Although many towns and villages were destroyed, the extensive railway is still functional. The railway actually also plays an important role in the logistics of Russian troops, analyzes Russia expert Emily Ferris from the British Royal United Services Institute in “Foreign Policy”. However, Russia was not able to completely control the large logistics centers of the Ukrainian railway company Ukrsaliznytsia, nor important railway junctions in northern Ukraine, for example in Chernihiv and the Kyiv region.
This created logistical problems where Russia had to rely on the roads and vehicles got stuck due to the initial wintry conditions. The offensive in the north ultimately failed. Now Russia is focusing on the south and east. However, a lack of full control and destroyed railway junctions still make it impossible for Russia to provide supplies by rail. Ferris called the “over-reliance on railroads” for operations in Ukraine one of Russia’s “greatest stumbling blocks”.
Increased attacks on railway infrastructure
Since control of the railway network in Ukraine currently seems hopeless, Russia is now apparently making increased attempts to destroy the infrastructure. The Ukrainian railway network has been increasingly targeted by Russian troops in recent days. Train stations, substations that supply the railways with electricity, and railway bridges were attacked in particular – not least to prevent arms deliveries from the West.
Reinforcements for the Ukrainian soldiers deployed in the east and south are also to be made more difficult. Moscow’s “goal is to destroy critical infrastructure as much as possible for military, economic and social reasons,” Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuri Vaskov told Reuters.
So far, millions of refugees, aid supplies, raw materials and Western weapons have been transported. Médecins Sans Frontières set up mobile health stations on trains. The numerous politicians who paid a visit to Kyiv – from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – also traveled to Ukraine by train.
Limited capacities despite expansion
Until the beginning of the war, most of the exports of commodities such as wheat, coal and steel went through the Black Sea ports. Three quarters of Ukraine’s foreign trade passed through these seaports before the Russian invasion. Due to the blockade by Russian warships, the roads blocked by destroyed bridges and checkpoints, and the shortage of fuel, the railway developed into an important connection to the outside world. The western borders and the Danube ports are currently the only option for export and import, said Waskow.
In April alone, 3.5 million tons of freight were transported across the western borders by rail. The railway operators are therefore developing border terminals for general and liquid goods and for transhipment from broad to narrow gauge and vice versa. But even if this capacity could be increased by 50 percent in the next few months, it would “not even be enough to transport at least half the quantities that were transported via the seaports in peacetime,” says Waskow.
ÖBB boss Andreas Matthä also recently said in the “FAZ” interview that the transport capacities via the train are limited. There is a “bottleneck due to a lack of capacity for wagons and locomotives as well as at the transshipment points on the borders of Ukraine with Hungary, Poland and Slovakia”.
Bahn boss: Up to 200,000 passengers a day
Also – on the territory of the Ukraine – it is necessary to react flexibly when planning the route if dangerous areas have to be passed through or if rails have been destroyed and alternative routes have to be found. Ukrzaliznytsia chief Oleksandr Kamyshin told Reuters that up to 200,000 people have been transported every day since the beginning of the war. This information is not independently verifiable.
According to Kamyshin, most of the 230,000 Deutsche Bahn employees are still on duty. Before the war, the Ukrainian railway company was one of the largest employers. The track was only modernized in 2012 for the European Football Championship and the infrastructure was improved by around 700 million euros, Deutsche Welle reported.
In any case, there are examples that show how quickly destroyed infrastructure can be rebuilt. According to the railway company, this would take a long, bureaucratic process without regard to consideration. This also applies to larger buildings. Within a month or so, the railway bridge connecting war-torn cities like the Kiev suburbs of Irpin, Bucha and Borodyanka to the capital was repaired.