The consequences of the military-political and economic situation in the country are reflected in the reduction of the volumes of transportation of passengers and goods by all modes of transport. However, not all the problems have objective reasons. Sometimes, it is necessary to resolve a number of internal issues in order to improve operations. In the case of the railways, efficient use of rolling stock is still a subject of controversy between Ukrzaliznytsia and shippers.
At present, transport orders are placed through the Mesplan automated system. In the system, shippers submit applications and provide all the necessary information, including the type of rolling stock they intend to use to transport their goods and sometimes the owner of the rolling stock because they could sign preliminarily sign a contract for transportation of goods with the owner. However, Ukrzaliznytsia’s customers face unexpected adjustments in the process of implementation of these plans.
"A company announces a plan and the Mesplan system offers the possibility to specify the type of rolling stock in which its product will be transported and whose rolling stock it will use. The Ukrainian Transport Logistics Center (UTLC) confirms this application, but the application simply disappears without a trace at some time. The company cannot trace it and cannot recover it from the Mesplan. There is no history," said Natalia Petrychenko, the head of the Association of Enterprises Owning Departmental Transport Means and Operators of Rail Freight Transport (Ukrvedtrans).
Sometimes, the script is a little different: the shipper’s application is confirmed, but the rolling stock is replaced with another one without his knowledge. "The application is confirmed but with the rolling stock of a different company. However, penalties are imposed on the shipper for submitting a plan but not using railcars from the network-wide fleet. These railcars may not suit the cargo owner in terms of technical or commercial parameters. Supposing that he has a contract with an operator that uses a new, high-quality rolling stock, it either has no contract with the operator that the UTLC is imposing on it or the cost of this operator’s services is disadvantageous," said Petrychenko.
The leadership of Ukrzaliznytsia does not hide the fact that behind such actions lies corruption, which it has not been able to overcome. "All this is being done because of corruption. This issue has been raised many times. I see several ways to narrow down the possibility for manipulation: by making the process transparent to ensure it is clear who can participate and which trains are available as of today. However, I am not seeing a step-by-step mechanism for addressing these issues today. I hope that we will bring it to its logical conclusion step by step. In the meantime, I see more sabotage of the tasks that have been set," Ukrzaliznytsia’s First Deputy General Director Maksym Blank said in response to this statement.
"All this is being done because of corruption. This issue has been raised many times..." Ukrzaliznytsia’s First Deputy General Director Maksym Blank said.
Operators, for their part, are proposing eliminating the human factor from the application process in the automated system. In addition, according to them, there is the problem of the various coefficients that apply to payment for empty railcar mileage. For unknown reasons, the mileage of an empty railcar is considered dependent on the type of cargo that was transported in it. As a result, the coefficients fluctuate from 0.633 to 1.54, in spite of the fact that the costs that Ukrzaliznytsia incurs on transportation of empty railcars are identical regardless of the types of goods transported in them. "Thus, it is simply uncompetitive to transport some goods," said Petrychenko.
In response, the leadership of Ukrzaliznytsia expresses support for free tariff formation, which would allow quicker response to challenges on the market. According to Blank, it is necessary to give Ukrzaliznytsia more freedom while setting maximum allowable limits for it.
"Stop the practice of complicated tariff formation. My understanding of the answer is that tariffs should be established freely. Under conditions of simpler and equal access to infrastructure, there should be a simple and clear competitive mechanism. We are asking to be given the opportunity - even with some restrictions - but within the framework of free competition. At least allow us to try. This is a question not so much to Ukrzaliznytsia as to the state," he said.
In addition, freight cars from member countries of the Customs Union are operating in Ukraine without undergoing appropriate registration. To operate on the domestic market, it is necessary to pay the relevant fees and obtain documents for the railcar like a commercial vehicle. Formally, rolling stock arrives from abroad for unloading and returns empty. In reality, the absence of payments at the border allows foreigners to offer shippers prices that are more attractive than the prices offered by their Ukrainian competitors.
"If railcars are operating in Ukraine, they must undergo special customs procedures and they must be used as commercial vehicles. In addition, the appropriate customs duties should be paid. Despite this, railcars from other countries operate here freely. Nobody takes any measures against them. Taxes are not paid. Meanwhile, Ukrainian railcar companies are idling. Foreigners can afford to lower their prices because they pay neither VAT nor customs duties. If there were about 500 railcars in in October, there were already more than 3,000 in November," said Petrychenko.
Ukrzaliznytsia officials shrugged in response: the customs service is responsible for ensuring that everyone pays duties, and the Ukrzaliznytsia simply does not have the authority to do this. However, this state of affairs is harms Ukrzaliznytsia itself. Therefore, its leadership is ready to make the relevant requests to the competent authorities.
"We are in the same boat here. Our own fleet is the same. Competition. The State Tax Service is responsible for monitoring whether vehicles undergo proper customs clearance. We are ready to appeal to it jointly with you and begin finding a solution to this problem," said Blank. He stressed that Ukrzaliznytsia would oppose competition based on the principle of "friend or foe" if free formation of tariffs were introduced in the industry, preferring fair competition among all participants under equal market conditions.
Shippers were also interested in the issue of shortage of grain carriers during peak periods. "We have the problem of shortage of grain carriers every year," said Oleksandr Ivashyna, the manager of the supply department at the Malteurop Ukraine company. However, the leadership of Ukrzaliznytsia does not plan to increase the size of its fleet because of seasonal factors.
"A grain carrier is a railcar that is used for a limited period, after which problems begin because there is nothing to load onto it. The economy of year-round ownership of a grain carrier does not work. We are hoping that the problem involving grain will be solved through construction of new storage capacities. Then, the sale of grain will become less seasonal. There is more logic in this, and the economy will be livelier than just filling the market with large numbers of grain carriers that then idle for a long time during the year," said Blank. However, his position may differ from the vision of the new Minister of Infrastructure and general director of Ukrzaliznytsia, who should be appointed soon.