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Private rail firm comes to Slovakia

THOUGH the effects are still to materialise, Slovakia has taken the first step on the path to liberalising its subsidised passenger rail transport market. The first state-subsidised private train will start running in March 2012 and will widen the choices of those travelling between Bratislava and Komárno.

THOUGH the effects are still to materialise, Slovakia has taken the first step on the path to liberalising its subsidised passenger rail transport market. The first state-subsidised private train will start running in March 2012 and will widen the choices of those travelling between Bratislava and Komárno.

Transport Minister Ján Figeľ said he expects the new private service to save Slovakia approximately 16 percent of the per-kilometre costs of the operated line and is counting on service on the line to improve. The company has pledged to hire Slovak staff, which in the context of recently announced layoffs in the rail sector brings some hope for the newly unemployed.

The ministry signed a nine-year contract with RegioJet, a subsidiary of the Czech firm Student Agency, which also operates bus lines, on December 27, 2010.

The ministry said that even though it is the first, RegioJet will probably not be the last private rail operator to enter the Slovak market.

Slovakia’s rail passenger transporter, Železničná Spoločnosť Slovensko (ZSSK), says it will try to lure more passengers onto its existing lines, while scrapping those which are least effective. ZSSK is guaranteed state support to provide public transport for the next 10 years.

The new competitor

RegioJet trains will run every hour, or every 30 minutes during rush hours, and the present journey time of around one hour between Bratislava and Dunajská Streda – which is about half-way to Komárno – should be cut to 43 minutes.

The new trains should be fully air-conditioned and RegioJet says it is considering selling a joint ticket to cover inter-city train travel as well as local public transportation in Bratislava.

“Slovakia has created conditions for opening of the market for railway transport and has had courage that, for example, regions in the Czech Republic have not had,” Aleš Ondrůj, Student Agency’s spokesman, told The Slovak Spectator.

Explaining the company’s choice of route, Ondrůj says that Bratislava-Dunajská Streda-Komárno is a commuter line within the Bratislava agglomeration where there is a relatively dense transportation network. Also, it is the only line around Bratislava which is not electrified. According to Ondrůj this means new train-sets can be introduced more quickly owing to the faster operational approval process for diesel trains.

He also suggested that this line in particular offers the best potential for gaining new customers who are currently commuting, but not by train. The company aspires to lure passengers through what it calls higher-quality services.

The company plans to enter the Slovak market at its own risk later this year when it will begin operating an unsubsidised Intercity (IC) RegioJet service on the Žilina-Čadca-Ostravsko-Prague line, said Ondrůj.

The arrival of RegioJet in Slovakia will create new job opportunities for Slovaks since RegioJet will be hiring on-board service personnel and train drivers and operators.

The Bratislava-Komárno line could create about 100 jobs. The IC line will also bring about 100 jobs, with positions open to both Czech and Slovak citizens, according to Ondrůj.

RegioJet is also entering negotiations with ZSSK.

“We will be cooperating in passing on passengers, when passengers of our lines are transferring to ZSSK trains and vice versa,” Ondrůj said, adding that this cooperation would apply to both the regional and the IC line.

ZSSK says it will adjust to the new environment that the arrival of RegioJet creates.

ZSSK spokesman Alexander Buzinkay told The Slovak Spectator that, based on the 10-year agreement on transport services in the public interest which the company signed last December with Transport Ministry, transport services can drop by a maximum of 35 percent over the whole decade and by at most 10 percent year-on-year.

According to Buzinkay, the plan for this year assumes a 5-percent drop to 30.3 million train-kilometres which ZSSK trains currently run annually.

‘It also means the cancellation of some ineffective lines, optimisation of jobs and also the need to save €26 million,” Buzinkay said.

As to what impact the arrival of RegioJet might have on his company, Buzinkay said that the transfer of transport services within liberalisation to other transporters will mean that ZSSK has to adjust to the situation so that the financial management of the company is balanced and the lines which the company receives public funds to operate are run effectively. The company also aspires to compete successfully and lure more people onto ZSSK trains, which currently enjoy only 28-percent average occupancy.

“It is welcome competition which will stir the still waters of Slovakia’s passenger rail transport [market],” Buzinkay told The Slovak Spectator, adding that ZSSK intends to cooperate with RegioJet, for example in ticket sales.

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