Newsletter 16/2011 - Our South East Europe
INTERVIEW with Igor Hribar, Secretary General of Slovenian Railways, Slovenia
Railway infrastructure, prerequisite for effectiveness and competitiveness of railway transport
Mr Hribar, it has been a year since "CARGO 10" was established. Can you explain what it is and summarize its first year?
First, I must explain that on 23 March 2010, Slovenian Railways, Croatian Railways, Serbian Railways, Railways of Republika Srpska, and Railways of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not establish a company, but an association that we have named Cargo 10. The joint objective of all members of the association is the development of business and increasing competitiveness of railway transport on the rail Corridor X.
The corridor represents a significant untapped market potential for the transport of goods by rail since, due to technical, infrastructure, commercial, and other restrictions, transportation flows have been redirected over the last 20 years either to other means of transport, or to bypassing routes through Hungary and Romania. By establishing the association, a common development platform has been established through which we can coordinate activities necessary to increase the competitiveness of railway transports on Corridor X and route visibility in the wider European area. In October of the same year, under the auspices of the association, the first freight train left from Serbia towards Italy.
In your opinion, what is the greatest achievement of the association so far? What is the outlook for its enlargement - is there any specific interest or request to that end?
The association has allowed railway transport operators on Corridor X to coordinate more effectively their activities and optimise trade flows. By coordinating the planning of train schedules and joint planning of train composition, they can improve wagon and train engine utilisation, reduce stops at borders, and ensure conditions for establishing interoperability on as long routes as possible.
Last year, the association expanded to include Macedonian Railways, while an interest in the association has been expressed by both the Bulgarian State Railways and the Hellenic Railways Organisation from Greece.
The operation of the Cargo 10 association also has its limitations. Coordinating the changes of individual business processes is both lengthy and linked to national regulations and the ability and willingness of the association members to implement the proposed changes. This can often be an activity that from a user’s point of view does not affect the quality of transport, yet these are intended for improving internal efficiency of the railway operator.
Customers of railway services highlight the need for faster changes and improving the quality of transports through Corridor X. They highlight the importance of constant daily coordination of product activities, uninterrupted flow of information, personal care for improving the quality of transport for individual consignments or trains, and the ability for immediate action in the event of deviation from the planned method of transport. Consequently, at the end of 2010, Slovenian Railways, Croatian Railways, and Serbian Railways started with preparations for establishing a project organisation – Cargo 10 d.o.o., which would coordinate product activities for selected customers and care for the promotion of transports under the organisation of all three operators. The activities for establishing the new company are almost completed, and the new company could be established by the end of this year.
What is the procedure for a country to join? Are there any requirements that need to be met?
The procedure is simple – candidates express their intention, while the decision of including new members rests with the directors of the existing members and is reached by consensus.
Until now, membership in the association did not require any additional conditions apart from the willingness for active participation in work groups and implementing agreed measures in daily operations. We are currently establishing a system for monitoring the effectiveness of the introduced measures, which will keep us constantly updated on the effects of the introduced improvements on the quality of transports and internal efficiency of transports.
To what extent is the association a commercial endeavour and are there any aspects of its functioning that require political support from the regional governments?
The primary purpose of the association is to improve the quality of transports. There is no commercial activity of railway operators that will bring new customers and retain old ones, if the daily execution of transports does not ensure shorter transport times, reliable transport solutions, ease of operation, and short-term availability of the necessary capacities. These are our objectives and through them we wish to improve the sales offer on the Pan-European Corridor X. Only if we can adequately meet the demands of our customers, can we count on the long-term increase of transport extent and value. This is our objective.
Political support is, of course, not only welcome, but also necessary. The fact is that developmental shifts in the regulated industries are much easier and faster if politics is prepared to be included and to support the participation of various stakeholders from such diverse countries and economies. However, it is necessary to emphasise that politics should not become a pretext for (in)activity by railway operators. Our concern should be directed to our users and not to politics, since the success of our business in railway freight transport is largely dependent on the former.
How would you assess the role of the Regional Cooperation Council in the context of advancement of railway transport in the region?
The role of the Regional Cooperation Council, as the successor of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, is not negligible although it appears that the strategic programme of the Council does not attach significant importance to the development of railway transport.
However, it should be stressed that the establishment of the Cargo 10 association is also due to the work done by the Stability Pact in the area of railway transport.
Under its auspices, railway operators tested the first interoperable solutions for railway freight transport, which demonstrated the need for closer regional cooperation. I am confident that the Regional Cooperation Council can be an important political catalyst and facilitator for further development in the region – even and especially in the field of railway infrastructure, which is a prerequisite for the effectiveness and competitiveness of railway transport in the region.
Igor Hribar is the Secretary General of Slovenian Railways, authorised for commercial and international business operation in the company Slovenian Railways - Freight Transport. His professional career began at Slovenian Railways in 1998. Among other things at the company, during the period 2007-2009, he led the freight business unit. Until 2007, he was a lecturer of Services Management at the University of Primorska in Kopar, Slovenia. He is a member of several national and international professional organisations.