Source: MF Dnes Date: 08.02.2023

Rail as an emission-free alternative to car transport has the green light in Europe, but the Czech Republic is still lagging behind in its development. Yet it is clear that whoever does not fall asleep today will be the winner of tomorrow.

Rail transport is a suitable emission-free capacity alternative to the car. This is one of the reasons why it has the support of European leaders today. It is one of the European Union's strategic priorities, thanks to its low emissions and reduced dependence on fossil fuel imports. At the same time, according to a McKinsey study, transport and its green transformation have the potential to generate a staggering CZK 54-64 trillion by 2030.

This is why the European Union's support and ambition to decarbonise freight transport is also justified in terms of the transformation of industries and economic potential. The equation is clear: whoever does not fall asleep will be the winner of tomorrow.

However, in the Czech Republic, we are lagging behind, although there are efforts to change this. The question is whether we are doing enough. Smart investments can reduce the productivity gap in the Czech Republic compared to the rest of the European Union and raise average wages by tens of percent. That is why we must not delay massive investments, including in the development of railway infrastructure. Why? Because we are missing out on business opportunities and money. If current predictions are accurate, then by 2050, a quarter of the world's employees will be working in green industries. Which is where railways and trains come in.

The total share of goods transported by rail in the European Union in 2018 was 18.6 percent. The ambition is to increase this figure every year. It makes a lot of sense. Rail transport has nine times lower carbon dioxide emissions than road transport and is also six times less energy-intensive. Moreover, it accounts for only two per cent of the energy intensity of total transport, even though it carries several times the volume of goods.


Money is the first thing on the agenda

Reality does not match expectations. According to Eurostat, the figure has fallen to 16.8 percent. This is a paradox. We have clear support from the European Commission and the European Union countries, but progress is lacking. The EU's objective is to increase the share of goods transport by rail to 30 per cent by 2030, at the expense of road transport. However, we are not currently heading towards this target. And we are missing out on the huge amounts of money that we can gain from the transformation of the industry. More than ever, we need to realise that a modern zero-emission economy is not just a current trend, but also an opportunity for a huge injection of cash for the public purse.

Why is the trend going against expectations? We can try to find the answer in the Czech Republic. We have the densest rail network in the whole of Europe. However, this seemingly positive fact is actually not so cheerful. In the Czech Republic we have mainly local lines and the main corridors lag far behind the European average. The main problem is slow construction, insufficient investment and, linked to both factors, insufficient electrification. In the European Union, the average number of electrified lines exceeds 50 per cent. In Switzerland and Belgium they are currently at 80 per cent. In the Czech Republic, we are at 30 per cent. Yet it is the electrified lines that transport the most people and goods. In our country, for the reasons mentioned above, these lines are completely overcrowded.

Investments in rail infrastructure are much more intensive in the West than in our country, but even so, there is still not enough capacity on the railways. Europe knows that rail is a priority at the moment and needs to be protected, but the existing infrastructure cannot keep up with the ambitions of politicians. Today, all the passenger and freight trains cannot fit on the tracks of the busy main corridors and business has to find other ways to transport goods. And the total volume of goods transported by rail is falling.

The railway administration has the second highest budget in its history (CZK 53 billion), but according to Emanuel Šíp, chairman of the transport section of the Chamber of Commerce, this is still not enough. It needs to be increased many times over. It has been said by experts that if we want to have a fully functional network of high-speed lines, we need to invest this amount every year for at least another 20 to 30 years.


The leader must not fall asleep

For the long-term stable development of transport infrastructure in the Czech Republic, it is important to have the ambition to actually want it, prepare for it and make it happen. The government has approved the draft budget of the State Fund for Transport Infrastructure for next year in the amount of CZK 150.9 billion with an increase of CZK 27.5 billion compared to the June draft. The railway administration will get CZK 70.4 billion. In addition, at the beginning of November last year, members of the government signed a memorandum with the European Investment Bank to finance railway projects between 2023 and 2027 to the tune of €7 billion. The state has also declared in its transport construction plan for the next ten years that rail will play a major role.

The change in attitude is noticeable and the motivation to transport goods via rail is much greater than before. If we want to emerge from the situation as leaders of modern industry also on rail, the pace of development must be faster. Thanks to our business vision, we also know that taking off the label of cheap assembly plant will not happen by continually relabelling it with cheap proclamations, but by supporting an industry where we can get our hands on a much sought-after end product. With that much-vaunted added value. We can do it, and it is now up to all of us to step up to the plate. It will pay us back many times over in the future.

If we want to be the leaders of modern industry, even on the railways, then the pace of development must be faster.


Adam Šotek 

Chairman of the Board of CE Industries Group