NewsUkrainian railways: Navigating the rails of diplomacy and war with 94% punctuality

Ukrainian railways: Navigating the rails of diplomacy and war with 94% punctuality

It started with the Polish Prime Minister. Ukrainians revealed the behind the scenes of famous actions.
It started with the Polish Prime Minister. Ukrainians revealed the behind the scenes of famous actions.
Images source: © Press materials | Ukrzalyznica
5:03 AM EST, February 24, 2024

Details about the US president's visit to Ukraine in February of the prior year remained confidential until the very last minute. As reported by American media, Joe Biden first took a government aircraft, escorted to the Ramstein base in Germany, then proceeded to the Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport. From there, he was transferred by car to Przemysl, where a special train awaited him.

The role of Ukrainian Railways amidst conflict

According to representatives of Ukrzaliznycia, they needed about a week for preparations, even though the entire operation lasted just over a day. At its conclusion, President Biden acknowledged the comfort provided by their overnight train journey, as shared in their interview with Money.pl.

Ukrzaliznycia became a fully state-owned joint-stock company in 2015. The company falls under the Ukrainian Ministry of Infrastructure and employs approximately 380,000 workers.

With the onset of the Russian military's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the company has catered to nearly 700 diplomatic delegations. As noted by the employees of the Ukrainian Railways, many of these travelers have become regular passengers of the 'Bravery Express' to Kiev, earning Iron Club cards in the process. Among these are Howard G. Buffett, son of Warren Buffett, who made eight rail journeys across Ukraine, and Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen, and Charles Michel who made multiple trips themselves."

Diplomatic missions on the move: 700 operations in two years

Special transport operations on Ukrainian railways, fondly called "iron diplomacy", started three weeks after the attacks on February 24, 2022, with the visits of the prime ministers from Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. This marked the first diplomatic endeavour post the outbreak of war. For security reasons, the departure point was undisclosed, and some participants were only privy to who was in the train at the last minute. All passengers, including the prime ministers and their bodyguards, were equipped with bulletproof vests. Special forces from Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine simultaneously operated onboard the vehicle.

Typically, each diplomatic delegation travels with its own special forces, with a Ukrainian unit added for good measure. We also employ dispatchers who closely monitor all diplomatic trains and potential threats along the route - Ukrzaliznycia representatives told us.

The trains aren't restricted to specific routes. A robust connectivity system in Ukraine enables reaching from one point to another in multiple ways, roughly at the same time. According to the railway personnel, the railway's ability to alter the route mid-journey without affecting the arrival time in Kiev allows swift response to any threat.

Joe Biden's journey depicted as the toughest

When questioned about whether the train was armored or to what extent the train was protected, the railway personnel refrained from offering specifics. They explained that the Ukrainian authorities don't see a necessity to purchase armored trains. "Trains are moving targets that are challenging to hit, especially considering our capacity to rapidly switch tracks", they replied.

Regarding their most demanding operation within the last two years, the Joe Biden's visit to Kiev was highlighted without hesitation. However, they emphasized that besides serving dignitaries, the Ukrainian railways also offers critical assistance to four million people, including one million children during the war. The railway personnel noted that, "The railway serves as the backbone of wartime logistics. It caters to soldiers, wounded individuals, diplomats, and also transports supplies, which makes the coordination a massive challenge."

Despite the continual conflict, interestingly, in January 2024, trains in Ukraine maintained an impressive punctuality rate of 94 percent. The rate could have been even higher, were it not for delayed PKP trains. International train punctuality would have been higher, had it not been for the crowded station in Przemysl and the associated transfers. Ukrainian trains often have to wait there for the delayed Polish and Czech trains. However, we appreciate the efforts of our Polish colleagues who strive diligently for smooth transitions, representatives of the Ukrainian Railways assure us.

A Symbol of the Nation

The railway personnel from Ukraine state that the railway's role during wartime is essential - it cannot falter. While high punctuality ratings are encouraging, they aim for even higher. "We won't stop at 94 percent." They promise that their trains will arrive on time - a commitment that Ukrainians have come to rely on during the war.

In June 2022, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, went to Kiev. The delegation also included the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, and the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz.
In June 2022, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, went to Kiev. The delegation also included the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, and the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz.© Press materials

"In Ukraine, the railway has proven its resilience and capability to save lives, swiftly. It has eventually become a national symbol," they added.

Crew of the Ukrainian Railways with the lead singer of U2 - Bono
Crew of the Ukrainian Railways with the lead singer of U2 - Bono© Press materials | Ukrzalyznica
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