Interview with Ryszard Leszczyński,
President of the Management Board of Kolejowe Zakłady
Can you imagine Polish railways without KZN Bieżanów?
There are no companies and products that are irreplaceable. But I think that even if the national railway industry managed without our brand, its condition and nature would have certainly been different. For more than 70 years our company and especially its engineers and technical staff have co-created this industry. This influence has been particularly clear in the past decade when, already as a private company forming a capital group, we worked out a leading position and gained a significant voice in the area of rail infrastructure. And since we started producing our turnout transport system based on a specialist Switcher rail car, we have gained a small (for the time being!) influence on the rolling stock industry…
Exactly. What is Switcher and why is it considered a breakthrough in the railway industry?
This is an innovative technology for complete logistics of railway turnouts assembled in blocks by the manufacturer. The main element of Switcher is a specialist rail car with a tilting platform ensuring safe transportation of very long and heavy cargo. HDS cranes allow precise loading and unloading of turnout blocks and the securing, fastening and stiffening modules guarantee that the cargo will not be damaged or distorted. Thus, Switcher ensures the highest initial quality of the turnout incorporated into the railway track, reduces the time of construction, and extends the life and reliability of the turnout being the key element of the infrastructure. The breakthrough innovation is that we can achieve all those benefits thanks to a single device.
Wouldn't it be better to give a Polish name to this innovation?
As an innovative and comprehensive solution, Switcher is also an export product. Therefore, announcing the competition to name this technology we made a reservation that the name must be comprehensible and catchy also in foreign markets. The rules are simple: global economy imposes certain rules of communication where proper language is significant. Of course I would prefer a Polish product sold under a Polish name but today English happens to be the language of international business and industry. Therefore, we chose the name Switcher – simple, concise, and making reference to technical terminology related to turnouts, and we want to use it for entering the European and global markets. However, a good brand is not enough. In order to make a presence abroad we need to launch serial production. To this end we invested in the Kraków Special Economic Zone where we develop new process lines to enable both serial production of Switchers and assembling turnout blocks and then delivering them to the construction sites by means of our fleet of Switchers.
Transport of railway turnout blocks is believed to be a technology of the future. Why?
This technology has been known for several dozen years! The problem was that it was forgotten in Poland. The many years’ lack of expenditure on maintenance and modernisation of the infrastructure made us go back to the cheapest solutions which, to a considerable extent, negatively affect quality, durability and reliability. Nowadays, thanks to the stream of EU funds for railway projects, we can simply return to the best technologies. This is what happens to block transport which ensures the highest initial quality and the lowest price calculated throughout the product’s life cycle. This is also the case with introducing monobloc manganese frogs. This is a turn in the right direction. However, a very important role of the market organiser, that is, the ministry of infrastructure and construction and the main customer, that is, PKP PLK, is to create such conditions for transition from the old to the new standards so that Polish companies could adapt to this process. Otherwise, western concerns developing this type of technology for years will benefit from this. For example, since the monobloc technology is used without proper information policy and without stimulating the metallurgical industry, Polish foundries are not prepared to produce castings of railway manganese monoblocs so we must buy them in the Czech Republic, Austria or France….
Over a few years engineers from your research and development department developed innovative bainitic steel, high speed railway turnouts with swing nose frogs, tramway monobloc points, deep groove frogs or the already mentioned Switcher. And it means that innovative products mark strategic lines for the development of the entire KZN Bieżanów Group.
This is the key element of our strategy. Since its privatization in 2005, “innovation” has driven transformations in our company. Changes regarding organisation, processes, park of machinery, and most importantly, the way of human thinking. Only after the deep restructuring period we were able to offer innovative products to customers. We have been implementing them based on a network cooperation model at all times. In case of new projects we have cooperated, among other entities, with the universities in Kraków and the Railway Research Institute, as well as with companies delivering technologies going beyond our competence area. Such an approach to innovation has proved successful, which is reflected in a positive market response to our products. Both the financial results of the company and the group and the prizes and awards we have received recently show great interest in our products. These include, for example, awards in the Now Poland competition or in the industry competition named after engineer Ernest Malinowski, as well as inclusion in the list of 500 most innovative businesses in Poland (report of the Polish Academy of Sciences) and 500 largest businesses in Poland (Rzeczpospolita magazine).
KZN Bieżanów often talks about a comprehensive offer…
I know that just like innovation, comprehensiveness is often a marketing slogan. However, in our company it
has been given utmost attention for years and has been one of the pillars of our business strategy. On the one hand a comprehensive approach to our products is necessitated by the specific nature of
the sector and on the other hand – the adopted quality management system. Within the capital group we provide a full range of products and services related to track structure. In practice, our offer
includes all elements necessary for modernisation or maintenance of the track infrastructure. Whereas, IRIS (International Railway Industry Standard) we adopted as the first company in this sector in
Poland, necessitates controlling all product-related processes from design, through technical advice, manufacturing, sales and distribution, complete logistics service to assembly, construction and
service of railroads until they are completely worn out.
- The minister in charge of infrastructure and construction appointed you to the board of experts whose task is to improve railway investments. You also chair one of the working groups of the Investment Forum. How do you perceive your role in these groups?
- It is not my merit but rather the recognition of the role our company and capital group plays in the Polish railway industry. The truth is that our opinions need to be represented and taken into account during preparation and performance of railway projects, in particular now, when their scale and hence the challenge is huge. Over seven years it will be more than 60 billion zlotys! As a leading producer of turnouts and elements of track infrastructure we are responsible for our industry and we are involved in all the initiatives aiming at its development. Tradition is a commitment – we have co-created this sector for more than seven decades…