Great option for TEN-T network: hidden opportunities of forgotten railway in Ukraine

2022/09/16 at 12:22 AM

While the Ukrainian exporters and freight forwarders are looking for new ways to move products abroad, the national railway undertaking Ukrzaliznytsia is also searching for new options to improve its infrastructure and operations. In this regard, the company revived two abandoned sections towards Romania to enhance rail connectivity with the neighbouring country. Meanwhile, the state-owned undertaking underestimates its existing network, especially in Transcarpathia, which can be mutually useful both for Ukraine and the EU countries.

Ukrainian railway lines that can be included in the TEN-T network, source: the European Commission.

With the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the railway border crossings in the Lviv, Volyn and Chernivtsi regions became heavily congested as the number of wagons running towards Poland and Romania increased enormously. This has forced the Ukrainian freight forwarders to search for new options and ways for exporting goods to European countries. Some of them began to use the free capacities of Slovakia or Hungary.

Trying to keep pace with the customer demands, the Ukrainian Railway (Ukrzaliznytsia) restored two lines in Transcarpathia that run to the Romanian border. To put them into a full-scale operation, the Ukrainian national railway undertaking called the Romanian counterpart CFR Infrastructură to revive a few sections of its network. This will allow both countries to intensify the cross-border rail freight traffic. However, Ukrzaliznytsia can launch one more option for freight forwarders without waiting for the final decision of the Romanian colleagues.

112 kilometres of new opportunities

It is about the Chop – Batiovo – Vynohradiv – Diakovo railway. The 112-kilometre-long line, which is located in the southwestern part of the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine, connects Romania and Slovakia bypassing. Most of the route is the single-track and non-electrified railway, except the Chop – Batiovo section. The key feature of the Chop – Batiovo – Vynohradiv – Diakovo line is the dual gauge that allows railway undertakings to use wagons of both standards (1,520 and 1,435 millimetres) without transhipping or changing bogies. During the Cold War, when Romania and Czechoslovakia were allies of the Soviet Union, this line was used for moving coal from Romania to Czechoslovakia.

The Chop – Batiovo – Diakovo railway near Vynohradiv, source: Mykola Zasiadko.

Currently, the line seems to be forgotten as it has very low freight traffic, except the Chop – Batiovo section. Only one long-distance passenger train and a few commuter connections run between the stations of Batiovo and Diakovo. This means that the line can be a great opportunity for Ukrainian and European companies in moving freight towards the Baltic or the Black Sea ports. The former ones can load their goods directly on the European wagons while the latter ones can get a new, shorter and cheaper, way for moving freight, for instance, from Romania to Poland via Ukraine and Slovakia (instead of Hungary where the freight rates are higher).

To launch such kind of traffic via the Chop – Batiovo – Vynohradiv – Diakovo railway, the Ukrainian Railway must adjust the customs proceedings with the Romanian and Slovakian partners. Perhaps, it is worth creating a special economic zone along the line. Despite Russian military hostilities in Ukraine, Transcarpathia remains one of the safest regions in Ukraine. Many Ukrainian companies have relocated their activities here or plan to do this. Another issue is the future construction of the double-track sections or passing loops on the route together with the increase in freight traffic.

Amendment to TEN-T network

Among the European transport companies, only a few of them are interested in developing sea-to-sea rail freight connections. For instance, PKP Cargo included the Baltic – Black Sea corridor into its strategy for 2019-2023. Even this Polish operator is focused on the conventional route to Romania via Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia. In some way, this is the result of the EU policy since Ukraine is not a part of the TEN-T network. Currently, the European authorities are working on tackling this issue. In late July 2022, the European Commission adopted the amended proposal to the guideline for the development of the TEN-T network. The document is being discussed within the Council of the European Union and its preparatory bodies.

What transport routes in Ukraine can be included in the European network? There are only a few corridors, which were included in the adopted amendment. Among them are the Lviv – Kyiv –Mariupol, Lviv – Odesa, Lviv – Chernivtsi transport arteries. In terms of railways, all these routes and the TEN-T network have different gauges. “The different rail track gauges used in Ukraine compared to most of the EU are also addressed in the proposal. The difference is a huge obstacle to interoperability,” the European Commission stated in a preview of the mentioned amendment.

The Chop – Batiovo – Vynohradiv – Diakovo railway was under scrutiny during the preparation of the amendment. It looks strange that it was not included in the final map. Due to its dual gauge, it will be a great option for improving interoperability between the EU and Ukraine. Now, it is Ukraine’s turn to promote the forgotten railway, which runs so close to the EU border.

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