Ukraine asking Canada for railway repairs

Lviv, Ukraine –

Ukraine wants Canada to lend its expertise and donate critical railroad parts.

The rail system has been integral to the war effort, and has been since the first days of the invasion, which began a year ago.

Millions of people used trains to flee occupied cities and flee to neighboring countries. Thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians were also taken by rail to hospitals in safer parts of the country.

The railroad is also how Ukraine moves aid and soldiers to front-line areas where fighting is most intense, and returns populations and supplies to territories returned to Ukrainian control after the Russian occupation forces left.

Constant attacks on railways and other critical infrastructure have rendered 20% of the system out of service, said Oleksandr Pertsovskyi, CEO of Ukrainian Railways Passenger Company. He added that more than 300 railway workers were also killed.

In an interview from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, he said, “Very often repairs have to be started immediately after the shelling ends, when it’s still dangerous.”

The state-owned railway company, known as Ukrzaliznytsia in Ukraine, operates almost as a paramilitary organization to move essential goods and people across the vast country, Pertsovskyi said.

But Ukraine is trying to do more than repair what has been damaged, he said.

The company wants to build a better, more modern system and looks to Canada for help.

“Canada is a big industrial manufacturer, so of course there can be specific equipment types and specific technology solutions,” he said.

One of his goals is to make track gauge (distance between two rails) more compatible with standards elsewhere in Europe. Considering that in Ukraine he has 20,000 km of tracks, this is not an easy task.

The railway also hopes to replace the shattered station with one that will better serve post-war Ukrainians, including those with lingering disabilities.

“Unfortunately, because of this war, so many young people have had to have their legs amputated, and our key task is to make the railway facilities fully accessible,” he said. rice field.

Canada can help with equipment, engineering and advice to rebuild damaged buildings to accessibility standards, he said.

Canada’s Minister of Transport Omar Al-Ghabra signed a deal with the Canadian railway company last fall in response to the Ukrainian government’s request to help with the resilience and rebuilding of the system, including by sourcing parts from Canadian manufacturers. Assisted in brokering agreements with railroads.

Caroline Healy, executive vice president of the Canadian Railways Association, said: “Our members have provided equipment and expertise to help our Ukrainian friends keep their trains running despite the Russian aggression. We are sorting out,” he said.

The Canadian Railway Association represents Canada’s three major railway companies: Canadian Railways, Canadian Pacific Railway, Via Rail, and Canadian railway manufacturers.

The association is working to figure out which parts Ukraine needs most and where they can be obtained in Canada.

Pertsovsky said Ukrainian workers have already repaired hundreds of kilometers of war-damaged railroad tracks and more than a dozen bridges. However, he said at times that it was only a temporary fix.

The most notable example is the main bridge connecting Kiev with the nearby suburb of Irpin, which was occupied by Russian forces at the start of the war. destroyed a bridge over the Irpin River connecting the two cities.

“It’s like a massive, massive destruction,” Pertsovsky said. “The river was under the bridge and seemed to have been completely blown away.”

He said it took less than a month for the country to restore commuter rail service after Russian troops were driven out of the suburbs. more attacked.

“They continue to attack, but they have not yet completely stopped their operations,” Pertsovskyi said.

This work has a huge human cost. Mines left behind after the Russians left are extremely dangerous for repair workers.

Missile attacks on power plants have also made it difficult to keep trains running, but deployment of diesel trains during blackouts is now happening quickly and smoothly, he said.

Stations like the one in Lviv were reborn into what Pertsovsky calls “invincible fortresses”, where people in the city warmed up and used their electronics when Russian bombing cut off power to the community. You can charge and sleep on the station benches.

The tent city of refugees and social services outside the Lviv railway station is now mostly packed away, but one tent remains. I sleep when I am not handing out hot tea to travelers and returning travelers.

Inside the tents, crates of food and other supplies are piled high to help people travel.

The statues flanking the station’s ornate entrance have been wrapped to prevent damage in the event of a nearby explosion, but trains still run mostly on time.

As landfills grow, Pertsovsky hopes to repair more railroads leading to those towns and communities.

“Reviving the occupied city is now a top priority,” he said.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on February 21, 2023.

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