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New Hyundai trains bring frustration, not comfort to Ukrainians

The arrival of new South Korean speed trains this month to the Ukrainian railway was heralded as a great improvement in transportation, but it has also brought frustration, anger over high prices and complaints over bad service. Changes in trains’ schedule, arranged to make Euro 2012 fans’ trips through Ukraine comfortable, disappointed many Ukrainians who rely upon the railways for getting around.
While locals are upset over the cancellation of 25 percent of overnight trains that previously operated, foreign fans are finding it difficult to book tickets on the newer, more expensive Hyundai trains. Three weeks before the championship, tickets are still unavailable for many customers and online booking services seem to be working in a test mode at times.

Jens Nielsen, a Danish football fan who is planning to travel by train from Krakow to Lviv, said he and his friends are finding it difficult to obtain information about transportation in Ukraine. On May 23, Nielson said that a schedule has appeared, but the system is not functioning fully. Nielsen said it allows purchase of tickets to Ukraine from Poland, but not back to Poland.

Nielsen’s troubles appear to have been caused by a reshuffling in train schedules that took place when Ukraine’s state railway service, Ukrzaliznytsia, this month started introducing service on new Hyundai trains imported from South Korea.

Three are already in operation as of May 27. Two connect Euro 2012 host cities Kyiv and Lviv and one operates between Kyiv and Kharkiv. Three more are scheduled to roll on Ukraine’s railways later this year. In June, one will connect Kyiv and Donetsk. Plans envision that Hyundai trains will also this year link Kyiv with Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk.

By introducing the new trains, which are faster and more comfortable at a cost of more than double earlier trains, authorities angered Ukrainians by cancelling older, less expensive train rides. For example, the popular 91/92 trains connecting Kyiv and Lviv were cancelled.

What was the 91/92 train ride has, in fact, been rescheduled and now takes seven hours longer, double what it used to take. It also now departs close to 5 p.m., as opposed to late in the evening, making it more difficult and less convenient for people working in Kyiv to, for example, take a weekend off by visiting Lviv.

Meanwhile, economy class tickets to Lviv on the new Hyundai speed trains, which depart in the evening, cost Hr 334. That is a hefty, threefold higher price. Ukrainians seeking to travel back and forth to Kyiv from other cities face similar problems.

Ukrainian officials have in recent days faced with a barrage of criticism over the changes and have struggled to explain them.

Borys Kolesnikov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, has rejected claims that introduction of the Hyundai trains have anything to do with cancellation of night trains.

Meanwhile, Ukrzaliznytsia cited a poll that suggests that nearly half of Ukrainians are keen to pay more for speed trains rather than the previous overnight option. It also reported that more than 1,000 tickets for new speed trains were sold through a newly launched online system in the first day of sales, on May 21, which was one week before the new service was launched.

Ukrzaliznytsia has also claimed that prices on its new speed trains are threefold cheaper than those offered on similar service in neighboring Russia.

-by Olga Rudenko (