Source: EURO Date: 15.12.2022

Reducing dependence on fossil fuel imports, an emission-free ecological alternative to car transport and huge business opportunities are the main reasons why rail transport is supported from all sides. Rail is thriving on paper and the transformation of transport as an industry has the potential to earn a staggering 54 to 64 trillion crowns by 2030, according to a McKinsey study. How much of this the individual states take is up to them.

The Czech Republic is still lagging behind. Yet smart investments can reduce our productivity gap with the rest of the European Union and raise salaries by tens of percent. We must not delay investment in the development of rail infrastructure, not least because the European percentage of goods transported by rail is falling. Since 2018, the figure has fallen by almost two percentage points to 16.8 per cent. Why?

All passenger and freight rail operators cannot fit on the tracks of busy main corridors in the current situation and have to find other ways to get goods where they need to go. The total volume of goods transported by rail is therefore falling. If we want to take some of the potential earnings and business that comes from green transport, we need to step up.

The low capacity of the main corridors is a problem throughout Europe. Unfortunately, it is even greater here. We have the densest rail network in Europe, but these are mainly regional lines, and the main corridors are still lagging behind the European average. This is due to slow construction, low investment and insufficient electrification.

The EU average for electrified lines is over 50 percent. Switzerland and Belgium boast 80 per cent electrification. In the Czech Republic, we are at 30 per cent. We will not be able to compare with the countries of Western Europe for a long time to come. Yet it is the electrified lines that transport the most people and goods and hold the greatest promise of money for the state coffers. In the Czech Republic, for the reasons mentioned above, these lines are completely overcrowded. Yet the support from the European Union is considerable.

This July, the European Commission officially approved the Transport 2021-2027 programme, opening the door for the Czech Republic to draw nearly five billion euros, among other things, for the development of the rail network. At the beginning of November, members of the government signed a memorandum with the European Investment Bank to finance railway projects between 2023 and 2027 to the tune of seven billion euros. If we want to invest this money, we must have projects and ambition.

The ambition is clear. The state has promised in its transport construction plan for the next ten years that rail will play a major role. The government approved the draft budget of the State Fund for Transport Infrastructure increased by 27.5 billion crowns. The railway administration will get 70.4 billion for investment and non-investment actions. Moreover, it has the second largest budget in its history, namely CZK 53 billion. However, we are hearing from experts that if we want to have a fully functional high-speed network, we must invest this amount every year for at least the next 20 to 30 years.

I perceive that the motivation to move goods on rails is much greater than before. If we want to be a leader in modern industry, not just on rail, we must accelerate the pace of development and not be afraid to support business. Because missed opportunities will not ultimately benefit our companies, our citizens or the public purse.

Adam Šotek

Chairman of the Board of CE Industries