More restrictions in Ukraine-Poland transit, what’s behind them?
Ukrainian Railways (UZ) blocked cargo export on UZ-owned wagons to Poland on Thursday, 20 January. Polish Railways (PKP) ring the alarm bell saying that this is a targeted move to Poland that does not make any sense. On its behalf, UZ stated that things are simpler than they look.
Transit restrictions between the two countries have taken place since 30 November 2021. That is when Ukrainian Railways banned the transit of trains heading to Poland through Ukraine. This development was attributed to construction works in the Ukrainian rail network, specifically the Kovel-Izov-Derzhkordon line’s electrification between Ukraine and Poland.
The ban impacts the transit of trains to and from Poland and countries like China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Azerbaijan, or Georgia through Ukraine. In December, Wojciech Grzesiok from TransContainer, which uses Ukraine for its New Silk Road connections, urged UZ to open up the route since the ban’s impact on business was significant. The ban was not lifted, and in a recent communication, Grzesiok stressed that TransContainer’s trains have been stuck since late November and that the situation in Ukraine remains messy.
Currently, Poland has to deal with an additional ban imposed by the Ukrainian Railways, which the PKP describes in overall as “beyond the competencies of the Ukrainian railway administration,” implying that political motives are underlying the decision.
A matter of expired contracts
The additional restriction concerning the export ban on UZ wagons to Poland was supposed to take place on 1 January 2022. However, it was postponed until 20 January for unknown reasons. From this date, Poland will have to deal with another problem that seems to cripple rail connections with Ukraine and with the Eurasian corridor furtherly. In an official statement, PKP and its officials stressed the importance of the Polish-Ukrainian trade based on rail freight. Moreover, they questioned UZ’s motives implying that politics are the main reason behind the traffic restrictions.
“We are surprised by the unilateral introduction of restrictions on transport by the Ukrainian side. Stopping transit, including transport on the New Silk Road, is an unprecedented decision. Poland is Ukraine’s largest trade partner in Europe,” commented Andrzej Olszewski, board member of PKP. “Ukrainian Railways are our key trading partner. For 20 years of operation, PKP LHS has invested over PLN 1 billion to modernise the rolling stock and expand the infrastructure. It is thanks to the development of transport to Sławków that the scale of transport and the revenues of Ukrainian Railways are also growing,” said Zbigniew Tracichleb, President of the Management Board of PKP LHS.
On the other hand, Ukrainian Railways seem to see things from a completely different perspective. “Concerning the situation with Poland, this situation typically repeats every year. Ukrainian Railway and PKP should sign an agreement with conditions for the use of UZ-owned wagons. We renew it every year. This year PKP have not signed it before New Year, so UZ forbid sending its wagons to Poland in January while the discussion about a new agreement is in progress. Our shippers are ready to ship cargo to PKP, but it is impossible when there are no signed prices and conditions of wagons usage,” explained Timofey Murakhovsky from Ukrainian Railways.