Centrally connecting continents

In addition to being the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Mikołaj Wild is also the Government Plenipotentiary for the Central Transport Hub. Previously, he was the Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Treasury. As the former Deputy Minister of the Treasury, Wild supervised companies in the aviation sector, including Polish airline LOT SA. Photo: Marek Wisniewski/Puls Biznesu/FORUM
Secretary of State Mikołaj Wild, the man responsible for implementing the government’s planned Central Transport Hub, answers the most frequently asked questions about Poland’s immense investment.

How did you become the government plenipotentiary of the Central Transport Hub project, which includes Solidarity Airport?

When I became the Deputy Minister of the State Treasury at the end of 2015, I noticed that one of the biggest limitations for the development of the Polish aviation market is the lack of an airport that can handle the growing air traffic in Poland. Such growth is really unheard of. The number of passengers is expected to double from 40m in 2017 to 80m by the year 2030, according to the Urząd Lotnictwa Cywilnego (the Association of Civil Airports). If we continue to grow at this rate, after 10 years we would need an airport equivalent in size to the world’s largest airports to meet such demand. Of course, this (figure) won’t be reached because the trend is changing and Poles tend to fly significantly less than Western Europeans, but that’s partly because we don’t have sufficient airport infrastructure. We want to change that.    

Why was the location, in the district of Baranów, 40 km west of Warsaw, the one finally chosen?

The location is determined by the role that the new airport will play. If we only wanted to build a new international airport servicing Warsaw, several locations nearer the city would be possible. However, we want to combine air traffic and rail traffic to ensure country-wide accessibility and intermodality. Passengers will be able arrive by train not only from Warsaw, but also from Kraków, Gdańsk, Katowice and Wrocław, rather than having to fly in. Therefore the existing railway network and the potential paths for high-speed railways help determine where the new airport should be located. The ideal location is both near a motorway junction and intersections of the planned high-speed railways. It is a place where new railway connections from each region of Poland can be made most effectively. Additionally, the location is not in a Natura 2000 protected area, so the environment will not be excessively affected and environmental protection will not block the investment process.

What are the expected synergies resulting from this intermodality? Is there any freight traffic planned for the new airport?

The new airport is, above all, a venture aimed at passenger service. Therefore, when we talk about intermodality, we are talking about providing passengers with the possibility of convenient transfers both within Poland and from Poland to anywhere in the world. The construction of the new airport will also have a natural impact on cargo traffic because building new railway routes allows us to free old routes and re-assign them to transporting goods. We will be able to introduce a separation of freight traffic from passenger traffic, which is quite necessary in the Polish transport market.

Why is this needed?

High-speed trains currently run up to 200 km/h on the same tracks as freight trains, whose average speed ranges from 30-40 km/h. Logistically speaking, this is very inefficient for coordinating schedules.

How much do you expect the whole hub to cost?

It all depends on how the project is defined. The construction of the new airport itself, which would be the first step to building a whole new railway and air system in Poland, will cost up to 35bn zł. The sum consists of 20bn zł for the construction of the new airport, 8-9bn zł for construction of a new railway route between Warsaw and Łódź, and the inclusion of this route in the extension of the central railway line to Kraków and Katowice. This cost accounts for a sufficient catchment area for the airport, provision of services to the Warsaw and Łódź agglomerations, and quick, convenient connections with southern Poland via the central railway line. In addition, 7bn zł is needed for the development of the road network. For the new rail routes, which were recently accepted as a feasible option, we are looking at a cost of about another 40bn zł for the expansion of 1,300 km of railway routes. Not all of this will be new routes, but also an integration of the railway network into one system. Even today, Poland still has the railway map of Austria-Hungary, Prussia and the Russian Empire, 100 years after Poland regained its independence.

Is the timeline of the railway investment the same as the timeline for the new airport?

As decisions regarding the railway investment are not affected by the new airport, our target is 2035.

How much has been built over the last 30 years?

Several dozens of kilometres. We have gained a lot of experience and knowledge on the construction of roads and highways. Also, highly advanced railway upgrades are virtually turning them into new routes. We are fully capable of proceeding, but we have to redirect investment efforts to the expansion of the railway network.

So the total investment costs amount to around 80bn zł?

Yes.

How will it be financed, with the projected deadline only 10-12 years from now?

We are spreading the investment out over a period of 13 years. If we compare it to other strategic government plans such as the National Rail Programme or the National Roads Construction Plan, which can reach 100bn zł, the amounts are not much different. Over the next three years almost 70bn zł will be spent on railway modernisation, for example. It’s also worth noting that the cost of the Family 500+ programme, which was considered unserviceable, is 25bn zł a year. So when we break down (the cost of the CTH project) over 13 years, it’s an attainable amount in our budget.  

Are you also looking for private investors, and do you expect support from the EU?

The new hub has to be profitable, which means we include private investors in our thinking. Individual profit-oriented investments aside, we are providing benefits to the entire economy. Poland’s economy is becoming more attractive because it is possible to get to any big city in two hours. We are increasing the competitiveness of the Polish economy by setting ambitious plans for the next 13 years. This increases business predictability.

Railway investments in accordance with EU law are not allowed to be profitable – the EU’s goal is to ensure the widest possible access to communication on a competitive basis. For this reason, the EU invests heavily in rail networks, and we are counting on EU funding. And this is already happening – the Central Transport Hub has entered the EU Connecting Europe Facility and is part of the European rail network covered by this regulation.

What is the planned size of the airport zone?

It is too early to give a definitive answer. However, we are sure that the airport itself will be up to 35 sq km, five times larger than Warsaw Chopin Airport. In the first stage, the airport will have two runways, and ultimately four. This airport will be a showcase for the country, so we cannot afford to make any hasty or random decisions. It must be a well-organised urban organism.

What could cause delays to the project?

There are several risks. There are the technical risks associated with the integration of all the components and institutions involved in the project’s success. The most basic challenge is the organisational effort needed to integrate the many investments, and what’s more, this has never been done in Poland. So there is the risk associated with innovation: the risk of being a pioneer. But we analysed other similar projects in the world and they rarely failed because of innovation; it was usually because of management errors or flawed execution.

What is the current status of the project?

We are in the preparatory phase, which will continue until the completion of work on the feasibility study next year. After that, we will start work on the project.  

Has the land been purchased for the 1,300 km railway construction plan?

We are constructing new railways that will grant access to major cities in under two hours, so before we can decide on what plots of land we need to obtain, we need to carry out a comparative analysis of several variants.

In a referendum in Baranów, 84% of residents voted ‘no’ to the new airport. What is your reaction to this?

In June, 1,555 people voted against the construction of the new airport in a referendum. Naturally, this is a challenge because you have to convince the people who said ‘no’. However, public investments often create fear, especially at the beginning, and even more so if they are located in one’s own neighbourhood. We have to find a balance between national interest and the interests of the residents, and we are willing to provide fair compensation.

What will happen to existing airports serving Warsaw, namely Chopin Airport and Modlin Airport?

According to the feasibility study carried out in 2010 and in accordance with the strategic plans adopted by the Masovian Voivodeship, the most effective solution would be to transfer all traffic to the new airport. Recently, however, there were some who said that it is possible for both the Chopin Airport and the new airport to function at the same time. We do not ignore these voices.

Wouldn’t the two airports “cannibalise” each other?

Well, this is one of the risks. The decision on Chopin airport has not been made – we will make it after collecting all the data. For us, providing maximum comfort to people flying to and from Warsaw is the most crucial goal.

Regarding the new airport, how will you ensure that it’s not a soulless monostructure?

Firstly we will carry out a study of what is needed and what kind of infrastructure there should be. It won’t just be an airport. It will be a perfect place to put a company headquarters in the heart of Poland because any city in Poland will be reachable in two hours. It won’t just be a location for the infrastructure that usually accompanies airports, such as hotels, logistics centres or offices servicing the airport. It has the potential to become more attractive than locations around the central train station in Warsaw. Also, for cities like Żyrardów, Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Sochaczew, or Błonie, this type of investment can generate huge growth.

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Written by: Monica Zielinski and Bartosz Stefaniak