A new Ukrainian Railways service is connecting four European capitals (photo © hidden europe)
Today sees the launch of a remarkable new train service linking four European capitals. Early this afternoon, Ukrainian Railways Train 013K departed from Kiev for Riga. This is the first direct train from Ukraine to Latvia for a decade.
But, more significantly, the new service will create a new direct rail link between two EU capitals: Vilnius and Riga.
The route of the new train is as follows: Kiev – Minsk – Vilnius – Šiauliai – Riga.
In this route there’s an echo of a previous direct Latvia-Ukraine train, viz. Train 357, which ran Riga – Vilnius – Lida – Lviv until it was withdrawn in late 2007.
This time last year there were simply no scheduled passenger trains across the Lithuanian-Latvian border. Things improved early in 2018 when direct services from Vilnius to Daugavpils were reintroduced. But it’s no more than a token service, with just a couple of return journeys running on Saturdays and Sundays only. For those with time, it made it once again possible to travel from Riga to Vilnius by train – but it always requires a change at Daugavpils and the journey between the two capitals takes over ten hours.
Now it’s an operator from outside the EU which reintroduces the direct link from Riga to Vilnius. The first Kiev-bound train will leave Riga just after 11 on Saturday morning. Travel time from Riga to Vilnius will be under five hours – that’s about the same travel time as Train 357 managed prior to its withdrawal.
One-way fares for the debut service from Riga to Vilnius tomorrow are still available at €19. That’s on a par with an express coach service between the two capitals. The bus is however about half an hour faster than the train. A one-way journey from Riga through to Kiev in a shared double sleeper is €69.
The dates of operation of the new train are painfully irregular – roughly every 6 to 8 days. Let’s hope that in time a better schedule will be introduced. There is talk of the route being extended north beyond Riga to Estonia. If this comes to pass, the train would serve five capital cities in all. The only other European train which can claim that is Russian Railways’ Paris to Moscow service.
If the Ukrainian train really is extended all the way to Tallinn, it would mean that there will once again be through trains from Estonia to Lithuania, crossing Latvia along the way. No trains have done that since the withdrawal of the Balti Express. That service was axed towards the end of the last century.
Ukrainian Railways have been aggressively promoting international links from Kiev. There are long-standing routes to Warsaw and Budapest. Late last year a new direct service from Kiev to Vienna was launched. Last spring saw the start of a direct train to Baku in Azerbaijan.