Do Czechs Have A Right For Better Trains?

The Czech Railways have been criticised many times since they exist. Sometimes wrongfully, because they are not the one responsible for the bad condition of the tracks their trains ride on, however, often rightfully, for some management mistakes, such as when Czech Railways sold freight railcars to Poland just to buy them back immediately.

Recently, it appears that Czech Railways really are deserving a big compliment. They have decided to buy new long-distance trainsets known as RailJets. Not luxurious, as deemed by some, but very comfortable. Simply, trainsets respecting the standards of travel in the 21st century, which connect Hungary, Austria, Germany and Switzerland every day. If the Railways buy them, they can scrap several dozens of the worst railcars known as the Leatherettes, which offer in-car snowfall in winter and are suitable for historical films only. But… alas.

One of the national producers, the Škoda Transportation, was annoyed that the Czech Railways have not tendered the trainsets, taking advantage of the law which allows buying without tendering in case of a clearly bargain price. Such enactments are common in the countries West from ours as well. It is known from the open sources that Siemens offers railcars that can reach top speeds of 230 kph for a price lower than the price usually paid in Central Europe for less-equipped 160-to-200 kph cars.

Certainly, any unchosen supplier can appeal against the merchandise to the Antimonopoly Office. Pardon, almost any. Only the ones who are “qualified suppliers”, e.g. those who can offer a similar product, may submit an appeal. Škoda did so, even though it neither has a comparable trainset, nor any other long-distance trainset to offer. Instead, Škoda started striking the Czech Railways, saying the Railways do not need such a fast train, and have nowhere to drive it. It even arranged a dubious expertise, according to which, no top rail speed increase shall occur in the Czech Republic for decades to come. Ironically, this point of expertise means that the Škoda-made 200-kph locomotives that have already been contracted by the Czech Railways are just as unnecessary.

Škoda also assaults the Czech Railways – its customer! – with questions like just where do they think they will drive those trains. As the European railway network is fully liberalized, the answer is: wherever they want. And thank God the Railways have finally begun to concentrate on the market. With the old rolling stock, that would be impossible.

A Car Non-Existant, Yet Perfect

It is just like in a bad tale: Imagine you’re intending to buy a car. You like to do longer trips, even further in Europe. You come into a car shop and order a family sedan. Before you manage to sign a contract, the
competition car factory appeals against such a contract, because they think you don’t need such a car: most of the time you’re just using your car for shopping or commuting to your work and back. As there is no
motorway in your town, you don’t need a car with a top speed exceeding 90 kph. In case you need to drive to Germany, you will always be able to borrow a car at a borderside car-rental. Want a test drive? We’re so
sorry, we’re just about to begin developing that car for you.

Think it cannot happen? The argue about the Railjets is not about choosing the supplier for the Czech railways. It is about Czech Railways being able to behave as a standard, legally competent customer. And
about whether the laws are valid in the Czech Republic – at least the laws of the market.

Petr Šlegr
Author is member of Centre for efficient transport

Published in nationwide daily MF Dnes on 16 August 2011

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