Ukraine War Day #64: Infrastructure – Trains

Dear Readers:

Today’s post focuses on issues of Ukrainian infrastructure. An infrastructure that was built up by many generations of industrious working men and women, toiling like beavers to make their country better.

If you give a monkey a hand grenade…

The original plan, when the Russian army began its “special operation”, was to spare as much of this infrastructure as physically possible. Which is in stark contrast to the American way of doing war. Namely, the “Shock and Awe” methodology, which just points the muzzle forward and blows away everything in its path. If something is in your way, be it a building full of innocent people, or a heritage site thousands of years old, or a museum containing priceless exhibits — it don’t matter. If it’s in your way, you just blast it to smithereens. That’s the American way of doing war.

When it comes to the Ukraine — Russians didn’t do it that way. At least, not at first. But after weaponry starting rolling in from NATO countries, on what a Russian spokesperson called “an endless carousel”, it seems like things are starting to change. Russia is truly worried about this weaponry — especially the offensive weaponry — I was reading yesterday how one of these big guns is capable of shooting a projectile that could almost reach Moscow. I’ve said it before: If Azov had nukes, then Moscow would have been toast already.

Pro-Russian hard-liners like Yury Podolyaka have been insisting for weeks now that more needs to be done to destroy this NATO weaponry before it reaches the front. Hence Putin is under that kind of pressure from patriots who think he has just been tiptoeing through the tulips instead of fighting a real war.

No More Mister Nice Guy

I saw this piece from around 5 days ago, the reporter is Kristina Tsytsura. Her main source for this piece is Israeli analyst Yakov Kedmi.

The Americans have been supplying the Ukrainians with multiple-launch rocket systems (реактивные системы залпового огня). Most of this stuff comes in across the Polish border. Ukrainians need a way to get this stuff to the Eastern Front. Problem: The Russians control the air, and it’s too conspicuous to just drive it across in convoys of trucks. So, the Ukrainians, using typical peasant cunning, started loading this equipment into passenger trains. Along with actual passengers, sitting in nearby cars. Utilizing the fact that Russians are too kind-hearted (or too sensitive to world public opinion) to just start blatantly bombing passenger trains.

This next piece, by reporters Artur Priymak and Rafael Fakhrutdinov, explains how the Russians employed counter-cunning to get around this cute trick without harming actual passengers: They started bombing the substation power lines which supply the trains.

A word of explanation for people who don’t realize that most passenger trains in the Ukraine run on electricity instead of diesel. They actually have wires above, like those old trams from World War II movies. Substations along the way distribute and boost the electrical power. In Russian, these are called тяговые подстанции (“traction substations”). If a substation goes down, the train is paralyzed. Passengers are inconvenienced, but not killed. The Russian army apparently commands a full detailed mapping of all the Ukrainian substations, and they can hit any one they like, at any time, using long-distance precision strikes. Brilliant!

These traction substations in Western Ukraine have become targets of Russian precision air strikes.

According to Russian army spokesperson Igor Konashenkov (this news was from April 26), the following substations were hit by precision artillery: Krasnoe and Kovel (the Lvov railway network); Zdolbunov (Rovno); Zhmerinka and Korosten (Zhitomir); and another Zhmerinka (Vinnitsya). All of these substations are in the Western Oblasts of the Ukraine, so the idea is to paralyze the trains bringing NATO weaponry in from Poland and destined for the Eastern front.

Colonel Viktor Baranets explains to the reporters: “We didn’t want to strike the railroads, knowing that the Ukrainians use passenger trains to carry their military technology donated by the U.S. The Ukrainians resorted to such cunning: the electric train, the passenger car — they would attach a platform containing the technology. We were worried that [if we struck it] the Ukrainians would accuse us of targeting the civilian population. […] Then we came up with the idea of hitting the substations. That’s a way of causing least harm to the peaceful population. And so, the railway war has begun…”

Next: We turn our attention to the Bridges

[to be continued]

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17 Responses to Ukraine War Day #64: Infrastructure – Trains

  1. peter moritz says:

    “They actually have wires above, like those old trams from World War II movies.”

    You make it sound like old tech – which it is, but not as in “outdated”. In Germany most of the railway system runs on electricity, with few exceptions where diesel still is used. All the high-speed railway systems I am aware of, from Japan to China to Germany run on electricity. The motors are quieter, more efficient and according to Wikipedia 1/3 of the world’s railways are now electrified.

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    • yalensis says:

      And so, the German trains also have wires running overhead like old tramways? That’s awesome!

      Maybe I just have a bias against wires, because they seem vulnerable. I live in a small town in the U.S. with fairly outdated infrastructure, where the electrical wires and cables feeding homes run down the street, on poles, winding between trees, etc. Every time there is a serious ice storm or other kind of storm that knocks down trees, we are left without electricity, sometimes for days on end. Last time this happened, my block of flats was without power for 10 days, and that was not pleasant at all!

      In the more sophisticated urban center, the electrical wires are tunneled underground, so the big office buildings don’t lose power in storms.
      That’s probably why I am thinking that overhead electrical wires are old-fashioned and vulnerable. But maybe it’s preferable to diesel, I don’t know… And if Germany uses this technology, then it must be advanced. I respect German technology.

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  2. Stephen T Johnson says:

    Electrification has its merits, no question. It’s also worth noting some (many?) electrified train systems actually put the power in a third, electrified rail. There’s tradeoffs for practicality, maintainability and safety, but it’s a solution.
    But, to your main point, destruction of the traction stations does look like an elegant kind of “minimal destruction” approach. Those large transformers aren’t off the shelf items, and scavenging viable replacements (Which can also be blown up, being big stationary objects) is going to be a challenge.

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    • yalensis says:

      Ah! the third rail! Which is where the English expression, “the third rail” comes from.
      As in, never touch that third rail, or you will die!
      In the Russian blogosphere there was some back and forth between the opposing sides, with pro-Ukrainians shrugging it off, “Ah, it only took 4 hours to repair that substation,” and pro-Russians saying, “No way. It takes at least a week for the spare part to arrive.”

      I tend to believe the latter. They say that the Ukrainian railway people slacked off and didn’t bother to stock spare parts. Never expecting they would need them. That rings true to me, because I remember an incident when I was skiing (this was at a ski resort in the U.S.) and the ski lift suddenly halted mid-air because one of the electrical components failed; and they didn’t have a backup; so it took a couple of days to FedEx a backup part. And skiiers were really mad, asking, “Why didn’t you have a spare part on hand?” and the resort owners were, like, it’s too expensive, and these things almost never fail…

      To me, that’s backward thinking. If you have an absolutely required system with a point of failure, then you should ALWAYS have a backup on hand, even if the odds are almost nil that it will fail. And not only that, you need to routinely do drills where you test that backup component and make sure it is still functional. It’s basic risk management, if you ask me.

      In conclusion: the Ukrainians should have backup parts for these substations, so that they can quickly rebuild them; but, realistically, they probably don’t. Hence, this is a good tactic on the part of the Russians.

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      • Lex says:

        Yeah, you don’t just fix a substation that’s been blown up with a missile. In the US, when a big storm happens power companies from regional or national companies have standby teams that load up all their spare high voltage gear and linesmen to help repair. One? Yes, with good organization you could have it up and running. Seven? Nope. And they can be blown up every night.

        And with storms it’s usually some dropped lines and blown “low” voltage pole transformers, maybe a zapped ground breaker. Not all the ground transformers and switch gear. That stuff doesn’t grow on trees. All the other stuff is designed to protect it. US power companies usually scavenge all that from decommissioned plants because the in service equipment hasn’t been made in 40 years.

        It was an ingenious solution. It doesn’t even mean no trains, just diesel trains and since the whole country is limited to 10L of fuel at a time, I’m thinking there isn’t much left.

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        • yalensis says:

          Yup, it shows that Russians are using their heads to come up with creative solutions. There is still the issue of diesel trains, Ukraine does have some of those, and they will be transporting the weapons to the Eastern front. However, if Russia blows up such a train en route, they won’t have to feel bad about it, but there probably wouldn’t be any civilian passengers onboard, just military engineers.

          Also, regarding the heavy weapons, I was under the impression that these are really serious weapons. But I saw a podcast with Scott Ritter last night, he says it’s mostly junk weapons and don’t even work properly. I hope he’s right. Here is the vid, Scott is interviewed by an Italian-American legal analyst named Judge Napolitano:

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          • Ben says:

            Yeah, Ukraine has basically been turned into a dumping ground for countries to offload a bunch of their old crap that they don’t use anymore, while pretending to be ‘doing something’. It’s basically virtue signaling.

            Most of the gear is either incredibly outdated Soviet-era stuff that is of dubious modern value even if it works (and a lot of them probably don’t even turn on anymore), or it’s outdated NATO gear. Moon of Alabama had an entire post about the German AA vehicles they’ve announced they’re donating https://www.moonofalabama.org/2022/04/politico-germany-approves-tank-sales-to-ukraine-bowing-to-pressure.html: they’re short-ranged, outdated (Germany themselves haven’t used them since 2010), take a year to properly train anyone on, and Switzerland has already announced they won’t supply ammo for its Swiss made gun anyway. Giving them to Ukraine is literally just a way for Germany to free up some warehouse space.

            Even when the vehicles aren’t crap, like France promising to send Caesar 155mm artillery vehicles, the numbers are laughable. France is sending just a dozen, twelve, which isn’t even enough to fully outfit a single unit. On top of that, they require training (the Ukrainians wouldn’t even be able to read the manuals. All the documentation would need to be hastily translated) and the logistics will be a nightmare. By definition NATO gear is part of a completely different support infrastructure than anything in the former Warsaw Pact. The logistics simply doesn’t exist for the needed parts and ammunition for NATO gear. Like, look, the entire transnational aspect of NATO, that all these weapons used common parts and ammunition so all these different countries could easily work together, took decades to fully build. You can’t just drop NATO vehicles into Ukraine and that’s the end of it (even ignoring that Ukraine has no fuel or rail transport left).

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            • Ben says:

              Oh, also, France is feeling generous with some of their Caesar artillery pieces because they already have a Caesar Mark II replacement in the pipeline. So those vehicles were already heading for retirement.

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            • yalensis says:

              But just to play devil’s advocate: I read some analyst (it could be Scott Ritter, but I honestly can’t remember) saying that Ukraine was long ago already plugged into NATO’s plug-and-play architecture. As in, not being officially a NATO member, but unofficially, yes. NATO-trained, using NATO equipment, almost fully integrated. This was why Putin’s “red line” was almost laughable, because, according to this theory, Ukraine has been a de-facto NATO member for years now, so that red line was crossed a long time before this war started.

              I think that last bit (de-facto NATO) is indisputable, but I don’t know how much that reflects on their training for NATO equipment. If Ukrainians were truly plug-and-play, then they could simply pick up a piece of equipment and start using it seamlessly. But maybe not older equipment.

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              • Ben says:

                They’re heavily integrated into the intelligence aspect, which is why they’ve had some success at targeting generals, ships, and command posts. And they’ve gotten training on man-portable weapons (though it’s conspicuous that it still seems to be all Kalashnikov type stuff that they mostly use. I haven’t seen much evidence of NATO 5.56mm guns being captured), but their vehicles are all pure Warsaw Pact, which also means all the shell and rocket supply line is also still Soviet oriented.

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              • yalensis says:

                Interesting, thanks. So, I reckon one could say it was a hybrid integration.

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    • peter moritz says:

      Actually, the third (or 4 rail) options are used mostly for lower voltage systems. Here is a good article, quite technical but as a railway fan a good intro. Anyway, three or four rail systems are mostly used for urban transport systems with lower voltages, below 1kV, while the much more common overhead systems run up to 25kV AC or about 3kV DC.

      In Germany there is a higher speed ICE train that runs on diesel, almost all other systems, from the vast Chinese high speed system to the Japanese Shinkansen are all electric overhead systems.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_electrification_system

      BTW – most diesel locs above shunting engines are usually all diesel-electric systems, where the diesel engine drives a generator supplying electric track motors on the bogey.

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      • Stephen T Johnson says:

        So, that brings us to the interesting problem of spares – how many does Ukraine have? High cost items like these usually have limited inventories, and I doubt Ukraine can fab them, though it’s a safe bet the Germans can, but delivery times will likely be brutal – on the order of +/- a year, so it’s how many they can scare up in Ukrainian spares (plus, at a guess, EU spares) vs how many Russia can incinerate.

        My money’s on Russia in that relationship.

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        • yalensis says:

          Spare parts are a very important issue. I wish I knew more about these Ukrainian trains and components, it sounds very high-tech, do you guys know if they were built in Germany? Or did the Ukrainians build them?

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  3. Gerald says:

    Any war with America will be total war and this is now a war with America. Western press have done such a good job with the fakes and false flags that everyone in the West thinks Russians are barbarians and monsters, like at the end of WWII invading Berlin, ‘rapin and a stealin’ etc. Russian done good, real good so far, trying to not destroy Ukraine and its population but this is no longer in any way just about Ukraine, sadly. Russia has to get down and get dirty. Destroy command and control centers – that new INTEL center the US is setting up in Kiev manned purely by US intel agents (you see they feel that safe they’re coming back already) destroy bridges or the entire rail network. Even if there are passangers on the trains, destroy them, its the Ukies and NATOs fault that they are using human shields right? Theyre the barbarians. The only thing the US will respect is a bloody nose (a la Syria or even this ‘SMO’) like most bullys they are cowards. Bomb this stuff (or shoot it down) as it comes into Poland, why not? They are all co belligerants in a localised conflict. Do we think NATO after running away from this confrontation the moment the Russian military turned up are going to turn round and invade, really? Even if they did Russia can’t handle them? I’m sure they can. This NATO war will be short and brutal and the Americans will back down because ultimately they will not exchange New York, Washington or Langley Virginia for Kiev, Berlin or London, which the Russians can do with conventional hypersonics. Neither will they use nukes because we are in MAD situation with an edge to the Russians in terms of delivery systems. They think we’re all barbarians anyway so make their dreams come true! NATO isnt up to the task, otherwise they would be in there now. The current option is death by a 1000 cuts with the US riding in on their white horses after they have bled Russia with Ukrops Poles, Lats, Germans, French etc etc. It is the American way. Hoping for the West to come to its senses isn’t going to happen. Thats my dollars worth anyway!)
    Love your blog Yalensis, I used to enjoy your comments on Paul Robinsons blog (before he quit or had the canadian spooks warn him off) Took me a while to find you here but happy I did.

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    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for your comment, Gerald! I also remember you from the Professor’s blog, and I am glad you like my blog. I’ve been doing this for a while, but I felt almost like a new sense of purpose when this war started. Before, blogging was just a hobby for me, but now I feel like I need to do my bit to bring more information to people, and help them deal with this crisis by provoking critical thought.

      I was very disappointed when the Professor quit. I think it was a cowardly thing to do. I understand why he decided to quit writing for RT, but I don’t understand at all why he would close down his own blog. Whether he came out as pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian once the war started, he would have had something to say. To just muzzle oneself like that… I don’t know what happened. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think the Canadian government have threatened him, they are not at that point yet. (I could be wrong.) And I remember him once saying that “What can they do to me? I have tenure.” Hence, I don’t believe that even his job (let alone his life) was in any danger. Personally, I think he just quit in a huff, because he was under some kind of illusion that he and Putin were soul-mates, and then suddenly Putin turned into this warlord madman – LOL!

      Basically, the Professor wasteddevoted his whole career to litigating the Bolshevik Revolution and trying to rewrite history with a conservative but Western law-abiding Russia of his imagination… and Russia disappointed him. Boo hoo!

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  4. Pingback: Apr 29, 2022 | Situation Report: The World

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