In the first six months of this year Hungarian State Railways’ (MÁV) lost turnover reached 16 billion forints due to the coronavirus, Róbert Homolya, the company's chairman and CEO told növekedés.hu.
In the middle of July, MÁV became the proprietor of Volánbusz. What about ongoing Volánbusz projects, such as the vehicle replacement programme?
Procurements will continue in accordance with the guidelines of the National Bus Procurement Committee: under the vehicle procurement programme, Volánbusz has put into circulation a total of 747 new buses in the country since the autumn of 2018, and another 119 vehicles will be arriving by the end of the year.
In recent years, the state has spent 1300-1500 billion forints from EU funds on the modernization of railway tracks.
However, the improvement of railway tracks is not enough; it is also necessary to renew the vehicles, as this is essential so that the standard of service can be improved, timetables can be coordinated and journey times can be reduced.
Therefore, the railway company is constantly expanding its fleet. 36 new IC+ carriages have already been put into operation, and by the end of the year the procurement of 115 new modern electric locomotives may be completed, which, if the procedure is successful, will appear on the railway tracks from the beginning of 2022. I’m also hoping to see the double-deck railcars again soon: with the acquisition of 40 KISS railcars, by 2022 we will have increased our capacity in the suburbs by 24,000 new seats.
On August 1, the Volánbusz timetable changed and some services were closed. Is all that due to the merger of MÁV and Volán?
Integration is a long process, which, of course, includes the organization of bus transfer lines leading to railway junctions and, at the same time, the elimination of unnecessary duplications.
At the end of July, we extended our 24-hour and 72-hour ‘Balaton tickets’ to Volánbusz lines around the lake, so now you can travel around Lake Balaton with a single ticket. At the beginning of August, in cooperation with three other service providers we introduced an integrated ticket called the ‘Danube Bend’ daily ticket, with which the popular destinations of Pilis, the Danube and Börzsöny can all be reached, solving the decade-long problem of fragmented services and also supporting local tourism. Besides all that, further railway developments and the elimination of bottlenecks are needed, and, as I said, we have to continue the renewal of the railway vehicles and buses, as this is essential for the full coordination of timetables. In this way, we will be able to provide passengers with an even better public transport service on the roads and on the railway lines, too.
What will be the first major changes after the MÁV-Volán merger?
When we became the proprietor of state-owned Volánbusz, first we were asked to work out proposals for the introduction and implementation of coordinated and efficient traffic control, passenger information, ticket sales system and timetables, as this uniformity is not yet present in road and rail passenger transport. Passengers will see the first big change in relation to ticket sales. Currently, tickets and passes for railway or bus services can only be purchased through different systems and in different ways.
By the end of the year, we would like to set up a common ticket sales system, where passengers will be able to buy bus and train tickets from a single interface.
We are planning to extend the well-established electronic ticket sales system of MÁV-START to Volánbusz. The ultimate goal is to create an integrated fare system by the beginning of 2022, where it will be possible to use any state-funded public transport with the same type of ticket or pass.
When will railway stations be renewed in Budapest?
The roof structure of the Western Railway Station is currently being fully renovated and replaced; we will renew the underpass next year and we will also modernize the displays. In the Eastern railway station, important renovation works took place last spring; the old-fashioned passenger information board was replaced with a new LED wall; the sanitary facilities are being renewed at the moment;
and by the end of next year we are planning to build a new fully accessible passenger centre below the platform level on the site of the old ticket offices.
The public procurement procedure for these works is already in progress.
In the Southern Railway Station, the drop ceiling is being replaced, a big part of platform coverings is being renewed, a new accessible passenger toilet is also being built, and the displays have already been modernized. Preparations for further renovations are underway, and these investments are expected to start in two years if the necessary resources are available.
When can the railway connection to Liszt Ferenc Airport be completed?
For the time being, we are waiting for a government decision. The project is currently being prepared, and the building permit procedure is underway. This is an investment of several hundred billion forints, but with a 20-30 minute journey time it will provide the fastest access to the city centre from the airport.
As the airport had around 17 million passengers per year before the pandemic, this facility has huge potentials for MÁV, even if only one in four passengers decide to use this service.
You mentioned earlier that at its peak the epidemic caused an 80 percent turnover decrease for MÁV. What's the situation now? How is the recovery getting on?
We have already had a weekend this summer, when more people travelled in the direction of Lake Balaton than a year earlier. Compared to 2019, however, we still have 20-25 percent fewer passengers in total.
Our revenue decreased significantly: in the first six months, we suffered a 16 billion forint loss in turnover.
About 140-150 million passengers travel by rail every year and more than 650 million on Volán buses, the two together making up almost 800 million journeys. Our goal, as a group, is to maintain the overall passenger number. As together we can provide more efficient services and offer a more attractive alternative to individual transport, I hope that we can increase these numbers even further. For this, however, we need to develop continuously and we also need capital, as we would have to spend around 50 billion forints more every year on the modernization of the railway tracks. It is a government expectation that the railway should form the backbone of public transport, and I am determined to make this happen.