Tisza Express at Budapest Keleti station (photo © Attila Vörös).
The chill in relations between many European countries and the Russian Federation is beginning to show in patterns of rail service across the continent.
Russia today announced the suspension of all direct rail services to EU destinations in the Balkan region. This also affects some non-EU cities (such as Belgrade). The ostensible reason for these services being axed is a drop in passenger traffic in recent weeks. While RZD Russian Railways suggests that the withdrawal of these trains is not necessarily permanent, no date has been given for their reinstatement. It is also worth noting that the trains affected all run via Kiev to reach the European Union. The fall-off in passenger numbers between Kiev and Moscow is surely also a consideration in the withdrawal of these trains - indeed, that's quite possibly the key issue here. It would be incorrect to infer that the suspension of these trains is the direct result of the currently fragile relations between Russia and the EU. The 'Ukraine factor' probably features more heavily in Russian thinking.
It is however worth noting that earlier this month RZD announced a temporary suspension of the daytime service from St Petersburg to Tallinn. No trains will run between the two cities for a seven-week spell from later this month. However, in that case, a definite date was given for the resumption of train services, namely 18 December.
The services affected by today’s announcement are detailed below. These trains involve several European railway administrations. For example the Moscow to Budapest service also carries Ukrainian carriages from Kiev to Budapest. We do not yet know whether any element of these services will continue.
Train nos. 15 and 16 (often known as the Tisza) which run from Moscow to Budapest and vice versa.
This train also carries through carriages to Belgrade and Bratislava — and during the summer also through carriages to Skope (Macedonia), to Zagreb and Split (both in Croatia) and to Ljubljana and Koper (both in Slovenia). The train has also on occasions, though not in this past year, carried through carriages to Montenegro and even Greece.
The last departure for Budapest from Moscow will be on Friday 12 December. The last departure of the through RZD carriages to Russia from Budapest will be on Sunday 14 December.
Train nos. 59 and 60 (often known as the Bulgaria Express) which run from Moscow to Sofia and vice versa.
This train serves two EU capitals, namely Bucharest and Sofia. During the summer it also carried through carriages to the Black Sea resorts of Burgas and Varna, both of which are popular destinations for Russian tourists.
The last departure for Sofia from Moscow will be on Friday 12 December. The last departure of the through RZD carriages to Russia from Sofia will be on Sunday 14 December.