After floods and economic downturn. An overview of Romanian railways

The damages caused by floods obstruct train traffic on several sections. But this is cake compared to the poor condition of the railways managed by CFR: their condition went down from acceptable in 2000 to completely impracticable, because of lack of upgrading and maintenance works… The following pages contain information about the condition of the Romanian railways and the chronology of the current situation.

After the final years of dictator Ceauşescu, Romania, a country stepping on the paths of democracy, inherited a railway network with a relatively solid infrastructure and a relatively young superstructure. Then, things have taken a turn specific to crude democracies after the fall of the communist regime: state budget incomes have evaporated and the costs and damages have been grouped to the detriment of state companies. Back then, the railways were lucky enough that in the 70s and the 80s, significant investments were made in the railway network. All main lines and part of the sidings had been rebuilt with 64 km/ml rails and concrete base. Many safety equipments had been installed on shunting lines, which at the time, were modern, management rail stations had been built in rail knots and many lines had been electrified and doubled. Works at new lines had been initiated with the purpose of reducing the distance and the travel time and include new destinations, but most of these lines have not been finalized to this day. In the 90s, the lack of money was still unnoticeable in the railway sector because the situation of railways had not known significant deteriorations despite minimal maintenance.
Starting with the new millennium, problems have already begun to appear: in the socialism era, speed restrictions indicators were one by one displayed on railways where poor quality materials were used for construction. In 2005, CFR’s infrastructure received another strike: Romania had witness the most terrible floods in the past 35 years, floods that seriously damaged several segments of railways. Among lines that became impracticable back then, there are lines that are still waiting the initiation of rehabilitation works. The condition of railways is already terrible even on those segments that escaped flooding. 2010 came with strike two, when railway lines were once again flooded. A relevant example is the tragedy that took place on Braşov-Sibiu line. At the footstep of Făgăraş Mountains, on Transfăgărăşan road, between Porumbacu and Arpaşu stations, near Cârţa station, the pillar of the bridge across Cârţişoara was displaced by the rising level of waters and the bridge structure collapsed. Lacking resources, rehabilitation has not yet been initiated and the bridge still lays collapsed.
Because of the damages caused by last summer’s floods, apart from the greater number of speed restrictions, the authorities had to close traffic on seven points, four of which are off traffic to this day. Apart from the already mentioned line, rail traffic has also been interrupted on another main line in Bucovina, a railway line that used to link Romania to Ukraine, because a 1-km long segment of the dam was damaged on the night of June 28, 2010, the segment located between Suceava Nord – Dărmăneşti and Milişăuţi – Dorneşti stations. Consequently, an isolated system is not working in Romania between Dorneşti and Putna.
On June 28, 2010, rail traffic was also interrupted on a siding well-known by those using trains between Vama and Moldoviţa. Shutting down the line had been for a long time taken into consideration, but traffic was obstructed by an unexpected event. From April 9, 2010, passenger transport and freight services were carried out by a private company, FEROTRANS-T.F.I. (Since 2005, in Romania, more than 1,500 km of sidings have been exploited by private companies dealing not only with passenger transport services, but also line exploitation). After privatisation, there were six pairs of trains running on this segment, compared to the previous three or two pairs of trains, so that, despite pessimistic thoughts, this line seemed to be saved. However, because of heavy rain, Moldoviţa River left its stream and damaged the superstructure on a 200-m segment before the final station. When this happened, CFR Călători’s Malaxa 953 multiple-unit running on this line was at Moldoviţa, where it still lingers. Exploitation companies should finance rehabilitation works from their own budget, but if the state-owned CFR has no money for such works, how can a small private company have?
The fourth line that has been put off service by last summer’s floods has been extremely damaged over time. This line close to Moldoviţa is also located in Bucovina. We are talking about the electrified line Dărmăneşti – Păltinoasa (or to use its latest, yet less used name, Gura Humorului). The western segment of the rail line has been put off service by the floods in 2005, more precisely Păltinoasa –Cacica section. After four years of imposed break, rail traffic was resumed at the end of 2009. Until then, common passenger trains used to travel only on Suceava-Cacica route. But the rehabilitated line was not to live long, as its eastern segment (Cacica – Dărmăneşti) had to be closed the same day with the other two lines in Bucovina. This line is also managed by FEROTRANS-T.F.I, so rehabilitation is still under question.
For a short while, it was necessary to obstruct traffic on Gălăneşti – Gura Putnei, Prisaca Dornei – Câmpulung Est, Bărboşi – Şendreni sections, but railway traffic on these lines has already been resumed.
Therefore, because of the damages caused by the 2010 floods and the collapse of the bridge in 2009, rail traffic is currently disrupted in five points, the situation in a sixth point being much more serious and difficult to repair since nothing has been done since 2005. This point is also located on one of the Pan-European network lines. You can read more about this line in the framed article. Therefore, a natural question comes to our minds: why would not CFR solve the problems and the line deteriorations in the critical points of the rail network?
The answer is simple; line rehabilitation requires the same three things as war: money, money, money. And CFR has got no money, not even for more striving problems. The negative effects of the global financial downturn have reached their peak in Romania a little bit later this year. The state-owned railway company is currently struggling with significant financing problems. The group is letting go nearly 10,000 employees and lay-offs are underway. The infrastructure manager will dismiss less than 2,000 employees. But the lucky ones are not lucky after all: the company’s cost-cutting policy implies imposed holidays and reduced delayed incomes.
Let’s say a few words about the railways that escaped floods. As already mentioned, in the 70s and the 80s, the railway network knew significant modernisation works. Those lines which have not been rehabilitated ever since are obviously in the poorest condition possible. However, minimum maintenance works have been implemented on the rehabilitated lines that have been subject to a more intense traffic because of the work rhythm of socialism, poor quality raw materials, but also time wear. Consequently, a significant part of Pan-European traffic lines, as well as other main lines, are flawed and present significant speed restrictions (30-40-50 km/h). Reduced traffic lines, built towards the end of the previous regime, are the only ones whose condition is acceptable.
Several derailments also took place in Romania after 2008. For example, the accident which took place on Pentecost in 2008 or on September 2009 at Carcea, near Craiova. In the first case, the rail pierced the train floor and thrust into the passenger compartment resulting in the death of one person. The official explanation has always referred to exterior forces (sleeper stealing or voluntary deeds), but experts know that all these tragedies were caused by the poor condition of the railways.  After 2000, the CFR network knew no great investments, only 92 km of double line being built for speeds of 140 km/h between Bucharest and Câmpina. Construction works are underway between  Câmpina and Predeal (48 km), but unlike the project, works are delayed on this section for more than 2 years already. During 2006-2009, the double 225-km long line linking Bucharest to the seaside city of Constanţa was built. Why it was necessary to rebuild the relatively young infrastructure on this line remains a mystery, since when works were initiated this line was the best in the country. Millions of Euros coming from European financings would have been much more useful on Pan-European line segments. In fact, on the line to Constanţa, trains still run at speeds of 140 km/h on Lehliu – Ciulniţa section, which was excluded from reconstruction plans. We can thus easily see how motivated was intervention on the rest of the line…
Meanwhile, the other CFR lines have come to be almost impracticable, the worst situation being that of Curtici – Sighişoara – Braşov  section. The line, initially built for speeds of 120 km/h, can no longer bear speeds of 100 km/h except for some segments. 70 km/h speed restrictions are also common. The longest such section exceeds 100 km. On several shorter segments, speed restrictions prevent trains from travelling at more than 30 km/h. During summertime, speed is restricted to 50 km/h in several points for fear the rails would come undone. If significant investments are not made soon,  the No Trespassing sign will come out after Lökösháza locality. Trains running between Budapest and Bucharest amount delays of at least one hour day by day because of speed restrictions and reconstruction works, leaving aside the travel time which increased year on year. Thus, the Ister EuroNight train reaches the Romanian capital in the afternoon, so we cannot even call it a night train any more. On the medium section of the line, between Simeria and Coslariu, reconstruction works began in November 2010, causing even more delays and extending travel times. The complete rehabilitation of Curtici-Sighişoara-Bucharest line will take  6 to 8 years. Situation is a little bit more optimistic on Bucharest – Bacău – Suceava – Vicşani line, except for the above-mentioned damages. On this line, the well-development of the railway activities is obstructed by  Putna Seacă Bridge. During the 2005 floods, the bridge gave up one month before it’s brother in Grădiştea (see the framed article) and collapsed into the riverbed. It was temporarily rehabilitated by the end of that year, but so hasty that the joints between the pillars and the bridge structure are filled with wood pieces. Currently trains run at speeds of 10 km/h on the bridge and its condition can put it off service any time now. This can also happen with the 969-m long tunnel between Fileşti and Galaţi stations, whose shut-down will leave no link between the Romanian capital and a capital county with 300,000 inhabitants. However, given the current economic situation, modernisation funds are too much to hope for.

It happened five years ago…
The 2005 floods caused more damages to the Romanian railway infrastructure than last year’s heavy rain. There were more than 50 flooded sections and lines deteriorated to the point of impracticability on several segments. The main causes which led to these consequences were:
-pieces of woods on the superstructure, infrastructure sliding;
-sliding of beams
-the bridges were damaged (displaced, collapsed) because of damaged cliffs, bridge heads or pillars.
Afterwards, analyses showed that many problems appeared because of bad execution and lack of maintenance works at the infrastructure and protection elements (for example, water drainage ditches, discharge of the bank reinforcement systems).
Apart from the great number of sidings, several main lines were also put off service, among them sections of Mărăşeşti-Ploieşti, Caransebeş-Craiova and  Siculeni-Adjud (2010) lines.

The fall of Grădiştea Bridge
Undoubtedly, one of the most memorable, serious and lesson-learning rail damages caused by the floods in 2005 took place at Grădiştea, near Bucharest. Bucharest-Giurgiu line is part of the Pan-European Corridor IX and passes a few kilometres away from the city suburbs and the ring over a steel bridge with three openings long of 3 × 64 metre, built across the Argeş River. (In fact, before the fall of the communism, the authorities began the construction of a new bridge, next to the river arrangement works, but the finalisation of the final-stage concrete bridge was interrupted once  river arrangement works were interrupted). After the river arrangement works were interrupted and because of the gravel exploitation over the past four decades, the riverbed level dropped by almost 10 metres. Consequently, the pillars of the exploited bridge and those of the new, unexploited bridge were not safe any more.
After the heavy rains on August 7, 2005, a strong rush of water came on the Argeş River damaging the pillars even more. Consequently, two days later, the second pillar moved and the line slightly curved. The curve became more and more visible so that on the 11th of August, 2005 at 12:07 pm traffic speed was restricted to 15 km/h, while heavy trains and international rapid traffic trains were no longer allowed to pass across the bridge. They had to turn round to Videle. 24h later, around 9:00 pm, the second pillar bended annulling the support of third pillar and the entire structure collapsed into the riverbed. The structure of the second opening fell on the second pillar.
Lacking the funds necessary for reconstruction, rehabilitation works were not initiated and the bridge structure is still in the riverbed. The other semi-finalized bridge cannot be used because the level of the riverbed dropped and its pillars are already damaged by water. Until the moment, the reconstruction of the bridge located a few km away from Grădiştea station has proved to be a much too daring task, because the variable riverbed level makes rehabilitation impossible and requires the construction of a completely new bridge. However, rehabilitation is necessary: for five years, the route of trains travelling to the only railway border point between Romania and Bulgaria has to go round for several kilometres, overstressing the Videle-Giurgiu line, designed for lighter traffic.

[ by Gayer Márk ]
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