Czech business calls for electoral traction for high speed rail plans

Czech businessmen have made an early election call for political parties to clearly state their support for the construction of a high speed rail network in the country in the run up to October elections to the lower house of parliament. They are worried that pledges might otherwise run out of steam.

High speed train in Japan, photo: Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0High speed train in Japan, photo: Alpsdake, CC BY-SA 4.0 Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka this week experienced high speed trains Japanese style as he travelled the 370 kilometres between Tokyo and Kyoto in just over two hours. The Japanese trains, which have been around for 50 years, can go even faster at up to 320 kilometres an hour.

The nearest Czech equivalent, the Pendolino, operates on existing track and goes around half as fast, mainly operating between the far western town of Cheb, Prague, and the eastern city of Ostrava. The high speed Sobotka admitted that for fast trains the Czech Republic was far behind Western Europe and much of Asia and that the lack of such a basic link between the country’s two main cities Prague and Brno is damaging.

Emanuel Šíp, photo: Jana Trpišovská, Czech RadioEmanuel Šíp, photo: Jana Trpišovská, Czech Radio The current Czech government has taken steps to put the country back on the fast train track. It backed a blueprint earlier this year to invest around 650 billion crowns in a 660 kilometre high speed network. And plans have already been laid for a cross border high speed link between Prague and Dresden which should extend to Berlin and Hamburg. But Czech businessmen though are worried that plans could remain just that and the high speed track laid by the government might disappear in the smoke of electoral battle and its aftermath.

A motion passed by the Czech Chamber of Commerce this week called for political leaders to commit in their election campaigns to the high speed rail plans so that it would have clear traction going forward.

The head of the chamber’s transport committee, Emanual Šíp told Czech Radio that the overall Czech conception of rail development is still deeply rooted in the past.

Photo: Accretion Disc via Foter.com / CC BYPhoto: Accretion Disc via Foter.com / CC BY "We are basically starting from zero. The current concept of the Czech rail network dates from 2003 and in some cases goes back much further.ʺ

Šíp added that a detailed plan about rail development and financing is needed to make sure all the pieces come together both in the Czech Republic and abroad.

"There are many things that are missing. The whole of the proposed network has to be updated and the commercial and financial model for all of this must be prepared. We have to know what parts of this might be paid for by European funds, by domestic public finance, and if there will be private financing and the like. There should be a timetable for all the preparations and construction so that it’s known in advance what and when some of the investments will take place so that when the really expensive part of building new high speed track takes place we do not run out of money near the borders.ʺ