The Infrastructure Ministry and Ukrzaliznytsia organized a promo-tour from Kyiv to Lviv for journalists. ForUm participated.
From the very beginning
The Soviet state did not care much about the pay-back of passenger transportation. Suburban trains ran often, and train cars were numerous.
The economic collapse of the 90ies brought some correction. First, the trains lost their luggage racks (they were made of aluminum, and people were 'taking' them to make cages or to sell for scrap). Then there was the turn of the seats. Faux leather was stolen to produce shoes and bags. Then water disappeared from bathrooms, and car seats were gone. Long-distance trains gradually fell into decay, and the situation went from bad to worse.
At the beginning of 2000ies there was certain improvement under the leadership of the late transport minister Heorhiy Kirpa. He introduced first electric trains of improved comfort: soft seats, clean toilets, polite stewards. The trains were on time, bed sheets were clean and worn train stations were reconstructed.
Unfortunately, with Kirpa's death everything turned as before. The railway started to lose its passengers, who preferred automobile transport.
For the last 20 years the passenger transportation service has survived at the expense of freight. But it cannot last forever...So what is the way out? There are three of them, in fact. The first one is to subsidize the passenger transportation service from the state budget. Unfortunately, the state budget does not have enough means for this, and never will. The second way is the traditional increase of tariffs. But in case of groundless increase the passengers may stop using the railway and the government may face mass social protests.
The third variant is privatization. But under Ukrainian conditions it is impossible. Investors will have to bring astronomic sums of money, and in order to pay off their investments will have to increase the price. Hence, the same story: people will stop traveling by trains.
Special way of Ukrainian railway
The government has decided to follow the forth way: to develop high-speed daytime train traffic and gradually reduce (till total cancellation) the number of overnight trains. Such policy was repeatedly announced by infrastructure minister Borys Kolesnikov.
The main obstacle for such project is absence of proper infrastructure. To travel fast it is not enough to buy a high-speed train. Ukraine needs renewed railway. With the current state of our rails a train cannot go faster than 100 km per hour. Hence, there is no point in high-speed trains. Besides, the traffic of passenger trains and freight trains must be separated, so the heavy cargo trains do not destroy the roadbed.
If to speak about the speed over 250 km per hour, the requirements are even higher.
Space Korean on Kyiv station. Present days
The central railway station of Kyiv. Morning. A high-speed train "Hyundai" arrives at the platform, making a splash. Passer-bys and travelers take pictures. No surprise, as the new train looks like a space ship.
The interior of the train is also modern, mostly in white color. The intercar space is solid: no holes, no roar, no shaking.
Some words about toilets. First of all they are clean and equip with necessary things, including toilet paper and soap. The toilet bowl is air-free, like in airplanes. There is no window in the toilet, but there is draught equipment, keeping the air fresh. The train cars are equipped with a special signalization, informing passengers when the toilet is vacant/occupied/not working. The first car is equipped by a toilet room for disabled.
All doors are touch-sensitive, and during the movement the entrance/exit button is automatically blocked.
The train consists of nine cars and has the first- and second-class cars. The first car is also equipped with a sliding platform for wheel-chairs. The seat capacity is 579 passengers. And all passengers are supposed to have free of charge access to Wi-Fi internet. Unfortunately, it was unavailable during our trip.
The first-class cars have larger seats, equipped with a power point and headphones plug, while the second-class cars are, let's say, a little bit less equipped. In every car there is a monitor broadcasting speed and route of the train, the date, time and outside temperature. The monitor may also broadcast movies. Journalists were watching the video clip on instruction for use of "Hyundai".
Every car is equipped with luggage racks, made of frosted glass.
Smokers, beware...There is no smoking place in the train. If you decide to smoke hiding in a toilet room, the sensor panel will immediately inform the engine drive and police forces about it.
The third car is a buffet, where one can buy non-alcoholic drinks, sandwiches, tea, coffee and other snacks.
The first-class ticket includes lunch. Having tasted the food, we will be frank - not tasty. Besides, one cheese sandwich with butter and lettuce (100 hrv) and a salad with chicken, croutons and greens with dressing (130 hrv) are not enough for an adult person.
The conclusion is: it's better to go with second-class cars - considerably cheaper and not so different from the first-class.
Now we go to the engine drivers. The cabin is equipped with numerous monitors, buttons and switches - looks like a pilot's working place. The drivers also have monitors of video surveillance cameras, installed in every car. The drivers told us that they had to study for two weeks in Korea, and then took additional classes in Ukraine.
Some words about the security system. If drivers do not touch any command unit for a certain period of time the train will start slowing down till the full stop. The braking system is electric with power recuperation.
The train crew consists of stewards, two barmen and two drivers. For the next two years the crew will be accompanied with a Hyundai engineer and an interpreter. According to the contract, during the warranty period Korean specialists have to accompany every trip to consult Ukrainian railmen in case of emergency.
Finally we depart...Maximum train speed is 160 km/h, but the train can run it only on the straight parts of the road. With every turn the train slows down to 100-120 km/h. In four hours 50 minutes we arrive to Lviv. The same manifestation of interest among passer-bys, even station guards abandoned their duties to watch closer the technological wonder.
What can we say about the trip: clean, soft, comfortable, fast...but expensive. The majority of Ukrainians cannot afford it.
The first-class ticket costs 469 UAH, the second-class ticket - 308 UAH, while overnight compartment costs 125 UAH. In our country only businessmen can afford such prices, but this train is not convenient in time terms. The train arrives in the evening, which means people have to take a hotel room and spend more. Even the car travel for two people is cheaper.
Summing up the travel experience there is only one thing to say - the authorities must somehow reduce the prices, at least till the level of overnight compartments. Otherwise, there will be no passengers. Partial solutions, like cancellation of VAT for train tickets, promised by Borys Kolesnikov, will not help much. In this case the price will drop by several tens of hryvnias, which is not enough.
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