Ukraine wants to connect to Europe in 1.435mm

(picture above: Lviv station, at the time of peace – photo Юрій Коберник via wikipedia)
By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter – Suscribe my blog
26/01/2020 –
(Version en français)
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The Ukrainian Railway Company (UZ) intends to build an UIC 1.435mm gauge track to the Polish border. It will allow national and foreign railway companies to travel directly by train to and from Poland and the European Union without having to replace the bogies.

The Ukrainian railway network have a Russian gauge of 1.520mm, while most of Europe the tracks have an inner gauge of the rails at 1.435mm (Ireland, Finland, Spain and Portugal have another gauge) . The three Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -, also have a Russian gauge of 1.520mm. In addition, the loading gauge offers more space in Ukrainia than in Europe … These two technical imperatives have long limited trade between the Russian side (Baltic countries, Ukraine, Belarus) and Europe, in particular on the Polish and Slovak borders.

Ukraine, which wants to emancipate itself from the ‘Russian brother’, would like to connect to Europe without having to change the bogies or axles at the borders as it is still the case in Brest, in Belarus border, as one can see here:

This European line project does not concern the capital Kiev. We are talking about a 70 km line with standard UIC 1.435mm track gauge from the Ukrainian city of Lviv (725,000 inhabitants), which would be built in parallel next to the existing Ukrainian track of 1,520 millimeters. This project was announced on November 28. “ We will be able to build this railway to the Polish border station within a year. This means that Ukrainians will soon have a quick direct connection between Lviv and Krakow, Prague and Vienna, « , says the CEO of the Ukrainian railway company UZ, Evgeny Kravtsov. He also explains that a trip from Lviv to Krakow via Przemyśl would only take three and a half hours instead of 9 hours today. The project can be see as a continuation of the modernization of the major Polish southern route linking Rzepin, near the German border, with Wroclaw, Opole, Katowice, Kraków, Tranow, Rzeszów and finally Przemyśl.

In the 1970s, to gain access to Silesian coal at the time of the Soviet block, the Russians had built a broad-gauge line coming widely into Poland (in yellow on the map above). It connects the Polish-Ukrainian railway border point Hrubieszów / Izow with Silesia, where it ends at Sławków in the Dąbrowski basin (25 km from Katowice). In the 1990s, trains from Moscow and Kharkov ran to this Sławków station. The creation of the company PKP LHS , which manages the 395km of the Sławków line, led to the stopping of passenger traffic to remain on freight traffic only. This « Russian line » has technical limits which no longer allow the combination of passenger transport with freight. It is mainly a single track with few stations. This freight traffic in the direction of Ukraine still concerns around 10 million tons/year (numbers 2016), which needs 6 to 8 trains per day. Ukraine is therefore still well connected to Europe, but no further than Silesia …

A lesser known parts of Europe
If the Warsaw-Terespol-Belarus-Moscow link is known to everyone, in particular with the Moscow-Berlin Talgo and the Moscow-Paris sleeping-cars, south-eastern Poland is particularly overlooked. Lviv (pronounced ‘Liviu’ ), a city in the west of Ukraine, is very close to Poland, of which it was a part until the Second World War, and therefore has a large Polish community. The city, listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List today, is a jewel for lovers of architecture, with magnificent buildings erected during the Renaissance, as well as Art Nouveau, Modernist styles and even for some, inevitably … « socialists », which became pieces of heritage from the former USSR. A place to visit …

Lviv is therefore linked to Polish territory by a 1.520mm wide track line which reaches the Polish station of Przemyśl . This Polish city is today the terminus of trains from all over Poland (and Berlin). Przemyśl has a splendid passenger station inaugurated on November 4, 1860, rebuilt in 1895 in the neo-baroque style. Completely renovated in 1922 and in 1959, partially rebuilt in 1966, again renovated in 1988-1995, it underwent a major refurbishment under the supervision of a monument restorer, who gave it to the appearance it had there is over 100 years old, as these two pictures bellow:

Przemyśl is thus the terminus of the night train from the Baltic, notably Szczecin and Świnoujście. This station is also the terminus of direct cars from Berlin, included in the Metropol EN 457 night train (composition at these link). The Ukrainian project could allow a possible extension of these night trains directly to Lviv, but this is not a project to date. It is above all a question of simplifying the exchanges of freight trains. In the other direction, thanks to the 1.520mm gauge track, Przemyśl is also currently the train terminus from Lviv, Kiev and even … Odessa! This entry in Poland anchors Ukraine to Europe, but the Ukrainians now wish to go beyond Przemyśl to join the major capitals of Mitteleuropa.

Which traffics
In 2007, a link was launched between Przemyśl and Lviv, but it was quickly stopped due to the presence of numerous forms of smuggling. The rolling stock had suffered significant damage due to many destruction made by the smugglers and the customs authorities who must to dismantle them. Trains resumed service in 2013 after Poland’s renovation of the wide track to his territorial border, but the Crimea crisis in 2014 again put traffic at risk. In December 2016, traffic resumed with the entry into service of the new South Korean trains Hyundai Rotem, bought by the Ukrainians before Euro 2012 in order to improve the quality of long distance services, were launched this time on the Kiev-Lviv-Przemyśl route, for a journey lasting approximately 7 hours. A single multiple unit allows to make the round trip during the day.

This multiple unit qualified as « Intercity + » in the Ukrainian railways, have nine vehicles including five 2nd class cars and … four 1st class cars. When crossing the border, Polish border guards leave the train at the Mostyska / Medyka border point, where Ukrainian border guards relay until to Lviv. The doors only open in the city if the border guards have finished their work, which sometimes causes delays! A description of this trip is available at this link .

Video of this South-Korean rolling stock:

In 2018, PKP Intercity, which cooperates with Ukrainians, said it had transported more than 600,000 travelers between Poland and Ukraine, which meant a regular increase of more than 250% over a year. On June 29, 2019, the millionth passenger on the Przemyśl – Kiev link was worthily celebrated . PKP observations on their ticketing show that travel requests to Ukraine often start within Poland, from Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Lublin, Przemyśl and Chełm. All this proves that the demand is high and therefore justifies the project for a UIC 1.435mm gauge line, even if it is freight that is also targeted. To date, only two round trips are operated between Przemyśl and Lviv. One of them allows connection with direct cars to and from Berlin.

The parallel line project is a discussion of more than ten years. In addition to the track, it is also planned to reconstruct eight stations and build infrastructure in Sknylov. The construction of a parallel track would also involve some work at the Lviv station, not designed to receive two UIC tracks. It would be necessary to « isolate » a platform with one or two UIC gauge tracks, as do Port-Bou or Irun stations in Spain, which reduces the capacity for other trains to 1,520mm. For Ukraine, «  the extension of the European UIC tracks on our territory will allow us to create a large passenger hub in Lviv with better connections to and from Europe,  » explains a director in Lviv.

How to finance this?
If Poland could benefit from European funds, this is not the case of Ukraine, which seeks funds. Funding is much more complicated. Ukraine must attract foreign investment. It would interest some Chinese promoters, within the framework of the Silk Road. “ It is possible to raise funds for this project from Western banks and the European Union. But it should be understood that for Europe, it is important that the legal conditions [note: through the railway directives] are also established in Ukraine concerning the railroad (ie all that relates to competitiveness on the market, free access to infrastructure, pricing policy, etc.), « explains an expert on the matter.

The announcement made at the end of last year seems to mean that the solution is on the right track. But the political instability of Ukraine can still upset the whole calendar. Deutsche Bahn recently signed a memorandum of understanding in Davos at the World Economic Forum, on development cooperation with Ukrainian railway company Ukrzaliznitsі. We will come back to this later. Will this help to move this project forward? A case to study …

26/01/2020 – By Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling and freelance copywriter
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