The fate of the South Korean-manufactured Hyundai trains in Ukraine has been difficult. The shortage of time for testing demonstrated last winter that the new express trains were absolutely unprepared for the specifics of Ukrainian infrastructure and climate. As a result, the manufacturer has had to replace 60 pantographs worth EUR 18,000 each with its own money, thus losing about EUR 1.08 million on warranty repairs of pantographs alone. A different kind of defect in the trains has been uncovered this winter. According to the management of Ukrzaliznytsia, the bodies of the trains are affected this time, and all the 10 trains have been withdrawn from service because of this.
What broke “During routine maintenance of the Hyundai trains on February 12, specialists servicing the trains detected defects that forced us to make the decision to suspend operation of all the trains, since the signs of damage that were identified in the train No. 3 were also found in other trains. It affects the supporting structure of the train’s body. There are cracks and defects, which forced us to stop operating the trains in accordance with our regulations," said Ukrzaliznytsia’s First Deputy General Director Mykola Serhienko.
According to him, experts from South Korea were scheduled to arrive in Ukraine on Friday, February 14, to establish the causes of the defects and draw the appropriate conclusions. The management of Ukrzaliznytsia considers it premature to say what led to the situation. "We will perform a deep analysis of the causes and make a decision on further operation of the Hyundai trains,” Serhienko said, expressing the hope that all the express trains will return to operation this month.
The head of Hyundai Rotem’s representative office in Ukraine, Choi Jung Suk, expressed regret and apologized to Ukrainians for the problems involving the trains. "Unfortunately, we have found certain defects in our trains, and we agree with Ukrzaliznytsia’s opinion that it is necessary to suspend the operations of the express trains. We are currently investigating the causes,” he said.
It now remains to await the conclusions of a technical commission, which will determine the fate of the Hyundai trains. If the official version of events is to be believed, it will be necessary to improve the design of the trains’ body. However, there is also an unofficial version of events: according to sources, the key cause of the problem is not so much the design of the South Korean express trains as their operating conditions and the general state of Ukrainian infrastructure. The simultaneous operation of high-speed, conventional, and freight trains on the same routes and operation of the express trains on outdated wide-gauge tracks with numerous high-speed bends affect the trains’ wheel pairs and pneumatic springs, which are not designed to operate in such severe conditions. As a result, depreciation of equipment accelerates markedly.
The agreement on warranty service and repair of the trains by the South Korean corporation is valid for two years and expires this year
It should also be remembered that the agreement on warranty service and repair of the express trains by the South Korean company is valid for two years and will expire this year. The conclusions of the technical commission will determine whether the agreement will be extended or whether the operator of the trains will have to finance further repairs. The two-year warranty agreement expires this year. The decision to withdraw the trains from service probably favors Ukrzaliznytsia, and this decision may have been prompted by the fact that the period of warranty service is expiring and a desire to take full advantage of the warranty service before it expires. "We will insist on extension of the warranty agreement by one year,” said Serhienko.
What awaits passengers Following the withdrawal of the South Korean express trains from service, Ukrzaliznytsia stopped selling tickets for them via booking systems on Wednesday. However, ticket sales resumed on Thursday, and the South Korean express trains were replaced with locomotive-hauled trains. "Yesterday, we were forced to suspend the sale of tickets for yesterday and part of today. For those passengers that bought tickets for yesterday in advance, we will ensure their transportation by replacement rolling stock. We have small deviations in the timetables for some trains. The biggest delay (by 1 hour 40 minutes) involves the Kiev-Kharkov train because of alternation of current and replacement of a locomotive. The Kiev-Donetsk train was delayed for 39 minutes, the Kiev-Lvov train for 48 minutes, and the Kiev-Dnipropetrovsk train for 13 minutes. We currently have Skoda high-speed trains and Ukraina-2 locomotive-hauled trains manufactured by the Kryukovka railcar plant. We have decided to operate these pairs of trains on the most populous and popular route, the Kyiv-Kharkov route," Ukrzaliznytsia’s Deputy General Director Pavlo Chekalov said on Thursday.
According to Chekalov, three pairs of high-speed trains operate between Kiev and Kharkov. Currently, the replacements that Ukrzaliznytsia has are one Skoda train and one Ukraina-2 train, which will begin operation on Monday. On the other routes, the replacement trains will be made up of compartment and sleeping cars. The price of a ticket for the sleeping cars will correspond to the price of a first-class ticket on the express trains while the price of a ticket for the compartment cars will correspond to the price of a second-class ticket on the express trains. If a passenger has a first-class ticket but travels in a compartment car, he will be refunded the difference in the prices. "We are beginning the sale of tickets for these routes from today," said Chekalov. Regarding the timetable, the Kiev-Kharkov trains will operate in accordance with the timetable for the express trains, the Kiev-Dnepropetrovsk trains will arrive 15 minutes later, and the other trains 40-60 minutes later.
Ukrzaliznytsia will create alternative trains based on the annual average passenger traffic of the Hyundai trains. The number of railcars will be increased if the passenger traffic increases. An identical replacement will be made on the Kiev-Kharkov route while six cars will operate from Lviv to Kiev, seven from Kiev to Lviv, and three compartment cars from Kiev to Donetsk.
Unfortunately, Ukrzaliznytsia cannot use the two high-speed express trains that Ukraine currently has to replace the defective HRCS2. These are the dual-system Ekr1 express trains manufactured by the Kryukovka railcar plant. To use these trains to transport passengers, Ukrzaliznytsia must conclude either a sales contract or a lease agreement with the Kryukovka railcar plant. Either option requires time and money. "We do not have them. They are on the books of the Kryukovka railcar plant. We cannot use them because we have not bought them. A lease is a complex procedure that takes not one, two, or three months," said Chekalov. Therefore, passengers will have to travel in compartment and sleeping cars of day trains while waiting for the findings of the technical commission.
Meanwhile, the key question (regarding the main cause of the problems involving the launch of high-speed passenger trains in Ukraine) remains open. The final answer should be provided by the results of the investigation, a key element of which will be a technical examination involving both Ukrzaliznytsia and the Hyundai Corporation. This is in the interests of passengers and the two companies themselves, on which the fate of a project costing more than USD 300 million that was only recently considered the most ambitious stage in the modernization of assets in the history of the national railways now depends.