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European Railroad Discussion > Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.


Date: 02/23/20 12:04
Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 86235

A return to Latvia, specifically Daugavpils the country's second city, for some freight action in the snow. Things didn't turn out quite as I expected, in more ways than one.

I planned this trip back in November, following an announcement by Latvian Railways (LDz) that they planned to electrify their mainlines from Rezekne and Daugavpils to Riga and Ventspils and eliminate mainline diesel haulage. But what I hadn't reckoned with was the slump in traffic. A couple of days before I left a member of the Facebook group Baltisches Dieselgewitter (Baltic diesel storm) posted a report that LDz had put into storage all their 2TE10U and 2TE10M mainline diesels. This was a bitter blow, these locomotives with their two Fairbanks-Morse derived 10 cylinder Kharkov opposed piston engines are among my favourites. 

Very bad news indeed, although I knew that BCh (Belarus Railways) still operate 2TE10s across the border as far as Daugavpils, although that is set to change later this year (maybe early 2021) as BCh are electrifying from Vitebsk to the Latvian border. Presumably when completed BCh will run to the border handing over to LDz there rather than in Daugavpils.

How much has traffic slumped by? The answer is that overhead tonnage through Latvia to the ports of Riga and Ventspils has declined precipitously in the last 15 months. In 2019 tonnage shipped by Russia and Belarus for export reduced by 15.8% overall, making it the worst year for overhead traffic since 2010. 

But it got worse, in January 2020 volumes were 54% lower than in the same month the previous year! No wonder LDz doesn't need the less fuel efficient two stroke 2TE10s. And judging by my experience things haven't got any better in February!

And why is this happening? It's because Russia (and Belarus?) is shipping more through Russian ports like Ustyug and Primorsk on the Gulf of Finland. Whether that is economic, political or related to climate change is unclear. Traditionally Riga and Ventspils were favoured for being ice free, but maybe now more northerly ports like Primorsk either remain ice free or the ice is thin enough to avoid the need for specialist ice breakers. 

There was a small chink of light amid the gloom, domestic imports and exports by rail both increased, but are still miserly amounts compared to the overhead traffic from Russia and Belarus.

To give you an example of what this means to the railfan; in September 2018 I saw 11 trains between 08:15 and 16:10 which were either headed too or from Daugavpils. On Friday 14th February 2020 over a similar time period I saw 1 train. 

Hopefully LDz will fight back and look to secure new tonnage to replace the coal and oil they've lost, and who knows, maybe Latvia will regain some of the overhead traffic by offering competitive prices and transit times. We can but hope.

Thanks to Christoph von Fritschinger and Peter Szakacs of the Baltisches Dieselgewitter Facebook group for the background to the fall in traffic.

I also went at this time of the year expecting snow, back in 2018 everything was snow covered. This year? Not a flake to be seen. You couldn't make it up.

So here are a few pictures

1: Wednesday 12th February; Daugavpils lies about 75 kms from the Belarus border, Belarus Railways (BCh) provide power for all run through trains as far as Daugavpils. Between Daugavpils and the border the only town of any size is Kraslava, a town of just over 7000. It has a wood pulp mill which receives raw materials by rail so I thought that would be a reasonable place to hang out and wait for a train. I arrived mid-morning, nothing moved. In fact it was just after mid-day before the grade crossing started to flash, for this eastbound with a BCh 2TE10U (the U stands for Universal).

2: Later the same day a westbound loaded train approaching the A6 overpass on the outskirts of Daugavpils on a nice lengthy mixed freight.

3: Thursday 13th February; on Thursday I drove the 50+ miles north from Daugavpils to Rezekne; which is where power is swapped on trains coming from Russia. When I was here in June 2016 the yard was heaving with traffic, in a couple of hours I saw three arrivals from Russia, two departures west towards either Riga or Ventspils and another train which headed south towards Daugavpils. But in February 2020 I think one train arrived whilst I was in the area and I missed it as I was exploring other photo taking locations. Not very clever. What was working was this CME3M, these are modern rebuilds by CZ Loko of the bog standard Soviet heavy switcher the Czech-built ChME3.  



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/24/20 05:02 by 86235.








Date: 02/23/20 12:12
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 86235

4: Now Daugavpils has an interesting and expanding tramway system which uses a mixture of designs, both old and new. They have a number of Tatra T3s acquired second hand from Schwerin in Germany, which today are just out during the morning and evening peak hours.
5: Modern trams have been bought from Russian builders such as this KTM 71-623, passing the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Boris and Gleb. Note Daugavpils still uses trolley poles although the newest trams are equipped with pantographs.
6: They also have some modern articulated low floor models too, like this KTM 71-631



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/24/20 05:03 by 86235.








Date: 02/23/20 12:26
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 86235

Final three

7: Whilst shooting those trams I also found a BCh 2TE10MK about to leave Daugavpils for Belarus. Now the MK version does NOT have the Kharkov OP engine, the K stands for Kolomniya, as they have the Kolomna V16 four stroke 5D49 engine (which also powers Deustsch Bahn's class 232 'Ludmilla'). It's pulling out of the yard
8: Most of LDz's internal passenger trains are formed of MUs, such as these RVR built DR1A DMUs. In Soviet times RVR (based in Riga) was the MU builder of choice and plenty of their units are still in evidence in former Warsaw Pact countries. the DR1A is a diesel hydraulic MU with a 4 stroke V12 producing about 850 h.p. in the engine compartment behind the driver's cab, not wholly unlike the DEMUs that were found on Britain's Southern Region until the early 2000s.
9: This was the only freight train I saw on Friday 14th February, empties arriving in Daugavpils from either Riga or Ventspils behind another rebuild class, the 2M62UM. These are old 2M62Us rebuilt from the frame upwards by CZ Loko and fitted with a pair of Caterpillar engines in place of the Kolomna two stroke 14D40.

I took some more pictures which you can find here
https://nick86235.smugmug.com/Trains/2020/Latvia-2020/



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/23/20 22:06 by 86235.








Date: 02/23/20 14:14
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: dwatry

Nick - really great photos and narration as usual.  Sorry about the traffic downturn!

duncan



Date: 02/23/20 14:26
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 86235

Thanks Duncan



Date: 02/23/20 19:00
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: PHall

Sounds like yet another side effect of climate change. Ports that used to close because of sea ice can now stay open year round.



Date: 02/24/20 04:39
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 55002

Thanks for the very informative notes, Nik. Some great photos to accompany the discussion. Do like those 'meaty' diesels. chris uk.



Date: 02/25/20 08:33
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: pkwlsn

I wouldn't be at all surprised if the reason for the decline in traffic is as you suspect - northern ports still being open. This has been European Russia's warmest winter on record, with snow barely lasting more than a couple of days at a time. I'm living in Moscow for work currently, and all people talk about it how we skipped winter and went straight to the slush season.
If you're a big fan of the 2TE10 series engines, Ukraine might be your best place to see them at this point. There aren't a lot of them at work in Russia anymore either.



Date: 02/26/20 12:39
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: 86235

pkwlsn Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> If you're a big fan of the 2TE10 series engines,
> Ukraine might be your best place to see them at
> this point. There aren't a lot of them at work in
> Russia anymore either.

Ukraine is our next destination.



Date: 03/04/20 14:48
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: P

PHall Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sounds like yet another side effect of climate
> change. Ports that used to close because of sea
> ice can now stay open year round.

Weather is hardly consistent from year to year at many places. In the midwestern US this year, it has been very warm. Very little snow in the Ohio Valley. So what. It has always fluctuated and always will. It's not because there are too many cars on the road. Man cannot change the climate, and never has.

Posted from Android



Date: 03/05/20 02:51
Re: Latvia, no longer a freight junkie's paradise.
Author: E25

VERY nice photography. Thanks!

Greg Stadter
Phoenix, AZ



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