The UK Government has pledged £10m worth of material and rail equipment to build vital rail connections to boost war efforts within the Ukrainian territory.
This shall help Ukraine revive its rail infrastructure which has been attacked by rockets and cruise missiles since Vladimir Putin’s Russia invaded the country last year.
The aid package shall include rapid-build modular steel bridges and tunnel-lining repair equipment to ensure Ukraine Railways are moving critical supplies for the war efforts against Russia.
These vital engineering supplies are by Mabey Bridge in Lydney, Gloucestershire, with Network Rail and the Department for Transport, has already been delivered to Ukraine via Poland.
It has been learned that a group of Ukrainian Engineers travelled to England in January to learn how to assemble pre-engineered bridges. Also, the Ukrainian ambassador visited the Mabey Bridge HQ. During the visit to Mabey Bridge HQ with Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko, Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was a “significant project where Mabey Bridge and Network Rail are working together to support the Ukrainian railway system which has come under attack from Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine” (Ukraine Rail Support from UK Could “help Win War” Says Minister – BBC News, n.d.).
It follows the pattern as the UK provided £2.3bn in military aid to Ukraine last year – the largest package of support of any European Nation, which is second only to the United States.
The Might of Ukrainian Railways
Ukraine Railways, a state-owned is the world’s sixth-largest rail passenger transporter and the world’s 7th largest freight transporter; even their standard gauges are well connected. In 2008 alone, they were known to transport around 498.5 million tonnes of domestic freight and 69.8 million tonnes of international freight. Their financial pedigree is also worth reckoning their capital invested in fixed assets is about $4.4 billion.
Damages of the Rail Network during the ongoing war and rail as the lifeline for the Ukrainian People
Since the start of the war, close to 6,000 kilometres of rail lines have been damaged, which amounts to 10 % of the area where the hostilities are ever present and therefore have become non-operational.
But during the same time, railways have always proved to be a lifeline, with over 7 million people evacuated from the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk region towards the country’s western borders. Similarly, cargo traffic was supplied through the same railway lines to boost the war and humanitarian efforts.
According to Oleksandr Kamyshin, CEO of Ukrzaliznytsya, although the urgency is high, restoration is a timely and costly matter. Kamyshin adds that restoration may take years and significant funds. This also explains how the cargo volumes handled by Ukrainian Railways have dropped. Although there is an apparent increase in the demand for grain transportation by rail since the limitations of sea shipping, it has yet to lead to more cargo on the rails. In 2022, the railway company transported 28.9 million tons of grain, 14.2 per cent less than in 2021. (“It’s Practically Impossible to Destroy Ukrainian Railway Network” _ RailFreight, n.d.).
Despite these challenges, the Ukrainian rail business is resolute and strong and has the rail champion award, organised by UNIFE and CER.
How is Mabey Bridge helping
Mabey bridge is a UK-based organisation located in Lyndey, Gloucestershire, an international provider of high-quality modular steel bridging solutions. Military engineering units use their answers to upgrade routes for heavier traffic and construction of civilian bridges damaged by enemy action or flood-like events.
Michael Treacy, head of Mabey Bridge, specialising in accelerated bridge construction in military settings, said a lack of transport links could have “a huge effect on people’s lives”.
“When people think of aid, they might not automatically think of bridges, but getting people their transport systems back makes such a difference,” he said. (Ukraine Rail Support from UK Could “help Win War” Says Minister – BBC News, n.d.).
Mr Treacy said that even considering the other work around the bridge build, it would take a “maximum of two weeks to have the bridge back in service on a railway that’s been broken or bombed”.(Ukraine Rail Support from UK Could “help Win War” Says Minister – BBC News, n.d.).
How Railways help win wars and the importance of Rail connections
Even since immemorial, railroads have helped and given a gilt-edged advantage during war efforts.
However, it was during World War 1 that the effect of Railways proved to be important. The British Historian A.J.P Taylor states that railway timetables were crucial in mobilizing troops during the war and delivering vital supplies of mechanized war material to the front.
During World War II, the Northeastern Railway lines became critical during the allied war efforts in the South-East Asian Theatre. On the Western Front of Europe in Normandy, the port of Cherbourg proved to be an essential supply of railroad material for the Allies to reclaim lost France while conducting Operation Overlord.