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Poland – Transport Policy Note. Toward a Sustainable Land Transport Sector

March 17, 2011

The World Bank transport team is currently finalizing a report entitled “Poland - Transport Policy Note: Toward a Sustainable Land Transport.” The primary goal of the report was to analyze the status of Poland’s land transport and address strategic issues affecting the transport sector in Poland, in order to contribute to the ongoing discussions on the new transport strategy for Poland. The full report will be available shortly, but meanwhile we are providing below a short summary of the report.


Poland has made significant progress in developing land transport infrastructure over the last several years. It has successfully seized the opportunities brought by the accession to the European Union and the large financial support provided for the development transport infrastructure. For example total road spending in Poland doubled from 2004-2007 and almost doubled again in 2007-2010. The results of such large investment are currently visible mostly in the road sector, where percentage of roads in good condition increased from 49 in 2005 to nearly 60 in 2009 and absorption of EU funds under the current 2007-2014 program is well underway.

The railway sector reforms of the early 2000, inspired by the EU railway policies, resulted in one of the most liberalized freight railway markets in EU, where private sector plays important role. Gradual privatization of public sector owned railway companies, which is finally underway should further contribute to improved efficiency and competitiveness of the railway sector. Yet so far the reforms failed to compensate for the old debts of railway sector and ensure stable financial support, and the infrastructure has continued to deteriorate in spite of one of the highest track access charges in EU.

Integration within the EU combined with the implementation of some important reforms and Poland strategic geographic location contributed to one of the highest growth rates in the EU, which translated into an increase in freight and passenger traffic above GDP growth rate. Unfortunately, most of the growth has been served by the road transport despite the existence in Poland of one of the largest rail networks in the EU. In spite of many positive developments country is still perceived by potential investors as having poor quality of transport infrastructure.

Current road focused transport policy orientation is partly understandable, as the country still lacks a good backbone network of highways, while prompt increase in car ownership and road traffic have resulted in strong demand for high quality infrastructure supporting primarily road mobility. Such growth is putting however tremendous pressure on the road network and may constrain long-term increase in freight and passenger mobility.

Poland is also still one of the worst EU performers in road traffic injuries despite progress in legal regulations, enforcement and educational campaigns. Economic and social cost of road crashes is estimated at 1.5 percent of GDP or US$ 10 billion a year. By approaching road safety initiatives more as investments than just costs to the budget it was possible to reduce the number of fatalities in Poland by over 25% in 2009-10 to around 3.900 as per the end of 2010. To sustain such positive trend further coordinated efforts and sustainable medium–term funding would be necessary.

Finally, the contribution of transport to CO2 emissions has already reached around 12 percent with road transport representing 92 percent of the sector emissions. Some of the recent simulations demonstrated that Poland will have a lot of difficulties in maintaining the EU wide GHG emission reduction targets and transport sector may significantly contribute to these difficulties.

Of the imbalances in the land transport sector which need to be addressed in the short to medium-term the key ones are related to relatively low level of state funding for railways, resulting in the need for significantly larger share of user funding of the railway infrastructure compared to road users. Another one is the relative underfunding of revitalization and current maintenance of existing land transport infrastructure compared to serious modernization and construction of new infrastructure. The sustainability of road sector financing, which depends largely on EU structural funds and debt is also a matter of concern.

The government has already started taking actions on some of these issues. For example to improve financial sustainability of the road sector, the government decided to improve revenues of the road sector by replacing the existing vignette based system with a new electronic tolling system expected to be launched in mid-2011. Another example of positive developments is the introduction over the last few years of public financial support to railway infrastructure in return for reduction in the level of track access charges. It resulted in slight improvement in railway sector competitiveness, although it did not revert the continuous trend of shifting traffic from railways to roads.

On the discrepancy between investment in new infrastructure on one hand and revitalization and maintenance of the infrastructure on the other hand, while we support Poland’s continuous development and modernization of transport infrastructure using EU funds, we believe there is a lot to be gained from adopting life-cycle approach to transport infrastructure and assuring sufficient medium-term funding for reducing the backlog in rehabilitation of existing infrastructure and assuring proper current and periodic maintenance of newly developed infrastructure. Without adopting such approach the infrastructure can quickly deteriorate, hampering further economic development and resulting in significantly higher full life-cycle cost of infrastructure.

While the current transport policy orientation of the Polish government seems to focus on prompt improvement of road mobility, which is understandable, the authors believe that sustaining such trend in medium to long-term requires prompt changes in the transport policy in order to align it with the EU recommendations towards a more balanced and energy efficient sector and to overcome numerous challenges faced by the Polish transport sector. These are mostly linked to further reforms in railways to improve efficiency and competitiveness of this transport mode and the need to focus attention on improving railway infrastructure. The latter can be for example supported by signing medium term performance based agreement between PLK - railway infrastructure manager and government, which is apparently being considered by the government.

The report makes an attempt to identify some basic alternative policy options and provides their general impact assessment using a simplified simulation tool developed as part of the study. These simulations result in the conclusion that land transport sector (road and railway) in Poland requires prompt modifications in the transport policy direction comprising primarily adoption of at least a medium term financial strategy in order to contribute to sustainable socio-economic development, further continuous institutional strengthening and improvement in coordination between different stakeholders and transport modes. The authors emphasize the importance of time in preparing and implementing further reforms. Delaying them would likely have some negative consequences. The study suggests also a number of priority actions to be considered by the government. Implementation of these actions should lead to improvement in financial, economic, social and environmental sustainability of the whole land transport sector in medium to long-term.