inglor_cz 2 months ago

So my grandpa was an engineer and I love railways...

"different signaling systems, different voltages for electrical trains" isn't that much of a problem nowadays. There are almost always enough multi-system engines available that can cross borders and cope with those changes. We have a jumble of voltages in Czechia and yet another voltage on our German/Austrian borders, and trains go through without a hitch, not even slowing down, full speed.

A break of gauge is a different beast: a real tough problem. Even the railcars are wider on wide-gauge railways, which means that they cannot pass through some European tunnels etc.

Frankly, the only solution is to re-gauge the entire Ukraine to 1435 mm and introduce a new fleet of railway vehicles there. As an added bonus, that would complicate further Russian invasions in the future, as the Russian army still heavily relies on rail for its logistics.

This will be expensive, but the EU could pay for that, plus a lot of that work could be done by European contractors.

  • kposehn 2 months ago

    1. Agreed for the most part, though I think a startup could overcome the break-of-gauge limitations pretty fast with moderate investment (and less red tape).

    2. There are multiple different ways of handling BofG; the holdup is just deploying it effectively.

    3. For loading gauge, using EU grain hauling stock with variable gauge (or swapped) bogies would be ideal - this avoids issues with larger cars and heavier axle loads.

    (Edit)

    4. The unit nature of grain trains makes the problem easier to solve since outside of gauge changes you deal with large cuts of cars. No need to swap couplers on every car as you only hook on the ends (Europe uses hook & buffer, while the former USSR uses SA3)

    5. Brazil has the largest network of dual gauge track in the world and has optimized it quite well; 1600mm gauge engines frequently handle 1000mm with the help of idler cars that allow them to couple up. Some lessons to be learned here.

    • kergonath 2 months ago

      > I think a startup could overcome the break-of-gauge limitations pretty fast with moderate investment (and less red tape)

      I am not sure what the angle is, here. Variable-gauge trains are things we can build, and as a matter of fact there are a bunch of them crossing the French-Spanish border every day. It’s not some magical disruptive technology that boring old engineering firms could not crack.

      It would not solve the issues already mentioned, which is that infrastructure is built for a set gauge, and wide-gauge carriages cannot physically fit in some places in a narrow-gauge network.

      And the red tape is not at this level anyway, it has to do with certification, with which the startup-ness of the designer won’t help.

      Not everything is best solved by just setting up a startup.

      • larusso 2 months ago

        > It would not solve the issues already mentioned, which is that infrastructure is built for a set gauge, and wide-gauge carriages cannot physically fit in some places in a narrow-gauge network.

        My solution to this problem: Build it the other way. Use dual carriages from the EU side and add the gauge changeover at the border. I really don‘t see the reason why the wide-gauge trains have to travel over the border. Yes they can carry more load but that is simply something we have to live with. But they will try to unblock the ports before they even attempt to solve this issue.

        • kposehn 2 months ago

          Exactly. Allowing European unit trains to run into Ukraine for grain would be a significant improvement at vastly lower cost.

          • petre 2 months ago

            Russia would then bomb the Ukrainian part of this would be rail infrastructure, claiming it's used to transport weapons. But here is a discussion about this:

            https://en.thepage.ua/economy/ukraines-switch-to-european-ra...

            Romania still has an old Soviet gauge railway from Reni, Ukraine into the Galati Danube port via Giurgiulesti, Moldova. Poland also has Railway Line no. 65. Slovakia has two such lines, Uzhhorod to Kosice and one from Chop to Dobra. All of these should be repaired and used to get the grain out of Ukraine. There are also some older standard gauge lines from Poland and into Ukraine.

            • dredmorbius 2 months ago

              Russia are already a demonstrably bad-faith and unreliable actor.

              I'd not let that stand as an obstruction to re-guaging UA rail.

      • ThePowerOfFuet 2 months ago

        > Variable-gauge trains are things we can build, and as a matter of fact there are a bunch of them crossing the French-Spanish border every day.

        The high speed lines are all standard gauge in both countries.

        At the crossing between Puigcerdà and La Tour de Carol the Catalan regional train goes one stop into France on an Iberian gauge line which ends there (English Wikipedia needs to be updated to reflect this). At the crossing between Cerbère and Portbou it's the opposite, with a French train going one stop into Catalonia on a standard gauge line which ends there.

        • kergonath 2 months ago

          > The high speed lines are all standard gauge in both countries.

          This is not what I was referring to. Variable gauge (Talgo) trains go through gauge changers at the border without going to the high speed Spanish lines. This has been done since 1969, and that’s how you can have a single train going from Barcelona to Montpellier (and then Geneva, back in the day). It really is not rocket science and has been done for 60 years now.

          • ThePowerOfFuet 2 months ago

            Can you please provide a train number that goes from BCN to Montpellier that isn't an SNCF TGV Euroduplex?

            I have been on an Intercités de Nuit from Paris to BCN (Estació de França), going through the gauge changing building at Portbou. Alas, that service was deleted when the TGV became homologated for cross-border service around 2013, and AFAIK there is no further passenger traffic which uses it.

            • kergonath 2 months ago

              > Can you please provide a train number that goes from BCN to Montpellier that isn't an SNCF TGV Euroduplex?

              Damn you’re right, the track to Barcelona is now high speed standard gauge. I used to go from Montpellier to Spain very regularly in the late 2000s, the choice was then between a variable-gauge Talgo, or a change at Figueres.

              • ThePowerOfFuet 2 months ago

                Yep, there just isn't the demand for slow service when the TGV is just that much better. I look forward to the continuing return of night trains in Europe, though!

        • kposehn 2 months ago

          Renfe also operates some variable gauge trains on the high speed network that radiate out into the Iberian gauge lines to serve smaller cities. That said I don’t believe any cross the border to France.

          • ThePowerOfFuet 2 months ago

            Why would they put slow trains on the high speed line? That sounds like a great way to make the AVE suck.

      • kposehn 2 months ago

        The angle is that systems to overcome this limitation have lacked for (a) economic reasons and (b) political will. Both clearly now are less of an issue due to the shortage of grain on the global market due to the war.

        • avianlyric 2 months ago

          But what do either of those factors have to do with startups?

          If economics and politics are the primary blockers, what exactly are startups bringing to the table?

          • kposehn 2 months ago

            Someone has to start it. Incumbents so far have not.

            • kergonath 2 months ago

              But that’s the thing, to start what? So far there has been no real need, but existing companies are perfectly able to do it once the need arises (particularly as there is bound to be some significant EU funding for this). Again, boring old companies do just that across several borders, and have been doing it for decades.

      • midasuni 2 months ago

        Track Gauge can be solved, various methods with various pros and cons, from adjusting bogies to just relaying the tracks (like GWR did in ye olden days)

        Loading gauge though is another matter - you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.

    • labster 2 months ago

      Just make a startup to fix it is classic HN. Six generations of hackers have been working on the problem of track gauge, but it’s obviously going to be solved with a few million in VC funding.

      On the last point, some gauges are too close to run dual gauge tracks well. It’s great when you can just add a third rail, but European and Soviet standards are too close and need four rails to run on the same track.

  • petre 2 months ago

    > As an added bonus, that would complicate further Russian invasions in the future, as the Russian army still heavily relies on rail for its logistics.

    To deter further invasions, they could bomb/destroy entry points from Russia, Belarus and Crimea/Donbass as well. It would be quite effective, but deter commerce with the separatist regions. The Poroshenko government bought coal from Donbass after 2014, practically sponsoring the separatists.

  • Guthur 2 months ago

    A better way to avoid conflict would be an international ban on military alliances not railway gauges.

    The notion that any great power would be curtailed from action by the width of train tracks is laughable.

    • jacobolus 2 months ago

      Whether Russia should be considered a “great power” at this point is questionable. (Though they are surely still a nuclear-weapons-armed state.)

      The Ukraine war has demonstrated that the Russian armed forces is barely capable of operating away from railheads. Their entire logistics system is based on rail, and they don’t have enough fuel trucks, general-purpose tactical trucks, engineering vehicles, etc. to keep their troops supplied and moving if they get too far (maybe 100–150 km at most) from the nearest railhead. They start running out of food, fuel, and ammo, and quickly get bogged down.

      This late-2021 analysis was prescient: https://warontherocks.com/2021/11/feeding-the-bear-a-closer-...

      • hinkley 2 months ago

        There's a theory that the West is currently eating itself. There's a theory that the Russians are behind it. There's a separate theory that Zuckerberg is Nero, and a third theory that both are true.

        Gorbachev purportedly asserted that Chernobyl was the linchpin of the fall of the USSR. It's hard not to look around and at least be... concerned. Especially this week.

ajuc 2 months ago

Poland actually has some wide-gauge railways connecting Ukraine to Silesia region in Poland (originally for moving coal, steel and sulphur between Ukraine and industrial part of Poland, now used for various things including moving refuges out of Ukraine). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linia_Hutnicza_Szerokotorowa

So it's not true that all the reloading has to happen on EU border.

We also have trains that can move from standard to wide gauge and back with minimal delays. For example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SUW_2000 but there are also more modern versions.

The main problem is simply too small capacity of railway transport compared to sea transport. We'd have to increase the number of cargo trains Poland and Ukraine owns by orders of magnitude to move all that grain in a reasonable time.

AlbertCory 2 months ago

If you are not a train buff, this comment is not for you. (I wouldn't claim I'm one myself, but let's say I'm a "sympathizer.")

I just heard about this rather large model railroad [1], up near Skyline on private land (this is in the Bay Area). When I say "rather large" I mean "you can ride on it." It's members-only. I'm not a member. (If you were only 60 years old, you'd be the youngest.)

They have giant workshops where you build things to maintain the railroad.

[1] https://www.pvarr.org/

  • Stevvo 2 months ago

    You would love the UK. Many cities have steam railroads of similar gauge in public parks. They are also run by clubs of old men, but offer rides to kids all day on the weekend instead of hiding out in the hills!

    • AlbertCory 2 months ago

      I hasten to add I'm not a train spotter (that's what you call them over there, right?) I don't have a model train of any gauge.

      • hinoki 2 months ago

        Trainspotting is like birding for trains. You keep track of which engines and rolling stock you’ve seen, go on trips to see new engines etc.

        So it’s a different type of train nerd from railroad modelling.

floehopper 2 months ago

Jon Worth's [1] CrossBorderRail project [2] aims to highlight missing cross-border rail links in Europe. He's recently embarked on a huge rail and bike journey that crosses every internal border inside the European Union (and EFTA countries) that you can cross by train. En route he's stopping off to organise a meeting in the political capital of each country to discuss the missing rail links with local activists.

[1]: https://twitter.com/jonworth [2]: https://crossborderrail.trainsforeurope.eu/

kkfx 2 months ago

The real *ways (not just rails, also roads) issue is one: evolution.

We start a project a day, with a certain set of needs and desires. The project takes time to be complete, let's say 10-15-20 years, at the end some parts of the network are still useful and valuable many others are not. Change them is hard, demand again more time, once done (IF done) we end up in the similar departure scenario.

Society does not change that fast in general, but still do. In the past we have followed nature and people have started to follow transport networks, now with climate change, transport tech changes etc we experience issues.

The sole solution is IMO:

- do their best to create free networks, like privileging air and water transports who demand infra but only at their endpoints letting paths evolve much faster and simpler;

- do their best to avoid LARGE infra, preferring capillar ones were surely there would be useless parts but being a small local size and much connected network any segment cost far less so both profitable ones and unprofitable ones can be operated.

In the past we have seen something like this, for rails for instance: http://carfree.fr/img/2015/06/sncf.jpg overall the old network worked LESS well and cost A BIT more, but the old one allow many paths from A to B so allow flexibility, the new one is far more efficient AS LONG AS transportation needs do not change.

We have seen the very same issue in modern just-in-time manufacturing and we see that solutions found so far are the same: less efficiency traded for more flexibility.

  • dieortin 2 months ago

    Why would we privilege air and water transports when they're the hardest ones to electrify by far? We're in a climate emergency, and should be doing the opposite.

    • kkfx 2 months ago

      Every time you read general emergency "no time left", TINA, you read "someone want to impose something with an excuse". Yes climate change and that's a disaster, NOTHING we will right now will have ANY significant effect in less than 100+ years and the Green New Deal have nothing to do with the environment preservation, at least for the public and advertised parts.

      Air and water means flexibility, when the climate change migration happen, flood happen, permafrost melt etc so we need something that can evolve as needed depending on the kind of change, so far only air and water can. Railroads roads can't be moved quickly nor can't evolve in general beside the fact that in environmental terms are no more friendly than a plane, despite what's advertised.

      Similar cities can't adapt, especially dense one, we need spread people avoiding being too spread to have still economy of scale and social proximity.

      • danhor 2 months ago

        > NOTHING we will right now will have ANY significant effect in less than 100+ years

        Where are you getting this from? Some people are estimating the lag to the maximum effect as low as ~10 years [1], with the popular consensus being ~30 years until the peak effects are reached (so probably a lot less time needed for any significant effects to be felt). If the 100+ years were true, it's very unlikely we'd be able to measure any large effects from emissions from 100+ years ago, while the average temperature have increased by 1°C [2]. In that time cumulative emissions have increased 16-fold (1920: 100 bT, 2020: 1.6 tT) so we'd be fucked without any recourse if that were true.

        That seems to be a sorry excuse to just say "fuck it, we'll just have to adapt when the time comes"

        The broad scientific consensus (ipcc) is that just continuing on like we do right now will have significant detrimental effects on humanity and that actions taking today can stop global warming by ~2040 [5].

        > beside the fact that in environmental terms are no more friendly than a plane

        Where are you getting this from? Or are you conflating environmental impact in general and global warming impact specifically for this argument? (Which I'd also not agree with, but that's a different point).

        And why would cities be less able to adapt? They seem to be better suited for adapting, with more indoor spaces and less energy & resource usage. Due to the concentrated nature a lot less area has to be adapted for climate change effects (and there certainly are cities that won't exist, primarily due to sea level rise, but that's also the case for non-cities).

        Air travel especially suffers from noise & pollution (not the co2 kind) concerns, which is (at least in europe) stopping many airports from expanding. It's also very limited in capacity.

        Water has great capacity, but can only use few fixed waterways, with most inland waterways requiring a significant amount of human intervention to make them suitable. Why would a ship be more flexible in travel & destination than a railroad or trucks?

        I also disagree with your hypothesis about the needed flexibility on most infrastructure projects in regards to time. Most railways & highways are by now more than 40 years old (with railways usually being much older) and very few parts have been deemed useless (at least in germany), because human development is pretty fixed in place, with most population centers 40 years age still having at least a significant population now. Usually the worst issue is that capacity is quickly reached in just a few years, but that's more of a nice problem to have.

        Climate change will have effects on human living, but if we let it get so extreme that formerly unlivable places in the north become very livable while those built up areas that are currently used by humans become unlivable, I doubt a functional global or large distance transport network will be available or even necessary on a larger scale.

        And regarding the Green New Deal: Recommendations from it[3] seems to outline needed actions for emissions cuts and approaches for mitigating climate change[4] in the near term pretty well.

        [1]: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/9/12/12... [2]: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/... [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_New_Deal#Green_New_Deal_... [4]: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/AR5_SYR_FINA... P. 27 [5]: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6... P 15, P 18

        • kkfx 2 months ago

          My sources are simple human observation, there is no need from propaganda and so verbose reports to be simply unreadable AND unread by essentially any humans who generally prefer trusting some executive summary written by some PR instead...

          I observed a significant climate change during my life WITHOUT a significant changes of similar entity in human emissions, the simplest conclusion here is that the antropic part of responsibility is not "for current emissions" but for at least a century of emissions and even if we rush now we equally see results in a century. Gaming about "mean temperature" etc is simply a meaningless game sold as science. Not only: Green New Deal proposals completely miss the industry part, all concentrated in pushing modern homes and EVs without saying how we can produce them from renewables how we can recycle them. Try all McKinsey propaganda (sold as "study" in general) and you'll see ONLY "results" return values of functions without their source code.

          Where did you see infos on how we can source "green lithium"? Where you see how we can produce solar panels or recycle them with energy from solar, wind and hydro? Where you you see how we can produce inverters? There is exactly NOTHING public. Only pictures of "smart cities", EVs etc in a rendered landscape, how to arrive there is opaque at best. Just for instance try see the Toyota advertisement for it's own PRIVATE smart-city they are actually built on mount Fiji: https://global.toyota/en/newsroom/corporate/34827717.html and https://youtu.be/p-9X8Z2kJt8 now try to see an actual implementation like https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/19/why-greeces-ex... did you stop an instance to reason about how can be such cities built? What you imaging? A plan to create a New New York aside the original one? A plan to destroy and rebuilt, since that's technically needed, tall buildings of existing cities to rebuild them with modern concepts? If so: where and how you source raw materials for such immense task? With what energy and tech? Not only: how many decades will likely be needed for such IMMENSE rebuild? Once hypothetically done how old is the original design at that point? Also what we can do to apply such monster change to countries like India, Indonesia etc?

          If you think we can get for 2030 such McKinsey scenarios: https://www.easa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/dfu/uam-full-... you are just swallow dreams and propaganda without thinking on scale. We might be able to build such vehicles, probably, how many? To serve then how many people? 1% of actual western population? The 99% of the rest and all the rest of the world?

          There is no grass-green in the Green new deal, the green color is the stereotypical color of chemical wastes going out of rusty abandoned barrels and dollar-green for some.

          - IF it can be realized it demand few orders of magnitude today's emissions for few decades in the most optimistic scenario, IF of course we have such tremendous amount of natural resources;

          - IF we try to apply such scenarios on scale NO ONE of them can ever work for more than few thousand people in the entire planet.

          So, or the green new deal is a desperate gamble to save the human spice, planning a HYPER-big genocide mr. adolf from Austria-Germany would be scared of since it's something he can't even imaging in his most crazy dreams or nightmares, with anyway very little chances to be realized simply because the big mass of humans planned for extermination will not agree with that plan and in any case once realized we simply can't sustain it or it's just an excuse to push social changes thanks to emergency excuses.

          Said that, ships and planes can go anywhere on water or air to a certain range. So if today we need to move let's say grains from black see to middle-east we can move them with the same ship that few months after can move other grains from Brazil to China, we need harbors and local infra of course ships does not born out of the see, like the green new deal above, but they are flexible. Similar thing is for planes. Let's take the arctic as an example: with global heating is now a frontier, unfortunately the land part of the region is melting permafrost, witch means we can't build more than small buildings, no roads, no rails etc. Airplanes and ships however can go there almost issueless, and they actually do so also now. Did you see recent images of Yellowstone flood with a demolished road in many place? Well. To rebuild this road they will need at least one year and seen the actual flood and likeliness of another one various part of it should be moved with enormous efforts. How can you go there now? Well, just take a chopper and there you go. That's why in a climate changing world no one know exactly how and when things changes to significant enough extents we simply can't relay on fixed infra on large scale. That's why we can't even in ecological terms start to build massive new roads and rails network with the immense amount of resources they demand.

          Cities can't adapt simply because there is no room to evolve them. Did you ever tried to compute how many raw material you need to build let's say 100 individual homes, nowadays typically wood frame + glass wool + some implants and equipment vs a 100 apartments building? Try to compute.

          Individual homes demand far more land, so land owners are not happy: they can sell a handkerchief of land for big money to build a skyscraper, they can't do the same for few single-family homes but a single-family home on the ground does not destroy soil humus, it's relatively recyclable and can be upgraded and rebuilt once in a while. So far NO PLANS exists essentially for any tall building for when their concrete became simply too old to stay up. An individual home can easily add a small geothermal heat pump, solar, ... it's a small job easy enough. A tall building can't. Beside that why build such big stuff? For what purpose? A hospital certainly need space, a factory idem, but homes? Did you just try to compute how much resources a metro demand? How it must be inefficient because to serve people you need good coverage but in most cases trains will go nearly empty?

          Instead of reading executive summaries and recommendation try the math yourself.

kzrdude 2 months ago

There is a lot more wheat to ship than could ever fit on rail cars.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-61583492

"Ukrainian farmers have 20 million tonnes of grain they cannot get to international markets"

Let's say you could ship 10 ton (10,000 kg) per train car; that's still 2 million rail cars. The longest possible freight train would be 100 cars or so - so now we're down to 20,000 grain train runs needed for the export.

It's not possible, not enough rail capacity, not enough rail cars and engines or days in a year to do it.

  • dragonwriter 2 months ago

    > Let's say you could ship 10 ton (10,000 kg) per train car;

    What if we don't underestimate by a full order of magnitude? [0]

    > The longest possible freight train would be 100 cars or so

    Why? Freight trains over 100 cars are fairly routine.

    [0] https://www.freightwaves.com/news/commentary-moving-grain-is... : “Rail’s economic advantage comes in large part from each railroad car’s capacity of up to 100 tons”

    • avianlyric 2 months ago

      Reading around it seems the bulk goods wagons in the EU can move about 56tons each max, are about 13m long[1], and freight trains have a max length of 750m[2] but normally need to be shorter.

      In total that means the maximum an EU freight train could theoretically move is only 3,100 tons[3]. So to move 20mil tons of wheat in 3 months (I don’t know the shelf life of wheat) would require about 70 full trains a day. Which I suspect might be beyond what’s possible.

      [1] https://railrent.com/en/wagon-overview/bulk-freight-wagon/

      [2] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_Europe

      [3] 750/13 = 57.6 wagons per train. Subtract one for an engine (but I suspect you need more than one engine) give you 56 wagons. 56 wagons at 56 tons each gives you a total of 3,135tons are cargo.

      • iggldiggl 2 months ago

        There are special wagons for transporting grain , e.g. [1] or [2], the main difference being that those are covered, whereas the standard bulk freight wagons are open and therefore not weatherproof.

        Before running into any length limits, the limiting factor at the moment will actually be the screwlink coupling, though. Using the wagon from [2], 720 m [3] would fit 48 wagons, which fully laden would weigh a total of 48 * (70.1 + 19.9 t) = 4320 t. A standard buffer and chain screwlink coupling is only good for around 4000 t on a level gradient, 2500 t at 12.5 ‰ (1:80), or in really mountainous terrain only 1400 t at 26 ‰ (1:38.4)

        [1] https://gueterwagenkatalog.dbcargo.com/katalog/nach-gattung/...

        [2] https://www.wascosa.ch/wagenpark/pdf/de/schuettgutwagen/getr...

        [3] In Germany the maximum length is 740 m, minus 20 m for the locomotive.

    • bobthepanda 2 months ago

      The European network is not generally set up to handle these long freight trains, because passenger trains are prioritized and the long freights screw that up (see: Amtrak)

  • maxerickson 2 months ago

    Apparently hopper cars can hold ~100 tons.

    Still some tough arithmetic.

    • kzrdude 2 months ago

      Now I learned thought that "In 2020, U.S. Class I railroads moved nearly 1.5 million carloads of grain."

      Apparently it's almost possible in that sense.

      • coredog64 2 months ago

        It’s almost as if the US actually does have a good rail system, except it’s been optimized for freight. /sarc.

londons_explore 2 months ago

An automated system could be made for this.

Imagine two tracks side by side. Now have a mechanism above that lifts goods off one train and into another. The mechanism could work on moving trains such that a 30 mph train could unload all its cargo and have it all loaded into a neighbouring train also moving at 30 mph.

Such a mechanism would be expensive, but only needs to exist at cargo borders, and the cost would be dwarfed by the value of the trade it enables.

  • sschueller 2 months ago

    That seems like an over complication when you have automatic gauge adjustment system [1] (already in use) that can change the cage while the train travels through it at 15 km/h. At the same time you can easily build locomotives to run on electricity of any voltage and also diesel at the same time. Also changing locomotives at boarders is quite common in Europe so even if you can't get the locomotive to work you can switch them easily.

    We have a light rail here in Zürich Switzerland that is a Tram while in the city and a Train when it is outside. It switches from 600V to 1200V and back halfway through the journey and it does this all day long without any issues. [2]

    [1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spurweite_(Bahn)

    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forch_railway

    • avianlyric 2 months ago

      Those systems have some pretty tight weight limits on them, which makes them unsuitable for freight usage. I believe this approach, and why doesn’t work, is covered in the article.

  • wongarsu 2 months ago

    Something like a container crane? I'd argue even that is too complicated.

    Bulk cargo like grain is often unloaded like this [1]: doors on the bottom of the wagon that allow dumping the cargo next to the rail, or in some configurations below it. Loading happens by dumping stuff in from the top.

    Now it doesn't take much to make a structure to have one train drive below and lightly to the side of another, enabling one train to dump their cargo into the other.

    The problem with all those solutions is that they have to be built, and before the war Ukraine had little reason to invest. Shipping bulk goods by ship was cheaper, thus train infrastructure for them was neglected. It's the same story as Europe underinvesting in port infrastructure for unloading oil and lpg because in peace time pipelines were cheaper.

    1: https://thumbs.dreamstime.com/b/unloading-crushed-stone-rail...

  • Tabular-Iceberg 2 months ago

    What's the benefit of moving during the operation? It seems like it would add a lot of cost and complexity for no clear benefit.

    • inglor_cz 2 months ago

      There isn't any benefit, it only eats up capacity of two tracks that could be used by other, faster trains.

      If you need to move cargo from one train to another, just do it somewhere away from the main tracks.

  • ajuc 2 months ago

    There are many solutions, including a much simpler ones like cars that can move on both standard and wide gauges https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SUW_2000

    Or automatic unloading of this kind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzG-pizgqUQ

    Imagine this but with grain instead of sand and over a Vistula river where ships going to Gdańsk are waiting.

    But the main problem is too few trains. Sea transport is so efficient compared to rail, that combined Polish and Ukrainian cargo trains are far too few in number to move all that grain in time. You'd have to buy order of magnitude more trains.

  • notatoad 2 months ago

    article: with Ukraine using 1,520 mm gauge, all cargo has to be transferred to different trains at the Ukraine-EU border

    HN: why don't they just build a system to transfer the cargo to a different train? That would solve it

5etho 2 months ago

FYI during world war I, armys could laid a track in 2 days during world war II german wehrmacht also build the railways and change gouge in real time

time to real hot war solutions, send nato ships to odessa to unblock the port

is it just impossible to ship grain by train, the same as it is impossible to install android on iphone 13

Animats 2 months ago

China's Belt and Road initiative is forcing more railways in Asia to support "standard gauge" (1435 mm) width, which China and Europe, while the Soviet-era countries use 1520mm. The goal is to be able to run freight from China to Europe.[1] Some track is dual-gauge. There's enough difference between 1435mm and 1520mm to use a 3-rail system. Plain track isn't too hard, but switches are complicated.

[1] https://asiatimes.com/2021/11/chinas-belt-and-road-chugging-...

  • Gare 2 months ago

    > There's enough difference between 1435mm and 1520mm to use a 3-rail system.

    Can you provide an example? I've only seen 4-rail dual-gauge systems for those gauges.

    • SoftTalker 2 months ago

      Why would you need 4 rails?

         |            |  |
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      Left wheel uses left rail.

      If narrow gauuge, the right wheel uses the innner rail. If wide gauge, the right wheel uses the outer rail.

      • justsomehnguy 2 months ago

          These gauges cannot make 3-rail dual gauge with Russian gauge.
        
            1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge
            1,668 mm (5 ft 5+21⁄32 in) Iberian gauge
            1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) Irish gauge
            1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge
        
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5_ft_and_1520_mm_gauge_railway...
        • Animats 2 months ago

          I got that info reading about a dual-gauge solution for China's Belt and Road. But it was a political piece on the "Akhaura-Sylhet dual gauge project" in Bangladesh. Turns out that India, Pakistan, western Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka (also, SF's BART) use 1,676 mm gauge. There's enough space between that and 1,435 mm standard gauge for 3-rail. Not sure about 4-rail.

photochemsyn 2 months ago

It's a bit surprising to see an article on modern-day rail that doesn't at least mention China's remarkable advances in rail. You can love or hate their state-sponsored, approach, but it seems undeniable that Chinese rail is the most advanced in the world at present.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_transport_in_China

  • mlindner 2 months ago

    Because the conversation is about rail transport between Europe and post-soviet Europe. It would in fact be surprising to see China being mentioned at all, given it's complete irrelevance to the conversation at hand.

    And no I'd pretty easily say that Chinese rail is not the most advanced in the world. That award would go to Japan. (China buys (or steals) their technology from Japan and also Europe.)

cenriqueortiz 2 months ago

One clear benefit of ensuring disparity of rail systems across adjacent countries is protection from an impromptu invasion. IIRC for some countries during the WWs, that was a main reason for the differences and was in fact effective. I wonder if the rail systems difference helped avoid Russia using the rail system for the invasion of Ukraine.

  • idlehand 2 months ago

    Russia and Ukraine have the same gauge. The reason the railroads weren't used to invade is because Ukraine managed to damage the connecting infrastructure enough. Turns out that railroads are a lot better defensively than offensively, in an era of widespread drone usage.

    • Sharlin 2 months ago

      Not sure how drones are related – denying rail use from an advancing enemy has always been easy. A destroyed railroad bridge cannot be replaced with a temporary ponton bridge, for one.

Tabular-Iceberg 2 months ago

My suggestion is that we build a dedicated freight network of Soviet gauge and SA3 couplers and leave the existing network for passengers.

We're only going to need more capacity for climate-friendly transportation of both passengers and freight, and stronger tracks and couplers for heavier trains is going to help with efficiency of the latter.

  • jabl 2 months ago

    The EU already has a project to introduce a replacement for the screw couplings used in EU rail freight today, the Digital automatic coupling (DAC). The "digital" part AFAICT comes from the ability to also connect air (for pneumatic brakes) and data cablings, not only mechanical.

Ericson2314 2 months ago

I feel like we should pick a broad gauge and dual-gauge everything to be standard guage and that.

palm-tree 2 months ago

Interesting to see the ways in which even railways have technical debt!

gambler 2 months ago

Hm, after reading the title I monetarily thought the article would talk about the implosion of Union Pacific and complications of switching to a different provider. FYI:

https://www.manufacturing.net/labor/news/13118134/union-paci...

https://www.wsj.com/articles/union-pacific-to-cut-nearly-3-0...

https://www.thepacker.com/news/transportation/union-pacific-...

https://www.reddit.com/r/collapse/comments/sd9kqw/union_paci...

https://www.reddit.com/r/CatastrophicFailure/comments/s6c04a...

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/14/los-angeles-...

https://www.cfindustries.com/newsroom/2022/union-pacific-shi...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDxp8lUXDz0

Meanwhile at the top:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qF_5jng3RYM

TLDR version. UP switched to some fancy "efficient" system several years ago, laid off thousands of employees. At the time many people predicted collapse of the company in a couple of years. Three years later it is plagued by rampant theft and trash on the tracks. This year it refused to ship fertilizer during planting season. It also refused to ship additives to diesel fuel earlier this year (amidst general truck shipping issues and skyrocketing fuel costs). Meanwhile the CEO is smiling like a Cheshire Cat and giving out Bloomberg interviews about efficient management.

california2077 2 months ago

This would be a perfect place to try Hyperloop-like solution at scale.

  • warning26 2 months ago

    Regauging the railways too expensive? Not a problem, we'll just build a series of vacuum sealed maglev railways instead. Much cheaper.

    Wait a minute...

bell-cot 2 months ago

Zzz. At scale, railroads (at least in the US) mostly move grain in covered hopper cars - https://www.up.com/customers/track-record/tr071321-what-is-a...

If you've got enough single-gauge RR infrastructure and equipment, but a problem with a gauge change along the route, then building a one-way grain transfer facility is d*mn easy. Full hopper cars, gauge "U", get pushed onto an elevated railroad track. Empty hopper cars, gauge "P", sit ready on another track, below the full cars. In between are a bunch of crude welded-sheet-metal chutes. You open the loading hatches on the lower rail cars, then open the dump gates on the upper rail cars, and gravity moves the grain.

(Yes, this requires some equipment and intelligence to do, and some time to build. It's late-1800's technology.)