EU Reaches Deal for Eastern European Infrastructure Investment

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced this morning that the EU will proceed with a coordinated investment plan for Ukraine, whose EU membership is a foregone conclusion at this point, as well as for surrounding EU member states. This will include a cohesion fund for both war reconstruction and long-term investment, which will have a component marked for Belarus’s incorporation into the Union as well subject to the replacement of its current regime with a democratic government.

To handle the infrastructure component of the plan, an EU-wide rail agency, to be branded Eurail, will take over the TEN-T plan and extend it toward Ukraine. Sources close to all four major pro-European parties in the EU Parliament confirm that the current situation calls for a European solution, focusing on international connections both internally to the established member states and externally to newer members.

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron says that just as SNCF has built modern France around the TGV, so will Eurail build modern Europe around the TEN-T network, with Paris acting as the center of a continental-scale high-speed rail network. An anonymous source close to the president spoke more candidly, saying that Brussels will soon be the political capital of an ever closer economic and now infrastructural union, but Paris will be its economic capital, just as the largest city and financial center in the United States is not Washington but New York and that of Canada is not Ottawa but Toronto.

In Eastern Europe, the plan is to construct what German planners have affectionately called the Europatakt. High-speed rail lines, running at top speeds ranging between 200 and 320 km/h, are to connect the region as far east as Donetsk and as far northeast as Tallinn, providing international as well as domestic connections. Regional trains at smaller scale will be upgraded, and under the Europatakt they will be designed to connect to one another as well as to long-distance trains at regular intervals.

For example, the main east-west corridor is to connect Berlin with Kyiv via Poznań, Łódź, Warsaw, Lublin, Lutsk, and Zhytomyr. Berlin-Warsaw trips are expected to take 2.5 hours and Warsaw-Kyiv trips 3.5 hours, arranged so that trains on the main axis will serve Warsaw in both directions on the hour every hour, timing a connection with trains from Warsaw to Kaunas, Riga, Tallinn, and Helsinki and with domestic intercity and regional trains with Poland. In Ukraine, too, a connection will be set up in Poltava, 1.5 hours east of Kyiv, every hour on the hour as in Warsaw, permitting passengers to interchange between Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Donetsk.

Overall, the network through Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states, including onward connections to Berlin, Czechia, Bucharest, and Helsinki, is expected to be 6,000 km long, giving these countries comparable networks to those of France and Spain. The expected cost of the program is 150 billion euros plus another 50 billion euros for connections.

61 comments

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not PPP-adjusted. “European institutions discover that Southern Europe builds more cheaply than France/Germany/Benelux and sit down and learn” is for next year.

  1. Borners

    What no help from DB to teach Eastern European countries how to do S-bahn properly (of course Czechia and Hungary already know how to do it)?

    Also thinking about Ukraine’s future, how would you handle the guage issue? Just bypass with HSR line while the conventional network stays Russian guage?

    • plaws0

      Japan knew the future was Stephenson Gauge and made all their new trunk lines to that gauge, so yeah. Why not? And I’m not sure Japan could connect to the rest of the world’s network if it wanted to.

      • Sassy

        Japan also wanted the new trunk lines to be high speed and high capacity, beyond what was possible with the legacy national 1067mm standard.

        That need isn’t present in Eastern Europe where 1435mm would be narrower than the legacy national standard.

        • Matthew Hutton

          Not using standard gauge for new high speed lines in non standard gauge countries would deny high speed interoperability with Western Europe which wouldn’t be sensible at this point imo.

          • adirondacker12800

            You do understand that the distance between Warsaw and Moscow is “people will fly” ?

          • Matthew Hutton

            Finland, Ukraine, Moldova and the Baltic states might want to switch to standard gauge at least for their high speed lines however.

            I imagine trade and passenger trains to Russia will be dampened for a long time given current events.

          • adirondacker12800

            Just because there are dots on the map doesn’t mean they should be connected by high speed rail. Not when a few medium sized wide body airplanes a day would satisfy the demand.

          • adirondacker12800

            Looks like they are still arguing over whether or not to build it.

      • Borners

        I mean in long term operational performance everything should be Standard Guage. But thinking less optimistically would it be worth the risk spend the X years re-guaging if there is an immediate risk of another Russian invasion.

        • adirondacker12800

          How well is having a compatible rail network helping either side now? Where are they actually using it?

          • Phake Nick

            Russia keep using the excuse to deny Chinese HSR or standard gauge conventional passenger-freight rail network expansion to Vladivostok, according to my understanding.

          • Borners

            As far as I know Ukrainian trains can enter NATO territory e.g. Przemyśl in Poland which has legacy track. So they can safely unload refugees and reload arms and supplies before going back into Ukraine. That’s a bottleneck, but the critical thing is that Ukraine preserves internal lines of communication to all parts of its territory. Railway’s efficiency in shifting stuff is critical at these distances in a country with a relatively weak road system and fuel supply issues. And you don’t want heavy military vehicles damaging roads and themselves outside the combat zone if you can help it.

            Unfortunately in English all the articles on the railways are on the Lviv-Kyiv lines getting refugees out, military stuff especially on the critical supplies to the NE and the Donbas through the centre of the country I haven’t seen much on. Which is probably for the better. There was some mention of junction east of Dnipro getting hit. But Russian inability to cripple the railways is just another failure on their part. Hopefully the new SAMS will keep that way or they run out of PGMs, since it looks like lots ex-soviet Polish tanks are on their way.

          • adirondacker12800

            The hosts and the guests on the cable news channel, even the one on the broadcast channels, I assume radio and print, talk about Russian TRUCKS parked on Ukrainian ROADS. If there were trains from Russia, arriving in Ukraine and moving they would talk about that. Or arriving in Ukraine and not moving. They don’t. What happens in Poland doesn’t have much to do with moving stuff between Russia and Ukraine.

            Re-gauging the Ukrainian rail network would take a really long time and is irrelevant today because apparently, rail traffic between the compatible networks has halted.

          • Borners

            What? They use the railways in the South operating out of Crimea which has a rail bridge across the Kerch straits. They were showing off their armoured railway cars. Ukrainian’s didn’t have time/organisation to cut the railways there unlike in the North. That’s partly why the South has had the greatest Russian successes so far.

            Yeah nothing’s going to happen in the immediate war, this a discussion about what would be appropriate after the war in Ukraine. Long term economic and political integration with the EU recommends a shift to standard guage, but military necessity challenges that calculus, imagine if Russia invaded again when the job was half done? Interoperability with the Russians is a risk given Russia’s problems with logistics, but Ukraine needs comprehensive railway interior lines.

          • adirondacker12800

            From the perspective of the broad gauge network the standard gauge network isn’t very interesting until it carries freight.

          • Sascha Claus

            They were showing off their armoured railway cars.

            At a press meeting where all western news outlets were invited?

            That’s partly why the South has had the greatest Russian successes so far.

            And this might not possibly result from greater Russian engagement in this area or other things?

      • adirondacker12800

        The Russian Gauge network uses Советская Автосцепка, 3, an improvement on the automatic couplers used in North America. Why would any one in their right minds want to go back to using buffers and chain like Western Europe does? They use Советская Автосцепка, 3 because a century ago Western Europe couldn’t come to agreement on how to replace buffers and chain and still haven’t.
        Wikipedia says Russian freight trains aren’t as long as North American freight trains but they are still a lot longer than Western European freight trains. Why would they want to go back to the 19th century when freight trains were limited to what one steam locomotive could haul? And there is a lot of labor involved in coupling and uncoupling.

        • Phake Nick

          In regular high speed operation nowadays, you don’t really need to use coupler; just drive an entire EMU train all the day. Coupling and decoupling waste time and labor. Freight is another thing, and even countries like Poland seems to keep some board gauge tracks to receive traffic from Trans-Siberia Railways.
          These freight lines can only be re-gauged after technical and geopolitical condition allowed the traffic of freight between Europe and Asia through the following regions in the following order: Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang, Hexi corridor, China.

          • xh

            In the freight world, the trend is also to minimize the amount of coupling / decoupling work. The US once operated many classification yards. It invented classification yard automation, which was subsequently learnt by Japan in roughly 1960s. But since 1984, all classification yards in Japan -even those automated in less than a decade or so – have ceased operation, in order to remain competitive with other modes of transportation. All were subsquently demolished.

            After that the US itself has been aware if the inefficiency of hub-and-spoke operation with classification yards. There’s simply no need to spend hours decoupling every single train to individual freight cars, then coupling them into new trains. Instead freight trains can just run as passenger trains do, with fixed consists, schedules, and stopping patterns. This is known as “precision scheduled railroading” in the US, and has been adopted many Class I railroads since 1990s.

          • adirondacker12800

            To assemble the big long train, cars came from all over and got assembled. Once it gets someplace some cars go off to a branch line where they go off to even more obscure branch lines. The place they were coming from had to have empty cars to fill and the place they were delivered to sends empty cars back. Until the cars start to fall apart a few decades later. The reason it’s much more popular in North America and the former Soviet Union is that it’s relatively cheap, easy and safe to do. YMMV in places where they are still using mid 19th century methods. Where, comparatively, they don’t have big long trains because mid 19th century methods don’t have the capacity for big long trains. `

    • Phake Nick

      Why not use the Japanese approach? Separate high speed and conventional network. And then they can use Talgo train for trips that need to cross into conventional rail

    • Phake Nick

      To do S-bahn properly, you need to have a large amount of legacy track, which isn’t something abundant in many Eastern European countries

      • Borners

        Depends what one means by “properly”, Lviv isn’t going to be Berlin or Prague but it doesn’t need to be. I’d disagree about the absence of legacy track, all of these countries went through 19th century industrialisation and then Soviet development all very rail dependent. Since the end of the Cold War modal split has inevitably moved towards motor vehicles in freight and passengers (lots of new car suburbs). Add better tech and organisation there should be plenty of space for cross city services. You’d need extra platforms for timed overtakes/connections etc but not whole new lines. Eyeballing it from Googlemaps, its the latter thing Ukraine’s urban rail lacks.

  2. adirondacker12800

    Hyperloop, they could keep going east through Kazakhstan and Mongolia to Beijing with a branch to Vladivostok. Avoids all the problems with standard versus broad gauge too.

      • adirondacker12800

        More a joke. They fit in well on April 1st. Alon has been very clever on April 1st in the past. Insert an innocent look here.

    • Matthew Hutton

      I’ve always liked belt and road but given Ukraine no one will allow a new high speed railway close to Russia unfortunately.

      • Phake Nick

        China can’t even provide an one seat high speed rail ride from Beijing to Urumqi in Xinjiang, despite all the track being there, due to vehicle inter-maintenance milage limits. Europe?

  3. Phake Nick

    Straight line distance between Berlin and Warsaw is a bit more than 500km. Roughly the distance between Tokyo and Osaka.
    Yet it’s still taking the same amount of trip time as the Tokaido Shinkansen to reach destination?

    Also, another problem is, how will the funding be structured? Eastern European countries generally are less wealthy, and domestically they probably have other funding priorities, transportation or otherwise. Yet EU can’t just be like a central government of a sovereign country, collecting tax directly to pay for some projects, at least not to the scale of a intercontinental transportation network.

    • Borners

      EU does have taxes, its a trade block so tariffs plus direct transfers from member states, if you look at Irish airports or Polish highways, EU funding pots are everywhere. Because of the relative size and poverty of newer frontier states what are small amounts of money by the standards of Germany or France are actually quite significant as a share of frontier member investment budgets. And still are if you look at the fights Pis and Fidez have fought to keep the money while trying to circumvent democracy at home. And HSR offers rates of return so loans are doable as well.

      Also when someone says “the EU can’t X” it usually means they’re going do it in the next 5-10 years. The whole last decade has shown relentless accumulation of power in the EU system*. Its now having its first proxy war. Baby superpower steps.
      Railways are harder, but they should still do it. And Germany is the key since its the nexus of an EU wide system.

      *Brexitland is now Turkey with partitioned sovereignty reliant on the EU with a navy instead of an army.

      • adirondacker12800

        That navy has nuclear submarines with nuclear missiles in them. In the context of proxy wars the organization that is most pertinent is NATO and the U.K. or Turkey are both in NATO. Since Turkey joined in 1952. The U.K. is a founding member.

        …… Putin keeps saying Ukraine isn’t a country. Ukraine is a founding member of the U.N.

  4. Frederick

    The flat part of Eastern Europe, namely Poland, the Baltic States, and Ukraine, are really flat and free from many natural disasters (unlike Japan). Trains should be able to run 320 km/h uninterrupted on earthworks.

    This is important because “flat Eastern Europe” is actually quite sparsely populated. Poland’s population doesn’t exceed 40 millions and the Baltic States’ population is less than 10 million. Therefore, interstation distance will be long and trains will spend a large part of their travel time in their maximum speed.

    Top speed of 200 km/h is already passé right now; it will be even more outdated after twenty years, when the lines will actually get built.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, but this is the European Union we’re talking about, they’re busy with a private competition mandate for trains copied from the UK even as the UK is giving up that system because it didn’t work well.

      And also, population densities by country:
      Poland: 123/km^2
      France: 116/km^2
      Spain: 94/km^2
      Ukraine: 74/km^2

      The Baltics are pretty empty, yes. But Poland and Ukraine aren’t. Their urban geography isn’t amazing for HSR, lacking an anchor as big as Madrid, but then Spanish urban geography is pretty bad for HSR too since almost no two of its secondary metro areas lie on the same spoke out of Madrid, and the strongest lines (=Madrid-Seville, Madrid-Barcelona) still work and some of the newer ones will once they reach their natural ends (=Bilbao).

      • adirondacker12800

        Population density can be helpful. If the population density is low there aren’t many people, they are far apart or both. For instance, places west of the Mississippi or east of the Sierra Nevada, in U.S. Where there aren’t many of them and they are really far apart. The population density of Quebec is “there are more moose” and the population density of Ontario is “Are there more elk or more moose?” What’s pertinent is almost all of them hug the U.S. border. It’s more or less a straight line.

      • Phake Nick

        At each relatively large cities, dig a 20km tunnel with TBM across the urban center, with station right in the middle, should be a pretty good balance between cost, station accessibility, as well as speed compromises? The city and people living inside it can have a downtown station, boring tunnels are a bit expensive but no need to deal with land acquisition, and train can go full speed with no need to slow down inside tunnel due to tunnel being free of most geometric restriction. There shouldn’t be too many larger cities along each routes that need too much tunnels, so the cost of doing so shouldn’t be prohibitive.

          • adirondacker12800

            As Alon points out below Warsaw already has a through station, though didn’t mention that it’s already in a short tunnel. Quick glance at Katowice, it has a through station. Both of them on relatively straight tracks.
            ….. trains that are going reallllly reallllly fast take a reallly long time to slow down and stop. If all the trains are going to be stopping there anyway it doesn’t need to be realllly really straight for kilometers on either side of the station because it is not going be going fast. You have to glance at map before you come up with “10 billion Euros of tunnel”

        • Alon Levy

          You don’t need to dig any tunnel – all major Polish cities have through-stations, and Warsaw even has an S-Bahn tunnel in addition to mainline through-service (trains from the west terminate at Warsaw East, because there’s through-service and there’s much more of urban Poland west of Warsaw than east of Warsaw). The urban sections are freebies, the problem is that even at-grade PPP$25m/km HSR has to deal with small cities and not much geographic linearity. Ukraine is the same.

          • Quelly

            To be fair, all main destinations in Ukraine do lay almost in one line (Lviv – Vinnytsia – Kyiv – Harkiv).
            Here is a cool visualisation with some data: https://texty.org.ua/d/uz/
            Kyiv – Harkiv (approx 5h with train) is 1.1m passengers per year
            Kyiv – Lviv (approx 7h with train) 1.1m per year
            Kyiv – Vinnytsia (approx 3h with train) 0.9m per year. Not bad, not terrible to be honest.
            HSR on this line (which maybe could include other 300k cities of Hmelnytsky, Ternopil, Poltava) would have a reasonable ridership. Other than that, I don’t see where HSR could work in Ukraine. Probably after the war, eastern parts of the country will experience some kind of de-population.

          • Phake Nick

            But using legacy track to enter and exit old station takes longer time. Even if it is might be just 10 minutes extra, after a couple of station the trip time can be an hour longer.

      • Sascha Claus

        Rail Baltica as its buolt looks like a bunch of solutions stumbling around in search for a problem without ever finding the real, existing problem.
        Standard gauge is incompatible with the existing wide-gauge network and doesn’t seem unless for a proper high-speed line with a speed that’s incompatible with the existing network as well.
        If one builds a medium-speed line with a »maximum (sic!) design speed of 249 km/h (the maximum operational speed of 234 km/h)«, a broad-gauge line with gauge-changing equipment at the border would be sufficient and would allow usage by local trains.

        • Matthew Hutton

          I think they want to allow sleeper trains from Western Europe. A sleeper from Berlin to the baltics would be compelling.

  5. Borners

    How much would Eastern Europe benefit, given low population density-bad cost HSR cost-benefit ratio from choosing the British-German strategy of improved conventional lines a la the East Coast Mainline? Obviously these lines could be complement to a core HSR system.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t know. It seems plausible for Poland, because its cities cluster in the western two thirds of the country (and then people in the eastern third, plus let’s face it enough of the rest to win elections, think the (((cities))) are robbing them blind and the solution is to go throw Molotov cocktail into gay rights activists’ homes). In Ukraine I don’t think it would work, it’s too spread out?

      Bear in mind, PKP is also hilariously non-takt-y, this isn’t a system building toward anything like what DB has. Rather, it has German speeds and French timetabling (cf. Amtrak, with sub-German speeds and sub-French timetabling).

      • adirondacker12800

        Very roughly half the U. S. population is clustered on the Eastern side of the contiguous states. Usually called “The Eastern Tim Zone”

      • Phake Nick

        Would that matter when it is EU investment instead of national government investment?
        Also isn’t German rail system showing how the anti-city ~160km/h regional rail approach isn’t conductive to maximizing rail ridership?

      • Borners

        Is there technical phrase for this? “Improved lines” or something. Getting rid of curves, improving signaling adding passing loops etc.

        Pity they aren’t, they have German levels of electrification. And I wouldn’t assume this necessarily aligns politically. Polish politics has a strong serve-my-district bit. And if you tell Pis that shifting mode share to rail beats the Russians they’ll do it in a flash.

  6. Reedman Bassoon

    Connecting the Baltics to Poland has a possible problem called Kaliningrad province. Not a “Western friendly” place. It is my understanding that Lithuania has an agreement with Russia not to stop/interfere with trains going between the motherland and Kaliningrad. P.S. I was getting off a train at Vilnius station and noticed that everyone had to squeeze by a non-descript booth on the platform. I later learned it was a radiation detector. Occasionally, folks from back-in-the-USSR will try to smuggle/sell some left over nuclear hardware. Supposedly, one of the Vilnius banks had to decontaminate its safety deposit box vault because of this.

    • Borners

      That’s a problem for Gdansk-Baltics, but not for Warsaw-Kaunas/Vilnius, look at the map. Though would be nice in general for Kaliningrad to be something other than the wacko enclave of failed totalitarian empire.

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