Wojciech Pawłuszko

The Three Seas Initiative and transport infrastructure

In September 2015, Poland launched the Three Seas Initiative[1]. It is a forum for political and economic cooperation between 12 countries inhabited by 112 million people: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary. Together, these countries account for almost a third of the EU’s total area. The initiative is intended to strengthen economic ties in Central Europe (between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas), e.g. in the field of transport infrastructure and facilitate efforts to obtain financial support (mainly EU, including the Connecting Europe Facility instrument)[2] for investment projects relevant to countries creating a new format of cooperation [3]. The Three Seas Initiative has been supported by the US, the European Commission and Germany.

Moreover, in 2018, at the Bucharest Summit, the countries involved in the Three Seas Initiative supported the establishment of the Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund (TSIIF[4]). It was established on May 29, 2019 under Luxembourg law by Polish Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego and Romanian EximBank, which was announced by the presidents of both banks at the summit of the Three Seas Initiative in Ljubljana in June 2019[5]. It has almost EUR 1 billion for investments. As part of the Three Seas Initiative, two large infrastructural projects are of significant importance: over 3,000 km Via Carpatia road route running from Klaipeda in Lithuania to Thessaloniki in Greece[6] (the road runs through Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece) and the 1,210 km Rail Baltica[7] route connecting Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia with Poland. Another large infrastructural project that unites the Three Seas Initiative is to be Rail Carpatia.

Rail Carpatia as a supplement to road projects

During the 6th Summit of the Three Seas Initiative in Sofia, which took place on July 8-9, 2021, Minister of Infrastructure Andrzej Adamczyk announced an initiative to expand north-south links in Central Europe under the name Rail Carpatia[1], which should be discussed as part of the Three Seas Initiative. However, he did not provide any details of the Polish proposal, including the projected costs of the railway construction and the sources of financing, which are probably under negotiation. The new concept was first mentioned in Attachment No. 5 to Resolution No. 173/2017 of the Council of Ministers of November 7, 2017 on the adoption of the Concept for the preparation and implementation of the investment :Solidarity Transport Hub – Central Transport Port for the Republic of Poland[2].

The transnational Rail Carpatia route would go in Poland from the crossing at the Łupków Pass to Rzeszów and then through Lublin and Białystok to the Baltic States. During the 32nd Europe of the Carpathians Conference on February 5, 2022, during the panel “From the Baltic to the Black and Aegean Seas through the Carpathians? New links within the TEN-T as an opportunity for the region”, Adamczyk said that the European Commission is interested in the idea of Rail Carpatia. To his knowledge, the EU Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean, confirmed that her idea is to implement the aforementioned rail link in such a corridor and to formally include it in the EU’s Trans-European Transport Network. Adamczyk stressed that the governments of Lithuania and Latvia are interested in the opportunities offered by Rail Carpatia. The Minister once more spoke about the new planned rail link on June 7, 2022 during the Three Seas Local Government Congress in Lublin during a panel with representatives of the Ministries of Transport of the Three Seas countries as well as Moldova and Ukraine[1].

In the above context, it is worth emphasizing that the purpose of the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Union Guidelines for the development of the Trans-European Transport Network, amending Regulation (EU) 2021/1153 and Regulation (EU) No 913/2010 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 1315/ 2013[2] is to create an efficient EU-wide multimodal rail network. In the indicated draft, “multimodal transport” means the transport of passengers or the transport of goods, or both, using at least two modes of transport. In turn, “multimodal freight terminal” means a structure equipped for transshipment between at least two transport modes or between two different rail systems, as well as for the temporary storage of freight, such as terminals at inland and maritime ports, along inland waterways, airports and rail-road terminals, including multimodal logistic platforms.

A new rail route can support multimodality

Comprehensive network: Railway lines, ports and rail-road terminals. Core network: Rail lines (freight), ports and rail-road terminals. Source:

According to the government’s “Sustainable Transport Development Strategy until 2030[1]”, in force since November 7, 2019, intermodal transport has a small share in total transport in Poland, but the government is observing a consistent and dynamic increase in this ratio. The main elements of intermodal transport conditioning its development include: a network of transshipment hubs (intermodal and multimodal terminals adapted to transhipment of dangerous goods, logistic centres). The Council of Ministers indicates in the Strategy that the basic measure supporting the development of intermodal transport will be the intensive modernization of linear and spot railway infrastructure used in the system of these transports (in particular, located on the TEN-T). The currently existing intermodal transport terminals require modernization and expansion. The development of this transport type in Poland requires the increased number of terminals and organization of regional logistic centres. To complement the above Strategy, still in 2022, the Council of Ministers is to adopt a strategy paper entitled “Directions for the development of intermodal transport until 2030 in the perspective up until 2040.[2]” prepared by the Centre for EU Transport Projects[3].

Railway line No. 65 against the background of Poland. Source: https://lhs.com.pl

In turn, the EU “Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy – putting European transport on track for the future[1]” of 9 December 2020 states that in some parts of Europe there is a visible shortage of transshipment infrastructure, in particular inland multimodal terminals, so this issue should be given utmost priority. Missing links in the multimodal infrastructure need to be bridged. The European Commission underlines that rail freight needs a significant boost, by increasing capacity and strengthening cross-border coordination. Including these corridors in the “European transport corridors”, focusing on “immediate benefits” such as train length, loading gauge and better operational rules, while bridging key missing links and adapting the core network to make it fully adapted to freight transport , will strengthen the infrastructural dimension of EU activities aimed at promoting intermodal transport.

Rail Carpatia as an opportunity for the Świętokrzyskie Province

In accordance with the “Directions for the development of intermodal transport until 2030 in the perspective up until 2040” many rail-road terminals are located in very similar locations, which are characterized by strategic position and good access to transport infrastructure. The average density per country is 1.25 terminals per 10,000. km2 and does not differ significantly from the European average (0.9 per 10,000 km2). Large intermodal terminals are located around the largest agglomerations with industrial facilities, in large seaports and on the external border of the EU (i.e. with Belarus, Ukraine and Russia). However, there are no terminals in the Świętokrzyskie Province, despite the fact that it is adjacent to the largest Polish urban agglomerations: Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice, Lublin and Łódź. In addition to its favourable geographical location, the region is also characterized by the presence of the largest construction companies in Poland. An important sector of the economy is also the metal producing, machine and precision industries, as well as the food and textile industries. The Świętokrzyskie Province also has rich mineral resources deposits, which contributes to production of cement and plaster[1]. The International Monetary Fund indicates in the study “Infrastructure in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Benchmarking, Macroeconomic Impact, and Policy Issues[2]” that investments in infrastructure can have a multiplier effect. In addition to the increase in the productive capacity of the economy, they also potentially accelerate the ecological and digital transformations in the long term.

Therefore, the planned implementation of the Rail Carpatia project combined with the priorities of the national and EU economic policy in the area of green transport and the promotion of intermodal transport gives an opportunity to include the Świętokrzyskie Province in the network of intermodal terminals. Appropriate railway and logistic infrastructure could be connected with the planned international railway route and positively influence the dynamics of economic growth of this region. In addition, as a result of the war started by Russia, the railway transport corridor running through Belarus to Poland will probably become less important in favour of the increased importance of rail links with Ukraine, which will be in the process of reconstruction after the war. In this context, it is important that in the Świętokrzyskie Province there is currently the largest part, in terms of the number of kilometres, of the Broad-Gauge Metallurgy Line (BGML)located in Poland and Ukraine[1]. On the Polish side, the BGML is nearly 400 km long and runs through the south-east and south of Poland. The Polish section of the line starts on the Polish-Ukrainian border on the Bug River in Gródek near Hrubieszów. While the Ukrainian section of the BGML managed by Ukrainian Rail UŻ (Ukrzaliznytsia) runs from the bridge on the Bug through Łudin, Izow, Włodzimierz Wołyński to Kowel. The presence of this infrastructure, therefore, gives the Świętokrzyskie Province prospects for the creation of the intersection of the north-south rail freight corridor under Rail Carpatia with the east-west corridor running from Ukraine.

*Wojciech Pawłuszko – the author is a legal advisor at the Legal Office of Agencja Rozwoju Przemysłu S.A. (Industrial Development Agency), previously associated with, among others, with the Polityka Insight analytical centre, where he was an economic analyst in the area of infrastructure and head of the legal and legislative department.

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