AS IRJ closed for press, PKP Intercity (PKP IC) was making final preparations for the start of the Uefa Euro 2012 soccer championships, which kick off in Warsaw on June 8. The tournament is expected to boost daily ridership from around 90,000 to 150,000, and PKP IC is responding with a special timetable which includes an additional 54 domestic and 68 international trains.

PKP-IC-England-locoPKP IC has invested in its ticketing infrastructure in the build-up to Euro 2012. In February the company launched its new website, which encourages passengers to book online and print tickets at home. This was extended in April with the e-bilet electronic ticket which can be read from a smartphone, tablet computer, or laptop. PKP IC has also introducing yield management with the aim of improving load factors on off-peak services by offering discounted fares. In April it launched the online Super Bilet, which offers a base fare of Zlotys 29 ($US 8.38), including seat reservation and regardless of distance travelled.

The summer months of July and August are traditionally the busiest time for PKP IC, so the early start to the peak season brings the prospect of a financial boost, and PKP IC CEO Mr Janusz Malinowski expects to achieve a profit of Zlotys 25m this month.

This should be welcome news considering the company's recent struggles. Long-distance ridership has been hit hard by a combination of rising fares and the deceleration of many key services to accommodate upgrading of main lines. PKP IC lost Zlotys 25m last year, and in the first two months of this year had already lost Zlotys 20m.

"We are very unhappy with the current travel times between cities, this is suppressing demand," says Malinowski, stressing that passenger numbers have stablised recently. "Infrastructure is our main limitation at the moment, because a lot of our rolling stock is capable of operating at much higher speeds. But journey times will improve, and there will be a big opportunity for growth when they do."

Last year PKP IC ordered 20 multi-system non-tilting Pendolino emus from Alstom in a Zlotys 2.48bn deal that includes 12 years' maintenance. Assembly started recently of the first vehicles at Alstom's Savigliano plant in Italy, and the trains are due to enter service by December 2014 on the Gdynia - Warsaw - Krakow/Katowice corridor. The new trains will be capable of operating at up to 220km/h on the Central Trunk line between Warsaw and Katowice, which is currently being upgraded for higher speeds. With improved infrastructure and modern rolling stock, Malinowski says Warsaw - Gdansk journey times will fall from more than four hours to 2h 30min, and Warsaw - Krakow from 2h 45min to 2h 10min. "This standard of travel will improve significantly, and will be unrivalled by other operators," he says.

PKP IC recently invited bids for two contracts to supply new-build locomotive-hauled stock, including 25 single-deck locomotive-hauled coaches for the Wroclaw - Poznan - Bydgoszcz - Gdynia route and 30 double-deck vehicles for Warsaw - Lodz services. Both fleets are being procured with the aid of EU Cohesion Funding. A further contract has also been awarded for the modernisation of 68 coaches for Szczecin - Przemysl services. In the longer-term, PKP IC plans to invite bids for the supply of more new 160km/h trains and the upgrading of a further 150 vehicles from the existing fleet.