“The extraordinary train lifeline behind Ukraine’s Rail Force One” – TTG

CNN — It was “Rail Force One” – the overnight train that took US President Biden on a diplomatic odyssey from Przemyśl Główny in Poland to Kyiv for his historic visit to Ukraine, just before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country. The 10-hour overnight journey was a top secret, high security challenge for Ukrzaliznytsia, or Ukrainian Railways – the state-owned operator of Ukraine’s rail network. But it was hardly their first. With commercial air links into Ukraine canceled, and the skies too dangerous to fly politicians in and out of the country, Ukraine’s rail network has become the country’s diplomatic highway. Over 200 foreign diplomatic missions have arrived in the country by train so far.

World leaders including Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the UK’s Rishi Sunak, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni have all taken the train to Kyiv. In fact, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is the only G7 leader yet to visit the country by train. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is a regular user of the railway network on his diplomatic missions abroad.

But there’s more to the railways than “Rail Force One,” as Biden’s train was dubbed. The US president’s high profile journey has shone a spotlight on Ukraine’s vast rail network which, at nearly 15,000 miles, is the 12th largest in the world. Ukrzaliznytsia is the sixth largest rail passenger transporter in the world, and seventh for freight. First constructed in pre-Soviet times, its network is predominantly a broad gauge railway – different to the standard gauge, which most of Europe uses.

And while Ukraine forces have destroyed the cross-border links to Russia, the rail network still connects with other countries – although the differing gauges mean trains can’t generally cross the border. To deal with this, over the past year they have rebuilt sections of previously defunct lines to neighboring countries including Moldova, Poland and Romania. Infrastructure has been repaired at 11 border crossings.

This isn’t just about making passenger journeys easier. It’s crucial for freight – and for much of the world, which relies on Ukrainian produce, including grain. In 2022, 28.9 million tons of grain were transported via the railways, most of which was exported. In total, just under 60 million tons of goods were exported from Ukraine, according to Ukrzaliznytsia. And in total, the company transported 17.1 million passengers via long-distance trains during 2022. These are predominantly sleeper services.

“Before the war, we had planes, cars, buses and trains,” Ukrzaliznytsia’s CEO Alexander Kamyshin told CNN Travel. “Now we’ve got trains and cars, no airplanes. And we’re a large country. So to get from Kyiv to west, south or east Ukraine, sleeper trains are the best way to do it. You go to the train in the late evening, travel the whole night, and in the morning you are in the city you need to be. So you don’t waste time. It was comfortable before the war, and now it’s comfortable and safe. Trains are very important.”

Of course, most of the pictures we have seen in the past year of Ukrainian Railways are ones of refugees. Ukrzaliznytsia says it helped four million to safety in 2022, a quarter of whom were children. Some trains were also reconfigured as medical facilities. Around 2,500 civilians were evacuated for medical treatment via rail last year. The network also transported nearly 336,000 tons of humanitarian aid.

It’s an immense responsibility for Kamyshin, who started with the company just six months before Russia invaded. “I joined with the problem to develop the company, green-light new projects, renew the fleet and it was all about building and construction, and procuring new stuff. But a year ago we had to change to war time, and war rails,” he says.


Comment: One year into this war, it is truly remarkable how well the Ukrainian rail system is running. Our trains can only dream of the Ukrainian railway’s on time performance. Moscow surely realizes how critical this rail system is to Kyiv’s war effort, yet they have not managed to shut it down or even severely degrade it. I think this speaks more to Russia’s impotency and incompetency than to Ukrainian resiliency. I take this as just one more sign that Ukraine will prevail.

White House officials were asked why Biden risked a ten hour train ride to Kyiv. They responded that they knew the Russians sucked at dynamic targeting. Their smart missiles aren’t accurate enough to hit a moving train. They can’t even take out the Dnipro bridges. And the much vaunted Spetsnaz seem equally impotent.

Another point made by the Russophiles a while back was that Ukraine was reduced to using ancient steam locomotives. Those narrow gauge steam locos were part of the annual children’s Christmas train run in Lviv, Kyiv and Kharkiv. They still ran last Christmas in Lviv and Kyiv. I don’t know if the Kharkiv train ran. Not bad for a rail system at war.




This entry was posted in TTG, Ukraine Crisis. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to “The extraordinary train lifeline behind Ukraine’s Rail Force One” – TTG

  1. JamesT says:

    You can see why leaders from Xi to Putin to Biden are obsessed with “winning the AI race”. Being able to do Long Range Precision Strikes on these sorts of targets at a distance of hundreds of kilometers seems to me to be very much a machine learning problem.

  2. cobo says:

    I hope this is the kind of catalyst that inspires societies everywhere to recognize as critical infrastructure all first responders and societal support personnel. Just a starter: Police, Fire, Medical Personnel, Gas & Electric Personnel, Rail & Road Personnel, Harbor & Mariner Personnel, Construction & Maintenance Personnel, Industrial & Trade Personnel, Farm, Ranch & Dairy Personnel, and all those that make honest livings doing the work that supports all else upon which a society can stand. Although my background is education, I’m afraid that I can no longer support them. Real journalism, just long gone. Healthy societies don’t just happen.

    • Bill Roche says:

      There’s another way to improve border secty; close it. Rptd today Finland is putting up a fence (yes a fence, barrier, obstruction) over 100 ish miles known to be incident to border sneak-overs by young Russian men. My pure guess would be some where in the southern Finnish/Russia border. Was a time Finns and Russians in Helsinki and St Petersburg could take a 90 minute flight and do some shopping. They could just as easily drive across the border. I don’t know if there is a rail line b/t Helsinki/St Pete. But when Russia invades non NATO Ukraine the Finns take notice. The wall is going up and will be reviewed for efficiency. If helpful, the Finns will expand it. They’ve got about 850 miles of snow to fence in. They will build an adjacent svc road, put in lights and cameras etc etc. Ever been to Finland’s snow county? It is cold, dark, and refnremote. In ’40 Russians crossed those woods to invade Finland. Today Russians are crossing those woods to escape “mother”. How times change.

      • cobo says:

        I grew up in San Diego’s east county, riding dirt bikes. I know the border and the smuggling routes. I’ve seen the water bottles secreted in the rocks south and east of … I had my guns. I also respect my brothers and friends to the south. A wall, a fence, sure, why not. A long-term relationship to build on, even better. Hate and kill your enemy, but hate more those that set you apart for their own gain. Question the reality.

  3. Al says:

    Russia can’t seem to take out the Ukraine trains…but took out of the air their own jets!
    Russia shot down several of its own planes in the early days of invading Ukraine, leaving it with few willing pilots, report says
    Full article here: https://www.businessinsider.com/russia-shot-down-own-warplanes-pilots-didnt-want-fly-report-2023-2
    -Russia downed some of its own planes at the start of the war in Ukraine, a former US official said.
    -As a result, Russia started running out of experienced pilots willing to fly, officials told the FT.
    -A lack of pilots scuppered Russia’s ability to control the skies, per several earlier reports.
    -Experienced pilots have been in short supply for Moscow, with its air force starting the invasion with “fewer than 100 fully trained and current pilots,”
    -Russia began committing instructor pilots to combat operations, hindering its ability to train anyone else.

  4. Fred says:

    “White House officials were asked why Biden risked a ten hour train ride to Kyiv. They responded that they knew the Russians sucked at dynamic targeting.”

    So that part about the call being ‘deconfliction’ so nothing ‘stupid’ happened was bogus? Of course who actually thought “Russia is going to try to assasinate Biden” because that’s not an act of war that would immediately involve us in an open conflict with Russia rather than a proxy one? Shades of all the Syria ‘red lines’ come to mind.

    “Ukrzaliznytsia received 35 generators at the end of October for uninterrupted operation of railway stations in Ukraine from the Red Cross Society of Ukraine.”

    I’m glad the kept the water hot for restrooms. Not for running electric trains though….

    “the paramilitary guards of the Prydniprovsk Railway saved cargo and property worth more than 4.3 million hryvnias (121.000 euros) from thieves in the year 2020, the result of a total of 428 cases of criminal intrusion on goods transported by the railway.”

    Mayor Pete, Sec Transportation, should ask them to advise him about what’s happened(ing) out near the Port of Los Angeles. Maybe someone can talk to him about Ohio too.

    “And the much vaunted Spetsnaz seem equally impotent.”
    About 4 months ago we were told they were being used as standard infantry in trenches not as the Spetsnaz the propaganda told everyone about.

    • Al says:

      Fred, “… Shades of all the Syria ‘red lines’ come to mind…” You referring to the Syrian “red lines” that Repub Congress would not grant Obama authority to cross?

    • English Outsider says:

      Fred – the President’s visit to Kiev had been cleared in advance and it turns out it had been done under deconfliction arrangements.


      Presumably that’s done for all the politicians who visit Kiev. As for the President’s visit, his security detail needs more than a few hours to make sure the place is safe for him – manholes and overlooking windows checked and a host of other precautions to take – and that detail would itself need accommodation for those advance preparations. So the visit would have been known about by all parties well before that.

      On the general question of the disabling of the Ukrainian railway system, doing that would not fit in with Surovikin’s “grinding” logic at the moment. Sounds brutal, but as long as Kiev sends troops to the Donbass the Russians don’t need to shift from the Donbass in order to kill them. Same goes for equipment. Disabling the railways would interfere with that process.

      Hmm. Sounds so brutal that I wasn’t sure whether to submit that last. But that’s how it is and has been for months so no point trying to wrap it up.

      • TTG says:


        Russia is losing 900 or so dead a day trying to grind the Ukrainians down. It’s brutal alright.

        • Fred says:


          Is that a recent projection from someone or….?

          “Ukraine said an average of 824 Russian soldiers were dying every day in February 2023, and while those figures cannot be independently verified, the general analysis was supported by the U.K. government, which estimated this month that Russia has suffered between 175,000 and 200,000 casualties during its war in Ukraine, including 40,000 to 60,000 killed. ”

          So, Ukraine says so, but nobody else can verify.

          “According to the European Union’s justice commissioner, 65,000 suspected war crimes have been reported since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.”
          I thought tens of thousands of children had been genocided by Russia, this is only 65,000 crimes. I wonder why the numbers are so far off?

          “At least 6,000 Ukrainian children have been taken to camps and other facilities in Russia and Russian-occupied territory since the invasion began, prevented from communicating with their families and subjected to pro-Russian re-education, according to a recent report from the Conflict Observatory, a research group that monitors alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine. ”
          My, that number doesn’t match what was reported right here. I wonder what happened?


        • English Outsider says:

          TTG – I can only go on such information as I am able to pick up. A lot of that has to be dismissed as gossip or inference. The Russian losses are certainly heavy. Maybe already half what you lost in Vietnam which is many in such a short time.

          I don’t, however, think that press reports giving ten times that number are accurate. I read reports of “human wave” Russian attacks that are certainly fictitious. The defining characteristic of the Russian approach is that they minimise their casualties. That is determining their way of waging war in the Ukraine.

          The Ukrainians are not as sparing of the lives of their soldiers. In Kherson and Izium they squandered their troops mercilessly. They have been feeding troops into Bakhmut for no more than PR or prestige reasons and the casualties there are horrendous.

          The “Falkenhayn scenario” I term it. We shall see more of it. It is said that the Pentagon is advising Kiev against such reckless tactics. Whether that’s true or just more gossip, it should be

          • TTG says:


            Human wave attacks like in some medieval sword and pike attack is fictitious. But unsupported infantry assaults across open terrain have been the order of the day for months, what I referred to as zerg rushes. They were extremely costly. Wagner’s penal units paid dearly using those tactics. Those attacks were certainly not meant to limit Russian casualties. Those tactics are being refined into assaults making better use of cover and heavy infantry weapons. They’re still costly, but daily Russian casualties have been reduced from highs of 900 or so to more like 600.

            Both the attacks and the defense of Bakhmut have devolved into a fetish of prestige. Prigozhin decimated his mercs and convicts trying to score a political vistory back in Moscow. He may have lost 40,000 of his 50,000 convicts as casualties. Unless Ukraine leaves Bahmut soon to a shortened line of defense, they could also suffer such losses.

      • Leith says:

        English Outsider –

        Happy St David’s Day. I see the Welsh flag flew over the Ministry Of Defense in Whitehall today.

        Regarding your “grinding” logic, it seems it is not working. General Igor Konashenkov, RF MinDef chief spokesman, is claiming Ukraine equipment losses 200-300% higher than the numbers of equipment actually in Ukraine. Is Konashenkov lying? Probably not, he is undoubtedly just parroting those fantasy figures reported by commanders who want their unit to look good. It’s a common mistake. Everybody overestimates. Even the Ukrainians, but much of their claims are backed up by clean, unedited imagery and video.

        • English Outsider says:

          Leith – the figures are heavily contested. Just from Chirkin’s account I suspect Russian regular forces took many casualties in the first few days of the SMO. The LDNR forces took the brunt of it for a time thereafter and I saw assertions they had lost many. Also saw many mentions from LDNR fighters about comrades lost. Though that’s anecdotal there were quite a few such mentions.

          I think also the Chechens and similar forces lost many in the early urban fighting.

          The BBC works with some outfit that has undertaken the macabre job of monitoring funerals in the RF. They came up with a total, all allied forces engaged including I believe Wagner, of 14,000 soldiers dead with a more than 50% margin of error. This matched very roughly the figure of 20,000 dead that the Russian MOD had put out. I haven’t seen mention of the number of casualties in the more recent fighting.

          The credibility of the BBC is low but given that it’s 100% neocon one would expect them to put out higher figures if they could. The Russian internet is very gossipy, especially where LDNR forces are involved, so I think it would have come out if the Russian casualties were as high as those often reported in the Western press.

          Don’t want to talk about Ukrainian casualties, I’ve felt from the very start that what we’re putting our proxies through does not reflect well on us in the West generally.

          is in the same out with

      • Fred says:


        Does anyone think the Russians actually want to kill Biden or Zelensky? Both are disasters for their representative countries.

        • English Outsider says:

          “Both are disasters for their representative countries.”

          Does not your argument fail at the first hurdle, Fred?

          Any one who wished to see the USA disadvantaged would be more than pleased to see the great disaster that is President Biden set aside. His substitute, by the looks of it, would be an even greater.

          As for Zelensky, is he a player? Someone in Kiev, might have been him, gambled along with the neocons on breaking Russia with sanctions. Didn’t work so we’re now watching Kiev’s last days in the bunker.

  5. Stadist says:

    “They responded that they knew the Russians sucked at dynamic targeting. Their smart missiles aren’t accurate enough to hit a moving train.”

    I don’t think people properly acknowledge how immensely complicated it is to fire a missile from 100s of kilometers away and have it 1) be timed perfectly to hit the moving train 2) have it accurate enough to hit what, within say 25 meters of the train track? This is very complicated feat to perform, of course it becomes easier if you have someone on-site guiding the missile in, but having it all pre-planned and calculated leaves huge margin of error, and some kind of autonomous targeting into the moving train is immensely complicated as well. If it was that simple to have autonomous targeting into moving trains from 100s of kilometers away we should be having autonomous vehicles on the roads as well already IMHO. Do also note that comparing aerial target homing systems is totally different beast to terrestial targets. Sky is about 99,99% (or even more) of time void of any other comparable targets even capable of giving any radiation to fuck up missile homing systems, while train moving on land is surrounded by potential radiation sources.

    I highly doubt americans have commonly and succesfully hit somewhat rapidly moving targets with long range fired cruise missiles without on-site guidance. Having on-site drone launching missiles at within horizon target is totally different thing, it’s not comparable.

    • JamesT says:


      I agree with you that this is very difficult and I think it took US forces quite a while to develop this capability. I am guessing that it is all about having sensors that can relay targeting information to the missile in real time. No doubt TTG knows how it is done, but I am guessing he cannot talk about it.

      TTG – if there is anything you can share with us I am sure I am not the only one who would love to hear it.

      • TTG says:


        Precise long range targeting and especially moving targets almost invariably involves sophisticated electronics in the warhead providing terminal guidance. It could be radar, heat seeking, laser or something else. What I was familiar with 40 years ago was laser designation and offset targeting. You could paint the target with a laser beam and the bomb/missile would home in on that painted target. For offset targeting, you would precisely place a beacon, transmit the exact azimuth and distant from the beacon to the target and the bomb missile would fly to that spot. To explain the electronic voodoo that goes on in modern terminal guidance systems is beyond me. But they are damned sophisticated.

        The TOW and Dragon AT weapons of my day were wire guided from the launcher. The gunner had to keep the sight on the target until impact. Many antitank missile are now fire and forget. Electronics and sensors in the missile itself do all the heavy ciphering needed to hit a moving target at its most vulnerable spot. I’m sure cruise missiles and guided artillery ammunition have similarly sophisticated terminal guidance.

        The common thread in all this is the need for those sophisticated chips and sensors. Without access to those, you adjust for windage, lead the target and hope for the best. Russian chips and electronics, despite what many of us believed a year ago, may not have kept up with the times. And a reliance on foreign sourced chips is as poor an armaments strategy for Russia as it is for anyone else.

  6. Babeltuap says:

    Putin stated he was not going to try to kill Zelinksy:


    As for disabling a train, the train is worthless without a track. Putin could have easily blown up a section of it like we did in WWII blowing up French train tracks to slow down Hitler. We killed 10’s of thousands of civilians however in the process but the ends justified the means for the Allies.

    • TTG says:


      Blowing up tracks is only effective if you can destroy them repeatedly and faster than they can be repaired. Track repairs can be done in a matter of a few hours. Now blowing bridges is far more effective, but even that’s not an easy job. I am still amazed that Russia has not been able to blow all the bridges over the Dnipro or at least try to do so. Sure it’s tough without air superiority, but they’ve had a full year. There was real strategic thinking in attempting to destroy the power grid. They should have been able to at least try to go after the rail bridges.

      • Fourth and Long says:

        With all respect TTG, they are not destroying the tracks or bridges not because they can’t in any material sense, though that maybe true in large part with the exception of nuclear weapon use which they actually can’t do either because it involve orders which would go unobeyed and bring utter ruin, but because the “SMO” or war is already lost and all the smart people know it already, there and abroad. Maybe later I’ll post some links to some enlightening analyses of the past year by people who are not usually covered on popular sites, who know what’s really going on there. It would be a joke if it wasn’t so tragic, wasteful, cruel and stupid, that’s how bad it is. You know it better than I.

      • Fred says:


        They ‘blew up’ the Ukrainian economy. Eight or more million refugees (helping the EU economy with/Full employment though) and a need for the US to fund their pensions and the rest of their government. Yellen was just there giving Zelensky a few billion more.

      • Babeltuap says:

        True. Tracks can be repaired swiftly. The goal though is to stop the train. Keep stopping it hours here, hours there. Hours turn into days and days…well you get my point.

    • Leith says:

      Babelthuap –

      The Allies didn’t blow up train tracks in France, Belgium and Germany during WW2. The bombers primarily went after specific, high-value railway targets such as marshaling depots, heavy repair facilities and railyards. Only later just prior to D-Day did they attack bridges and unleash the fighters to strafe repair efforts and also underway trains (done under a blanket of air superiority). BTW, the French & Belgian railroads were already hurting badly long before this because of NAZI transfer of a third or more of their locomotives and rolling stock to Germany.

      Ike and his deputy, Air Marshall Tedder, had learned their lesson in Italy. The bombing of Italian train tracks prior to the landing at Anzio was worthless. RAF & 12th AF claims of neutralization of rail lines in central Italy turned out to be hogwash. Kesselring was able to move 14+ German divisions to southern Italy by train from France and Yugoslavia to oppose the landing.

      • Babeltuap says:

        I read it in a history of WWII I think by Mark Bowden but sorry it’s been a while. The bombings of the railroads in France killed something like 20-30K civilians but we believe what we want to believe. I do know who said that famous quote:

        “Men are nearly always willing to believe what they wish”

        ― Julius Caesar

        • Leith says:

          Babelthuap –

          I do not dispute your or Bowden’s claim of 20 to 30K dead French civilians. Although reading Beevor about Normandy and the lead-up to it, he says 11 to 19,000 civilians KIA. Many of those killed were slave laborers sent to repair bridges an railyards. Who’s right? Who knows? BTW 36,000 US/UK/Canuck/Polish/Free French KIAs at Normandy plus 173,000 WIA. Could have been twice as much or worse without the War-on-the-Rails.

          You should read Rommel’s biographer, Mitcham. He says the French railway system was operating at only ten percent capacity at D-Day, and because of that Rommel and his troops at Normandy were virtually stranded on a strategic island. The Russian VVS could have potentially done the same thing to Ukraine’s rail system. That would have stopped the Western arms shipments cold. But they either couldn’t or they chose not to.

          Read Air Marshall Tedder’s memoirs for a full understanding of the effectiveness of the air campaign against the French/Belgian/German rail systems. IMHO it was probably the best use of air power in WW2. Better than the unproductive attacks on German industry. Better than what the RAF’s Bomber’ Harris did in firebombing Hamburg and incinerating 40 to 60,000 German civilians with the tacit consent of British Parliament. And certainly much better than what Curtis LeMay did two years later in firebombing Tokyo burning to death over 100,000 Japanese civilians. I’m sorry for ‘all’ of the civilians killed during that horrendous war – including the ones you mention and the millions of civilian Russians, Ukrainians, and other Soviet ethnicities killed on the Eastern Front. Whoever said “War is hell” knew what he was talking about.

  7. Sam says:

    As I said months ago, UA training at Graf will make the difference.

    “Operating w/ [NATO situational awareness] gives an advantage…[They] will detect the enemy earlier, transmit information [faster] & defeat him more easily…”

    Spring is coming.


    It appears that the Ukrainian army is also preparing counter-offensives for the Spring. Will be interesting to see how they perform relative to the offensives of the Russian military. As of now with the exception of Bakhmut the Russian efforts don’t seem to have achieved much.

Comments are closed.