Ukraine and Poland agree to lift transit ban on rail freight
The ban on transit traffic between Poland and Ukraine will be lifted as soon as possible. This was announced by the Ministries of Infrastructure of Ukraine and Poland in a joint statement on Monday 31 January. By 4 February, the Ukrainian ministry will inform the Polish counterpart about the specific date that transit traffic may resume.
Freight trains had been banned from transiting Ukraine to and from Poland since November, resulting in huge losses in the industry, as Ukraine plays an important role as a transit country on the New Silk Road. The ban was extended on 20 January, but the ministries now seem to have found common ground.
Although the official reason for the restrictions was explained as ‘limited capacity due to construction works’, this has generally been considered as an excuse for something more complex than that. The ministries of the respective countries were at odds over the number of road permits provided by Poland to Ukraine road hauliers. This number was too low, according to Ukraine.
This disagreement seems to have been solved. The parties agreed to significantly increase the number of authorisations for the international transport of goods, taking into account the needs of Ukrainian and Polish road hauliers. A new quota will be decided by the Joint Commission for International Road Transport soon. With this promise, Ukraine is willing to open up its territory for freight trains once again.
Taken hostage by the road
The rail freight industry feels that it has been taken hostage by the road, as the disagreement has led to significant loss of volumes on railways. In 2020, 40 trains from Poland to China and back passed through Ukraine. In 2021 there were already 124 trains. The timetable for December 2021 included 87 trains from and 6 trains to China, but they never departed due to the transit ban.
PKP and PKP LHS have in particular been vocal about the ban. PKP LHS is responsible for the line via Ukraine to Slavkov, a service often used for transport on the New Silk Road. “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 in response to the ban.
Sigh of relief
Companies active on the corridor responded to the news with a sigh of relief. “Transcontainer Europe (TCE) has put in great effort to develop the transport corridor to Slawkow, Poland. We are glad to hear about the transportation blockage in Ukraine being removed soon”, said Alexander Mironow, managing director TCE.
“Unfortunately, we had to cancel at least three trains to Slawkow from different border crossings in December. Once the transit will be officially accessible again, we are ready to proceed with our routing to Slawkow and Medyka from all stations nearby China i.e. Dostyk, Korghos, Zamyn Uud, Zabaikalsk and Vostochny port.
We are planning our next trains in March due to the telegram arrangement and the railway schedule. As Ukraine is gradually becoming a significant transit country on the New Silk Road, it is clearly included in our strategic development plan for this year.”
Although rail freight is important for both countries, it has become clear that road traffic is maybe even more important. Every year, Poland issues a maximum number of permits per country for the use of their roads. Ukraine has requested a higher number of permits for 2022: 200,000 permits per month for 2022 instead of the 160,000 monthly permits issued in 2021.
On 17 December, 2021, the Ukrainian government confirmed its intention to apply to international arbitration if Poland reduces the number of permits for trucking companies by 2022. Although it never cited this as the official reason, it was always held as the main reason for the transit ban on freight wagons.
A deadline of 5 February has been set to come up with a meeting date for the Commission for International Road Transport. The parties also agreed to develop a joint action plan aimed at significantly improving the effectiveness of international road checkpoints of Poland and Ukraine.
An appropriate action plan must be agreed with the participation of representatives of the Customs Service, Border Service and other services of the Republic of Poland and Ukraine no later than the end of February 2022. Moreover, the parties agreed to initiate a revision of the provisions of the 1992 Agreement between the governments on International Road Transport. With this, a transport crisis seems to have been prevented.