River Neman and the Belarusian town of Hrodna (photo © Eillen1981 / dreamstime.com).
The recent reopening of the rail link across the Polish-Lithuanian border gave cause for modest celebration. Trains started running in mid-June, but the timetable is limited. Trains run from Bialystok (Poland) to Kaunas (Lithuania) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The southbound service from Kaunas to Bialystok operates on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.
Now we have news of the reopening of another international rail route from Bialystok. From 4 September, the Polish city will have a once-a-day direct train service to and from Hrodna in Belarus. The new service is shown for the first time in the September 2016 issue of the European Rail Timetable (see table 1042).
The Hancza TLK service (train number TLK141) from Kraków via Warsaw to Suwalki will carry through carriages to Hrodna – which will be detached from the main train at Bialystok. While the main portion of the Hancza train (to Suwalki) has a choice of first and second-class carriages, that part of the train bound for Hrodna offers only second-class seating. Advance reservations are compulsory on TLK services in Poland.
The new link to Belarus will leave Kraków at 04.46 each morning with departure from Warsaw Centralna at a much more civilised 07.36. From Bialystok, where the train is split, the Hrodna portion leaves at 10.36 with arrival in Hrodna at 14.22. The train number from Bialystok is TLK142, changing to D142 at the Belarusian border. In Hrodna, the new service has excellent onward connections to other points in Belarus (including a departure at 15.15 to Lida and Minsk).
The return run from Hrodna to Kraków leaves the Belarusian city at 15.32, giving an arrival in Bialystok at 17.08, Warsaw at 20.15 and Kraków at 23.04. The new service will run daily in both directions. The schedule allow for lengthy stops in both directions for border formalities. Passengers wanting to board the 15.32 from Hrodna to Poland should arrive at Hrodna railway station no later than 14.30 in order to allow time for pre-departure passport and customs checks.
Note that in the Polish Railways (PKP) booking system the city name is commonly rendered as Grodno rather than Hrodna. It is the first city we ever visited in Belarus, and in our view Hrodna makes a marvellous introduction to the country. There is an excellent account of Hrodna and the surrounding region in the third edition of the Bradt Guide to Belarus by Nigel Roberts (see pages 209 to 226). We have also featured the city in hidden europe magazine (in Issue 14).
The new TLK train to Hrodna sees the welcome reopening of a cross-border rail route which has not had regular passenger services for a couple of years. This is a former main line, which once carried through trains from Berlin and Warsaw to Vilnius and St Petersburg. Its importance waned after Lithuania and Poland joined the European Union, but cross-border local services survived for some years before the route was eventually axed. There is no need for a change of bogies at the border, as the Polish gauge tracks extend beyond the Belarusian border all the way to Hrodna.