preparation of the VRT, next year we would like 1 billion to keep up the pace of preparation and start construction by 2025. 2028 is the target year for the start of VRT operations in the Czech Republic. The benefit of VRT will initially be mainly for passenger transport, but this will free up capacity on the existing infrastructure for freight transport. The data from France shows us that it makes sense to build VRT and that it will indeed bring development to the regions, without sucking them dry. We are also counting on the dominant involvement of Czech companies in the whole project, after all, we have a strong rail industry.

12:30 Jean-Christophe Rouja, Director for Europe, Africa, IFIs SNCF International, will now present his contribution. He talks about international cooperation for the development of VRT. In France, we have about 110 million passengers a year using VRT services, and we have 800 high-speed trains a day, so we are approaching pre-pandemic numbers. Cross-border traffic is also interesting for us, where we have about 30 million passengers a year and among the 50 European rail stations, the most are the Eurostar to the UK (10.3 million passengers). In the future, we plan to link this with Thalys, which serves Benelux. VRT terminals have a major social impact on the development of their surroundings - they are becoming such hubs in city centres. They also have an impact on the environment, and more than a positive one. One passenger per kilometre produces 5.7 g of CO2 emissions, 20 times less than road transport. Everyone is aware of the benefits of VRT in Europe and so there is closer cooperation between carriers, infrastructure managers and manufacturers. We are pleased to be able to work with the Railway Administration to help the Czech Republic make the VRT project a success. We can also exchange experiences and ideas on how to solve VRT-related problems.

12:40 Johann Pluy, Member of the Board of Management of ÖBB Infrastruktur, gives the next presentation. We need to work slowly to increase the capacity of our railways. If we invest 3 trillion euros a year, that will increase capacity by 5%. But our target is a 100% increase by 2040. We will want to use bigger and longer trains to achieve this and we have also developed the Austrian Mobility Plan 2030, which is in the Green Deal. We have worked out the whole strategy in detail to achieve our goal. At the end of 2023, we want to have a draft of the whole project in hand so that we can consult further. After that, we will still need to develop a new traffic plan to achieve higher capacities for passenger and freight traffic at the same time. We also want to invest several trillion euros in the digitalisation of the railway, because this will also help with the 2040 target. This will include the implementation of ERTMS/ETCS, DAC or ATO. We also have several projects for greater connectivity with other parts of Europe, such as the Vienna-Bratislava link or the Semmering tunnel. We believe that we will achieve this mainly thanks to the support of the Austrian Government and we need to accelerate the implementation of ETCS Level 2 so that we have it on all corridors by 2030. But above all, we want, like the Austrians, more interoperability.

12:55 We are moving from Europe to the Far East. Misho Hirato, Deputy Director of the EJRC Paris office, will now tell us about VRT in Japan. We are both a carrier and an infrastructure manager and our company was founded in 1997 as a private company. Japan built the first VRT back in 1964 and today we have about 3,000 km of VRT. Shinkansen trains then carry almost 25% of all Japanese passengers. We also work with another company, JR West, with whom we then share profits based on who carries passengers in which section. The advantage of the Shinkansen is its reliability and safety, as there has been no loss of passenger life since 1964. It also has a high capacity and we can carry up to 1,000 passengers per hour with 15 trains, thanks to its high schedule accuracy. Intervals are then 4 minutes. The entire transport process is fine-tuned down to the smallest detail and once the train has completed its journey, it can be ready for the next journey in 12 minutes. The fare system is fully mobile, you simply plug in your phone at the station and off you go, and no one will ask you to show your ticket. The Shinkansen is followed by regional trains, which are designed so that the carriages can switch themselves, eliminating the need for transfers. The quality of the Shinkansen is also demonstrated by the fact that passengers prefer trains to domestic flights. It takes less than 3 hours to get from Tokyo to Aomori by train. The train stations themselves are full of shops, restaurants and so on, then outside you will find other shops, company headquarters or universities. And we have started testing hydrogen Shinkansen and other possible uses of hydrogen for regional trains and buses.

13:10 Wim van de Camp, Special Adviser to EU Commissioner Adina Valean, will make the last contribution. So what do I do as a special advisor? I only try to influence Brussels policy based on my experience and expertise. We should not underestimate other modes of transport, look at the airlines, and how they have managed to pick themselves up after the COVID pandemic. Last December, the EC published an action plan to move passengers onto the rail, the main benefit of which should be to simplify fare systems across Europe. We have 27 member states with many different fare systems and we should work towards a single fare, otherwise, we will not attract young people to rail. That is also why digitisation is important. The next big challenge will be to develop a sustainable urban transport concept for all cities on the TEN-T. But this will require a more intensive level of work to implement all these changes on the railways, and it is mainly a matter of working at the Member State level rather than the EC itself. There is also a difference between modal shift and multimodality, which means that we are working together within the transport sector. We should not focus too much on the political or financial side of things, but on how many different technical systems we have in Europe. That is why I see the implementation of ERTMS as an issue for the next decade. Nor must we be too idealistic about how many passengers we will carry on future corridors. We are also lacking data sharing between companies, and so far we are being outdone by Google. Then we need to ensure that we have a sufficient workforce for the railways, i.e. cooperation at the level of secondary vocational schools and apprenticeships. If we don't do something quickly, the roads will inevitably beat everyone.

13:30 And there is a panel discussion! The panel will include Martin Kolovratník, Member of the Parliament of the Czech Republic and member of the Board of Directors of SŽ, Mikolaj Wild, CEO and President of Centralny Port Komunikacyjny, and Jan Sviták, Statutory Deputy Governor of the Liberec Region.

Martin Kolovratník took the floor. We wanted the Czech Government to monitor the development of the VRT project and to ensure that sufficient funding was also provided. I see several problems shortly - the first one concerns money and how to get it. The second problem I see is communication with citizens who may get the impression that it is too expensive and not for them. Thirdly, I see a bit of a lack of communication from Prague at the regional level. And I would like to know the answer to these problems.

Mikolaj Wild will show the Polish perspective on the VRT project. We want to build a Solidarity hub near Warsaw that will allow a fast connection to and from the new airport. It will also increase the share of rail during the transport itself. But how will we achieve this? In our country, we are trying to replace domestic flights with trains, and we are trying to do it in a way that is convenient for passengers, for example, so that they do not have to travel unnecessarily long distances to the station. This project has an international dimension because it will be able to connect with other VRTs in the Central European region. So you will be able to get to Prague in some 4 hours and even to Brno in only 3 hours. This will also connect the Baltic States. We may be coming later to the game, so to speak, but this also allows us to implement the latest technology - why would we want GSM-R when we can have 5G on the railways?

Jan Sviták takes the microphone. I will present the current state of the railway in the Liberec Region. We are aware that there is a Green Deal and the need to modernise the rolling stock, but we completely lack the infrastructure to go down this route. We do not have any electrified lines and we have to run on diesel even today. That is a shame because our region is quite industrial and there is a need for increased mobility. It is a well-known fact that all VRTs avoid Liberec and we remain somewhat alone on the map of the country, which is why we are advocating that VRTs should touch the Liberec region. If we fail to do so, the consequences could be fatal. We do not only want VRT but also expressways, where the construction costs are not so enormous and it is feasible from the point of view of the state. These days, SŽ is finishing a study on connecting Prague to Liberec, or Mladá Boleslav to Liberec, and the construction should take 10-20 years, but we will continue to work on connecting the Liberec region to the VRT.

And now the questions! What is the situation of freight rail transport in Japan? There is only one big national company that carries only 5% of the total freight traffic, says Misho Hirato.

What will be the distance between VRT terminals? Martin Švehlik answers: distances will be every 50 km, with 500 km of VRT planned. They will be spread out like this across the country and, for example, in Brno we are looking at a Prague-Vienna terminal, possibly involving the main station there.

Martin Kolovratník also responds to a question about young people and train travel. He thinks that lowering fares could help to make it more attractive. Wim van de Camp adds that the rail sector should work on its image. It must not play conservative, but be open-minded and, above all, make prices attractive. Otherwise, you simply cannot get young people on the railways.