The first Pendolino train was expected to arrive in the Czech Republic in a blaze of glory. Known for speed and comfort it was to open a new chapter in the history of Czech rail transport. But, the "Super city trains" were delivered late -for which their Italian producer Alstom has paid a huge fine - and much to everyone's surprise, once here, they made a bad start in the Czech Republic.
Seven Pendolinos - for which the Czech Republic paid Alstom of Italy 4,4 billion crowns /almost 200 million US dollars /- were now meant to be whizzing between Prague and Ostrava and on the Prague-Brno-Breclav line. But in actual fact only one is running. Four out of five had to be taken out of operation due to software problems, the sixth is being tested while the last is still waiting for its technical certificate.
All in all a poor show, and a major humiliation for transport minister Milan Simonovsky, especially when it emerged that the Czech side had signed a highly disadvantageous contract, which did not allow it to penalize Alstom properly for the million crown losses incurred.
"I shall ask the company chairman to investigate the circumstances which led to the signing of such a contract and consider whether someone should not bear responsibility for it. This sort of thing must never happen again."
Last week the minister said that if Alstom was not able to fix the technical problems and have all trains running reliably within a fortnight the Czech side would revoke the contract, return the Pendolinos and ask for its money back. The European head of Alstom Terence Watson said a team of experts had detected the software problem and promised that all would be in order by the end of the month.
In the meantime, Czech Railways, which has replaced the four Pendolinos with regular trains on both tracks, can only hope that Alstom will deliver on its promise. And in order to find out just where it stands legally it has asked the Deloitte and Touche agency to look into the purchasing contract and ascertain how much of its losses can be covered by the penalty clause. As for the Pendolino, its reputation has suffered a bad blow and Czech railways is now trying to entice clients with special discounts which will remain in force some time after all seven trains are -hopefully - back on track.