All points west of Ukraine | So Good News


DRESSED all in black, carrying a rucksack on both shoulders, and with his hair tied back in a topknot, Alexander Kamyshin, CEO of Ukrainian Railways (UZ), stood out from his peers from other European railways at the InnoTrans exhibition in September in September. Berlin. But then UZ is unfortunately not your conventional railway.

Eight months since the war broke out, Ukraine’s railways are still a lifeline for the country. Kamyshin’s Twitter feed documents the daily efforts by UZ to #KeepRunning trains across the 40,000 km network as close to schedule as possible. Photos of track inspections and repairs provide a stark reminder of the challenges UZ faces after the latest Russian bombardment, sometimes with tragic results for the roughly 8,000 Ukrainian railwaymen and women tasked with restoring tracks and other infrastructure and relaunching trains.

Kamyshin told InnoTrans’s opening ceremony that 244 UZ workers had been killed and 425 injured since the start of the war, and stated that his employees experience shelling every day. Kamyshin was greeted as a hero everywhere he went at InnoTrans, and rightly so. His leadership and positivity in the face of the greatest adversity is an inspiration.

Kamyshin’s involvement with Europe’s rail industry at InnoTrans also reflects the post-war period for Ukraine and UZ.

Kamyshin highlighted Ukraine’s status as an EU candidate country while in Berlin and the importance of the railway in speeding up this integration. “Joining the EU for UZ will not only provide resilience, but huge opportunities in cargo, passenger and infrastructure,” Kamyshin said. “I am sure that Ukraine’s accession to Europe will help Europe make its railways great again.”

Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) signed with Kamyshin’s colleagues Krzysztof Maminski at Polish State Railways (PKP) and Dr Richard Lutz at German Rail (DB) reflect this wish. The agreement with DB is specifically aimed at improving freight flows between Ukraine and Poland and on to Germany. DB is also prepared to support the reconstruction of Ukraine after the war and to reform UZ’s corporate structure.

Supporting the railway is essential to maintaining the country’s most important export sector: agriculture. According to the European Commission, Ukraine accounted for 10% of the world wheat market together with 15% of maize and 13% of barley before the war. It is also the world leader in sunflower oil, with a total share of 50%.

Maritime has traditionally been responsible for the vast majority of exports by rail which is essential for moving goods to ports – rail transported 314.3 million tonnes of cargo in Ukraine in 2021, including 33.6 million tonnes of grain. However, flows fell as Black Sea ports were closed in the days after the Russian invasion, prompting global prices to rise and concerns about growth in the Middle East and Africa, some of the biggest recipients of Ukrainian grain.

Three ports reopened in July after a ceasefire brokered with Moscow by Turkey and the United Nations, while the EU’s Solidarity Lanes policy sought to provide the necessary capacity to move products west over land. Exports have since increased: Ukraine exported 10.8 million tonnes of grain in the 2022-23 season to October, compared with 16.5 million in the same period in 2021-22. UZ has also reported record export freight growth of 30% in September to 5.2 million tonnes with grain responsible for 3 million of this total.

It looks unlikely that these flows will be sustained in the short term. The rise is largely credited to clearing a backlog from the bumper 2021 harvest, and unsurprisingly the 2022 crop is expected to be significantly reduced. However, UZ’s growing rail freight export flows suggest medium to long-term opportunities for rail.

Kamyshin regularly beats the drum to improve border capacity and facilitate the transfer of goods between 1520 mm and 1435 mm gauge, and various projects have emerged in recent months to meet this need.

In Poland, PKP has converted higher capacity UZ wagons to standard gauge to support grain transport. New terminals in Mostysja, Zamoś and Sosnowiec also provide a much-needed capacity boost, while work has been underway to speed up and simplify border procedures. A project ongoing since 2018 by PKP LHS to improve the capacity of the LHS 1520 mm gauge single track line, which runs from the Ukraine-Poland border at Izov-Hrubieszów for 395 km to Slawków, is also proving its value. The line has transported more than 1 million tonnes of goods since the start of the conflict.

In Hungary, the new East-West Gate terminal, located south of the Zahony border crossing, opened last month. It has a capacity of 1 million TEU and is expected to handle up to 600,000 tonnes of grain per year. In addition, the Hungarian government has approved €30 million in funding to improve rail capacity at Zahony. MAV will complete the work this year.

In Romania, CFR Infrastructure reopened a broad gauge line from the Danube port of Gati across the border to Giurgiulesti in Moldova in July, allowing through trains from Ukraine to reach Romania. UZ has upgraded the infrastructure of the defunct Rakhiv-Berlebash and Teresva-Câmpulung la Tisa cross-border lines, and Kamyshin has urged his Romanian counterparts to do the same to allow goods to flow across the border.

In Moldova itself, a 22 km line between Berezyne in Ukraine and Basarabeasca was reopened after 23 years in August, while studies are underway by the EU to potentially extend standard gauge infrastructure from Poland and Romania to Moldova and Ukraine.

This work is part of the EU’s long-term TEN-T strategy, which is likely to see millions of euros invested in Eastern Europe to increase the capacity and resilience of the rail network in the coming years. Times are certainly troubled for Ukraine at the moment, and with both sides digging in, there is no clarity on when or how the conflict might end. Kamyshin’s pledge to #KeepRunning is both a show of defiance and a promise of a better future. Long may it continue.


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