By Jack Laurenson
Kyiv – The Beskydy Rail Tunnel, connecting Ukrainian train lines with the European Union and eliminating troublesome bottlenecks, officially opens today, ministers have confirmed.
The old tunnel was part of a vital transport corridor for goods and passengers headed west to Europe, but old rails and the seven meter width of the passage meant limited speed and limited capacity.
The new two-track tunnel will significantly improve rail connections from Ukraine to Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
“This new tunnel effectively doubles capacity on the line,” said Oleksander Pushkash, head of railways for the Transcarpathian region, in a recent interview with UBJ.
“The two-track line through the tunnel will accommodate up to 100 trains – about 1,000 carriages – every day,” he added.
Engineers from the Interbudmontazh construction company worked around the clock from October 2013 to finish the 1,800 meter tunnel.
Costing $120 million, the tunnel build was funded jointly by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank and the Ukrainian state railroad company, Ukrzaliznytsia. Its construction required 160 tons of explosives and 7,000 tons of reinforced steel.
To date, it stands out as one of Ukraine’s most expensive and ambitious infrastructure projects.
“It's a very significant project for the improvement of rail links through the Zakarpattya region to the EU,” said Pushkash, who manages over 400km of busy railway in the region.
“With the geography and topography of our region limiting train speeds, laying more track and building new tunnels is how we can increase capacity and decrease journey times,” he concluded.
Important Transit Region
With only 13,000 square kilometres of territory, Ukraine's far-western Zakarpattya is one of the country's smallest administrative oblasts. But with ten border crossings spread along four different international borders, and thousands of tons of cargo transiting the region, it's also one of the most important.
“We might be small, but with two border posts with Romania, two with Slovakia and six with Hungary – not to mention a new post with Poland that's in development – this is Ukraine's most important frontier with Europe,” said Edvard Malyar, head of infrastructure for Zakarpattya.
“And developing rail infrastructure in this border region is very important,” he says. “The new Beskidy tunnel will form a vital section of the fifth Pan-European transport corridor.”
The 1,600km corridor in question, will connect Italy, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia, before weaving and tunnelling its way through the Carpathian mountains into western Ukraine.
Drive to Improve Rail Network
The improvement of railway infrastructure and the construction of the Beskidy tunnel in western Ukraine stand out as flagship projects for Ukrzaliznytsia, but they are only part of a grander plan to modernize and expand the country's large but out-dated rail network.
Ukrzaliznytsia currently operates train services over 22,000 km of connected rail network – 45% of which is electrified – transporting roughly 440 million passengers and 445 million tons of cargo annually.
In other words, the rail company handles 58% of Ukraine's cargo and 43% of all passenger traffic.
As the biggest country in Europe, and a strategically-located transport hub that connects western and eastern Europe with Russia, the Baltic States and the Black Sea, Ukraine's extensive railway system is also becoming increasingly important for global trade.
But modernizing the world's fourteenth largest railway network, bringing it up to international standards and integrating it with networks in neighbouring EU states is a lengthy, difficult and expensive task.
About $12 billion is needed in coming years to update Ukraine’s rail infrastructure and 90% of the whole network is in need of upgrades and renovation, according to government reports.
For comments or story ideas please contact the author of this report, UBJ Managing Editor Jack Laurenson, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted May 24, 2018.