Ukraine War Day #383: Poland To Build Ukrainian Rail Network

Dear Readers:

Today I have this piece from a few days back. While everyone is focused on the daily battlefield and up-to-the-minute news, I also try to keep track of economic developments moving behind the scenes. The reporters are Evgeny Pozdnyakov and Darya Volkova. Railroad lines are crucial in a country like Ukraine, where distances are wide, roads are poor, and maybe not everybody owns a car anyhow.

The Russian reporters link to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, which reports on a project to build a direct rail link between Warsaw and Lvov. After which, an additional branch will be built linking in Kiev. The laying of these rail lines is projected to complete by the end of 2023. And then, an additional branch is projected to connect all the way to Odessa.

Different gauges may be designed in order to keep out certain undesirables….

The main lead here is that the rail lines will be built according to the European gauge, which differs from the Russian.

The Polish newspaper reports, correctly, that Ukraine’s transportation infrastructure was built mainly during the period of Tsarist Russia. During that time, St. Petersburg adopted as its standard the 1520 mm gauge, in order to help keep out Western armies. So now, it is Ukraine’s wish to reverse that plan, by adopting the standard European gauge (used by Poland) which is 1435 mm. That way, it will be easier for Poland to transport people and goods into its neighbor.

The Polish newspaper goes on to say that the current situation (with differing gauges) creates a mass of logistical problems. When the Poles, for example, are trying to unload military equipment for Ukraine. And conversely, when Ukraine is trying to ship equipment back to Poland [for repair]. As soon as the trains arrive at the border (from either side) they have to unload and then reload everything, because of the gauge issue. In addition, both countries have to use an intermediary stage of loading/reloading everything into trucks, which adds a lot of extra time and an extra 20 km to each trip:

This Polish map shows the projected fixes. The red line (budowany odcinek) shows the section under construction, from Rava Ruska to Lvov; and then will meet up with the projected blue line which will carry Polish cargo all the way to Odessa.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian national rail company, Ukrzaliznytsya has already started to build lines using the European gauge, as it constructs the red line from Rava Ruska to Lvov. Another important artery to this system will be the route Dorokhusk-Kovel in the Volhynia Oblast.

Poland also wishes to secure for its neighbor Ukraine a secure access route to the Black Sea. They are considering a rail line from Kraków to Ivano-Frankovsk; followed by an additional branch to Odessa via Romania/Moldavia.

In fact Ukrzaliznytsya just announced that they signed a contract with Poland about an even more ambitious route: Warsaw to Lvov. Currently, in war conditions, the priority is to connect Poland, as quickly as possible, with Western Ukraine.

The Importance Of Rail

In Ukraine, railroads play a very important role in the country’s economy. Around 40% of all goods are transported by rail. [yalensis: compare with the U.S., where most goods are transported by trucks on roads.]

By comparison, Poland only transports 10% of its goods via rail. So why the eagerness to build rail lines in Ukraine? The Poles themselves don’t even bother to conceal their mercantile ambitions. In the words of Jakub Majewski, the founder of Pro Kolej, these plans sound very promising for the Polish economy and open up many opportunities for local (Polish) truckers.

Jakub Majewski

This all sounds great, but many analysts say these plans cannot be fulfilled in the current wartime situation. Some say the most that can be done currently is throw down some 1435 mm lines on the border, all the better to move military equipment quicker.

Analysts also pooh-pooh the plans to finish all of this by the end of 2023. “Even in peace times, this kind of construction would take two or two and a half years,” according to one analyst.

According to railroad expert Alexei Anpilogov, it’s not just an issue of re-laying rails. They would have to dig up and re-harden the entire ground underneath the rails: “This is a serious engineering project, and its realization will require serious money.” Another expert, Alexei Bezborodov, say that the Poles are in the habit of taking an awful lot of time to build even smaller lines. “It is obvious that the kind of stretch they are planning to lay down in Ukraine, cannot be built in a short period of time.”

We will hear more of Bezborodov’s thoughts in the continuation…

[to be continued]

This entry was posted in Economics, Military and War, Russian History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Ukraine War Day #383: Poland To Build Ukrainian Rail Network

  1. The potential Warsaw to Odessa line appears to run right through the middle of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Do I detect a whiff of irredentism?


  2. MrDomingo says:

    Sounds to me like the old “Intermarium” project that Poles dreamed-up a 100 years back. They are set on claiming part of Black Sea coast at some pint if things turn in their favor.


  3. Liborio Guaso says:

    If the West gave away billions to kill Slavs, it should gladly give away money for this project. The latter would be very Christian as the former is not. By the way, the Pope is talking about a visit to the Ukraine, perhaps seeking to attract it to the Roman fold.


  4. jrkrideau says:

    Let me see, building a standard-gauge railway that will improve Western logistics? I am sure Moscow will help finance the project.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yalensis says:

      Can’t they build some kind of switch that dynamically changes the gauge, as needed?


      • jrkrideau says:

        As others have noted Spain is doing so but a) it is expensive and b) if my cursory reading about the problem is correct the Spanish 1668 mm gauge to 1435 standard gauge gives more room to accommodate wheel flanges, etc. Spain 1668 to 1435 gives 233 mm; Russian 1520 to 1435 gives 85 mm. The engineering tolerances are very tight in the Russian case.

        Building a limited number of passenger rames to handle this would not be the same as building huge numbers of freight cars which are going to take a lot of beating.


  5. james says:

    thanks yalensis…. always interesting and informative…thank you..


  6. S Brennan says:

    Poland planning to rape Ukrainia? Sure, why not, it’s certainly in keeping with the historical record. In Poland’s defense, Ukrainia was strutting the street like a whore in search of a quick buck…not saying it’s right but…hyenas be hyenas.

    Again, for this horrible war to end [long-term, not another Minsk-perfidy], Russia must end it on it’s own security terms. I can not see how the peace will hold if Russia does not secure, in it’s entirety the Black Sea coast and at least 225km inland. Under the Clinton/Bush/Obama/Biden administration [singular intended], the west has been insincere in ALL of it’s dealings with Russia. The people who make up the “elite” of DC/London want to turn Russia into a colonial possession…come hell or high water, the people be damned.


  7. Cortes says:

    Why not use the gauge variation system already performing well in Spain for decades? See, for example:

    As one of the comments points out, it (or a similar system) is in use for the Berlin-Moscow line, at the Belarus border.


    • yalensis says:

      Oh thanks, Cortes! I should have read your comment before I commented (above), asking if there was a switch to dynamically change gauges. Apparently such technology does exist. I kind of thought it did, but I wasn’t sure.
      It makes sense that you should be able to flip a switch and dynamically change the gauge, as the train approaches.


      • Cortes says:

        Historically, Spain was just as cautious as Russia about the possibility of invasion using the rail system and adopted a different gauge. With demand for increased high-speed rail travel to compete with airlines, the gauge adaptor was introduced at Irun, at the main crossing to France. Plenty of information about the system is available online, from inception to current refinements.


      • Beluga says:

        One does have to realize that with these variable gauge systems, of which the Spanish Talgo design is the world leader, it is the wheels that move on the axle to adapt to the new gauge. Nobody moves the existing rails, lol!

        The Chinese have their own new design to change train wheel gauge to eventually allow their freight trains to use the Russian Trans Siberian Railway to Europe. There were special Volvo modular trains transporting Chinese-made Volvos to Europe pre-Covid using gauge change. I guess the Chinese system cannot be too dissimilar from the Talgo design. Wheels gotta move somehow on the individual axle, and be locked securely in place after the change.

        Oh yeah, the Swiss have a system as well that looks a bit more wonky than the Falgo one. Falgo has good videos on Youtube. Presumably the Poles will use their system, if and when Warsaw builds their rail road to Valhalla and dreams of Central European domination financed by German war reparations — or likely not.

        Meanwhile, North American railroads are locked into the dirt cheap rail system they invented 190 years ago with crap wooden ties and cheapo spikes holding rails to them. No wonder derailment is a feature, not a bug. I worked in 1968 as a summer student at Canada’s National Research Council Railroad Lab on welded rail. A year later I was in England, where even local service rail bed and rails made anything I saw in Canada look like something rescued from a museum. Same thing in the US.


        • yalensis says:

          Fascinating! Thanks, Beluga. My skimpy mind cannot fathom how wheels can change their gauge, that must be a huge technological achievement. I can see lots of room for accidents there.
          I did not realize that the Chinese used European gauge. That will complicate Russo-Chinese collaboration on the Siberian Railway project.

          Speaking of accidents, you are absolutely right about the decrepit nature of the American rail system. After reading about all these accidents, you couldn’t pay me to get onboard an American train nowadays. Way too dangerous. Which is a shame, because trains are actually fun.


        • Cortes says:

          Thanks, I should have made that clear.


    • upstater says:

      I thought I saw a picture of a Talgo in a photo in Kramatorsk in the NYT last week. It was a picture loading civilians on a train car (not great detail). It was low slung, smooth sided stainless steel, large windows).

      RZD and European railways had multiple Moscow-Berlin and Nice trains which had Talgo gauge changing equipment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were diesel powered.


  8. So the Poles plan on building a railway in midst of a war. [Insert dumb meathead joke here].. pretty dumb spending all that money just to get it blown up..


    • yalensis says:

      From what I understand, the Russians don’t blow up the rails themselves (too many kilometers of that to be practical), but go after the junctions. Then the other side has to spend a few days repairing them.

      Maybe the Poles reckon, if they can finish building even some branches, then it will save time moving stuff back and forth, loading and reloading cargo at the border.


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