One of the more interesting legs of our trip across Europe was the 27 hour long train ride from Bucharest in Romania to Kiev in Ukraine. Only one train per day makes the through journey – the “Bulgaria Express” which takes four days to travel from the Bulgarian capital of Sofia to the Russian capital of Moscow.
We joined the train in Bucharest, where a Căile Ferate Române (Romania Railways) locomotive hauled the train into the dead end station at Gara de Nord.
The train was running 3 hours late due to heavy snowfall in southern Romania.
The train was made up of a multinational mix of railway carriages – “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları” from Turkey, “Căile Ferate Române” from Romania, “Укрзалізниця” from Ukraine, and “Российские железные дороги” from Russia.
Once a new locomotive was attached to the other end of the train, we set off through the suburbs of Bucharest.
Soon after we were out on the open plains of the Romanian countryside.
Out first stop was the industrial city of Ploieşti.
In the cities along the way we saw what looked to be more abandoned industries.
As we headed further north, farming appeared to be the main economic activity.
The snow also grew thicker, with out train pausing at the city of Focşani for over an hour, as we waited for the line ahead to be cleared.
We were able to press onwards, but visibility out of the window declined.
At each town along the way the stationmaster stood sentry as our train passed by.
But as the snow started to come sideways, the stationmasters became less enthusiastic about their duties.
In the city of Adjud we stopped for passengers, who had to beat a path through snowdrifts to reach the station building.
It became dark soon after, so we retired to our compartment with a cup of tea.
Dinner time was a fun experience – the onboard dining car was run by Russian Railways staff and the menu was priced in Russian roubles, but all we had to pay with was Romanian lei – in the end the chef made up a conversion rate on the spot, and we got rid of a currency we were never going to use again.
By the time we reached the Romania / Ukraine border at the town of Vicşani, it was already dark outside. Romanian immigration formalities were carried out on their side of the border, with the train then passing through a no-man’s land of barbed wire.
We then arrived at Vadul Siret on the Ukrainian side, where their immigration officials checked our passports and visas.
This was also where the carriages of our train were transferred from 1435mm standard gauge wheelsets to those of the 1520mm Russian gauge, all while we sat inside the train.
All up it took around 2 hours for our train to be transferred between the rail gauges: each carriage was spaced out along the transfer facility, then individually jacked up and having the wheelsets beneath changed over with set of the appropriate gauge.
After a night of sleep, we woke up to a random city in Ukraine.
Passing through the snow covered countryside, we occasionally encountered industrial cities.
As well as trains in adjacent railway yards.
Keeping the snow off the railway tracks appeared to be an ongoing job.
However in summertime the countryside must change completely, if the grain silos found at each railway station we passed through are anything to go by.
Each station along the way looked freezing.
With the thermometer in our carriage indicating an outside temperature of -9° Celsius. Thankfully we were a toasty warm 25° inside!
As the day drew on, the cities started to become bigger, and the houses more prosperous looking.
The number of trains I saw grew, with electric multiple units being found at each station.
The railway yards grew larger.
And before I knew it, we had arrived into Kiev.
For the entire journey I had my GPS datalogger running – the resulting track can be found below.
Note how roundabout the route taken was, with a massive western deviation towards the Ukrainian city of Lvov, which is almost on the Polish border.
The train itself is number #382 – the “Bulgaria Express”. You can find the timetable here, on the Bulgarian State Railways website.
I never managed a picture showing the outside of our train, but here is one by Hlihor Bogdan on Flickr – a CFR Class 62 diesel-electric locomotive hauling a RZD dining car, then a handful of passenger carriages.
actually, is a massive WESTern deviation (not eastern) towards the ukrainian city of Lvov close to the polish borders…. but yea, pretty weird that loop. Since it is a quite important international circuit, they should have managed to make efficient connections in time between Lvov and Kiev. The route shouldnt have been designed to collect passengers within the country …or at least, this is what it seems to suggest. The way is already long, even without that loop.
Thanks for the correction – I got my directions mixed up. 🙁
I’ve found a very useful map of the Ukrainian railway network on the website of Thorsten Büker:
It appears that the route from Lvov and Kiev is as direct as it could be, but there is no double track route to the border crossing at Vadul Siret.
The trip looks extremely interesting. I am going to be in Eastern Europe next year and was looking for the best way to travel from Bucharest to Kiev. It seems that TAROM and the major Ukrainian airline do not do direct flights but either go via Moscow (with ridiculously long layovers) or via London. It might be more interesting to do the 17 hour train trip and it would certainly be a talking point with family and friends in the future.
A check of Trip Advisor shows plenty of other people wanting to make the same trip and running into the same limited set of options.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you have a Eurail pass, you can only use it to pay for the portion of the journey inside Romania. I had an English-speaking travel agent in Romania organise our tickets, so I’m assuming it might be a little difficult to sort out for yourself.
Pingback: 'All change' with the V/Line nanny state - Waking up in Geelong
hello, please is what this train runs every day ? I can not find information on the internet. I want to make the trip ” chernivtsi – Suceava “
From what I can see on the DB Bahn trip planner, direct trains from Bucharest to Kiev no longer exist – their suggested option is via Chisinau, the capital of Moldova:
As for a shorter cross border journey such as Chernivtsi – Suceava, I’d normally suggest looking at the ‘The Man in Seat 61’ website, but they come up blank:
Pingback: Crossing international borders by train - Euro Gunzel