Despite subsidies Czech Railways still using trains that are over 30 years old, say auditors

Photo: Kristýna Maková, Czech Radio

According to a study published by the Czech Republic’s Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ) on Monday, more than a third of the trains currently in the service of Czech Railways (ČD) have been in use for over 30 years, making them unsuitable to the needs and expectations of customers. The state’s main public transport provider has defended itself by saying that it has only had a chance to start updating its equipment since 2008. However, the NKÚ believes that modernisation is going at too slow a pace.

Photo: Kristýna Maková, Czech Radio
Traveling in a thirty-year-old train carriage may be a nice nostalgic experience, less so however when the trip is delayed due to “technical difficulties”. Auditors from the Czech Republic’s Supreme Audit Office have been focusing on the way that the Ministry of Transport has been handling both state and EU funds devoted to improving its rail vehicles from 2012 to 2018.

Their findings, which were made public on Monday, revealed that as of 2017, more than a third of the trains used by the state owned company Czech Railways, were over 30 years old.

Czech Railways says this is due to virtually no investment in trains between the years 1989 to 2008, a stark contrast to the CZK 45 billion invested into keeping the machines up to date since then.

While NKÚ auditors acknowledged that the percentage of outdated trains has been decreasing, they believe this is at far too slow a pace, changing by only seven percent in the six years that were analysed.

Due to the fact that Czech Railways holds an 85 percent monopoly in the country’s railway transport market, the NKÚ says the company has been able to claim virtually all of the state and EU subsidy’s on train improvement, a sum they estimate to have been CZK 4.6 billion.

The Ministry of Transport disagrees, stating that in more than 50 percent of cases the recipient was not Czech Railways.

The company says it needs a further CZK 40 billion to bring its machines up to date. However, the question is where the money will come from.

According to the Czech News Agency, ČD’s recently appointed chairman Miroslav Kupec says selling off some of its subsidiary’s is an option. Companies such as ČD – Telematika, a subsidiary focused on the ICT sector, are seen by Mr. Kupec as likely candidates.

Masaryk railway station, photo: Sophie Eberhardt
Furthermore, the sale of more than 60 million square meters of property is also being considered, including the lucrative Masaryk railway station located in the centre of Prague. The money thus raised would then be used to purchase new trains and reconstruct some of the older machines.

Where Mr. Kupec has plans for growing the company is in expanding ČD’s repair business, which would also serve as a maintenance resource for other transportation companies in the country. Making this a reality will involve investment both in maintenance technology and repairs halls.

Aside from money for updating its trains, Czech Railways is also planning to raise investment to fund the modernisation of eight railway sections, located mainly in the east of Bohemia, between 2019-2025.

A document by the transport ministry, which is to be discussed at a government meeting on Wednesday, envisions part of the funding for this project to come via a European Investment Bank credit of around CZK 11.5 billion.