In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Andrej Babiš, and deputy prime minister and minister of transport, Mr Karel Havlíček, Czech Railways (ČD), Leo Express and RegioJet called for assistance in line with EU regulations.  

The operators say the passenger rail sector is one of the hardest hit by measures brought in to control the coronavirus, with total damages set to run into billions of koruna as they continue to offer daily services despite plummeting passenger numbers.

The letter calls for transparent, non-discriminatory support for the entire passenger rail sector through the lifting of concession charges for the duration of the pandemic.

“Damages in the order of billions of koruna, which were incurred by carriers in the entire railway transport sector during the so-called first wave, were extremely difficult to cover from the carriers' reserves - until the second wave of the pandemic and other measures taken by the state,” the letter says.

“These measures, which are logically intended to restrict the movement of the population during a pandemic, will further exacerbate carrier’s losses. They will have a fatal impact on the functioning of the railway transport system in the Czech Republic. Significant damage is also caused to carriers by a drop in demand and restrictions affecting international transport.”

The European Commission (EC) has introduced regulations that allow countries to support operators through the pandemic by reducing or waiving track access charges. Austria, France and Italy have introduced measures along these lines, with the Czech operators saying the situation in Austria is closest to what they are facing in the Czech Republic.

“A functioning railway network is a critical infrastructure for the Czech Republic, which is key to the functioning of the economy,” the operators say. “It employs tens of thousands of employees, provides transport to work and is also essential for the functioning of Czech industry.

“It is in the vital interest of the Czech Republic, at the time when the state implements and considers assistance to a number of other sectors, to provide direct support for rail transport, which operates the entire public transport system.”