• Could Ukraine Change to Standard Gauge?

  • Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.
Discussion about railroad topics everywhere outside of North America.

Moderators: Komachi, David Benton

  by Gilbert B Norman
It appears that the Russo-Ukrainian War is heading towards a stalemate. Russia now knows they are not going to capture Ukraine in its entirety but can hold 'em off in the East and in the process, make Ukraine a landlocked sovereignty just as are many another Eastern European states.

It further appears that Europe is becoming more divided regarding an outcome. It appears that Germany - the biggest "player" in the EU - only sees its economic interests "fueled" by relatively inexpensive and plentiful supplies of oil and natural gas from Russia and any long term disruption of those supplies will adversely affect those interests.

So the only way out is a negotiated settlement. Despite Zelensky's comment that "Henry the K" is thinking 1938 (Chamberlain's "appeasement" to Hitler), both parties will have to give up something. In the case of Russia, a cease fire and reparations, but Ukraine to give up the lands Russia has captured and accept they are a landlocked state.

Now Ukraine has valuable agricultural exports such as wheat that represent exports paid for in "hard" currencies such as $ and €, but also on a humanitarian level, "Feeding the world".

Except for one major problem, the "products of agriculture" would need be shipped West by rail to "free" European ports such as Danzig (whoops, Gdansk in newspeak), Antwerp, and Hamburg. The problem of course is that Ukrainian railroads are Russian gauge and Western European are Standard.

The thought of sustained transloading at the Ukraine-Poland border is simply unthinkable to me, but will this be an invitation to "Standardize" the Ukrainian gauge, or at least enough to reach the agricultural fields?

Thoughts, anyone?
  by Gilbert B Norman
While as reprehensible as the thought may be, it appears that the tide is turning in Russia's favor in the Ukranian war. This Journal article reports that railroads are playing an important factor in these events.

Fair Use:
Russian forces have advanced in eastern Ukraine over recent weeks behind overwhelming artillery barrages, a shift in fortunes made possible by better access to rail lines delivering tons of ammunition and other supplies.

Trains are the Russian military’s go-to method for moving troops and heavy weapons. In Ukraine’s industrialized Donbas region, dense rail networks have played to Moscow’s advantage.

Russia’s military depends so heavily on trains that it maintains an elite Railroad Force, a service branch once common in countries through World War II. The unit has camouflage-painted armored train cars equipped with antiaircraft cannons and artillery to guard supply trains, and its troops are trained to repair bombed tracks while under enemy fire. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it has restored 750 miles of track in the land corridor it now controls in Ukraine’s southeast.
  by Gilbert B Norman
With the war presently at what appears a stalemate, here's more from The Times

Fair Use:
KYIV, Ukraine — A Polish friend offered some advice about taking the Ukrainian National Railways express train to Kyiv from Warsaw: Close the blinds before you go to bed, and sleep with your head by the door and away from the window. Better protection if an explosion blows it out.

But 15 hours later, pulling into the imposing central station in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, at 1:12 p.m., exactly on time, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the journey was how ordinary it had been.

Ukrainian trains have never stopped running, even in the pre-dawn hours when Russia’s attack began six months ago. This week, when a missile struck a train in eastern Ukraine and killed at least 25 people, service continued along the rest of the vast network that includes more than 12,000 miles of track. In a war bent on creating division, the rails offer vital connection.
  by spRocket
It would be possible, and I think it's a good idea, but it won't be cheap. There is a precedent (Britain's Great Western Railway), but that wasn't the size of Ukraine's network. The USSR, in Stalin's time, decreed a change from 1524 mm (exactly five English feet) to 1520, but that was barely within tolerance; tracks and rolling stock could be modified during routine heavy maintenance.

One complicating factor if any interim dual-gauge operation is done is that four rails are needed to make dual-gauge 1435/1520 mm work. There are examples of it in Russia, at Khasan on the North Korean border, as well as on the NK side. OpenRailwayMap shows dual-gauge as far as the Rajin port, part of a grandiose and now utterly obsolete plan to ship containers via the Trans-Siberian.

Then there's the time and cost of changing out the axles on everything. At least bogie frames can be reused.
  by ExCon90
The most difficult problem (or should we say challenge?) would be the intricate coordination of narrowing the gauge and shortening the axles; the tracks are all in Ukraine while shipments would be coming from (and going to) all over Europe. A comprehensive website would have to be maintained to enable local freight offices all over Europe to determine whether standard-gauge cars could be loaded for specific Ukrainian destinations or if transloading at the border would be necessary. The website would have to be revised weekly until the regauging was complete. I don't know whether transloading is done today (by today I mean prior to Vlad's "special military operation") or shippers simply said the hell with it and shipped by truck.
  by RandallW
I think the major freight moves that would benefit from this would be bulk trains replacing shipping through the Turkish Straits. As both Spain and Poland have manufacturers of gauge-changing rail freight and locomotive bogies, and long experience with this problem, I would expect that a new website would not be needed, as the European rail system already knows how to route equipment that is equipped to handle change of gauge.
  by ExCon90
I was thinking more of an individual shipper in Western Europe who has been shipping by truck and is wondering whether he can load a standard-gauge boxcar for his desired destination in Ukraine or will it have to be transloaded or the trucks exchanged if it isn't a traditional 4-wheeler (are they still in use?).