MORE than 400 people from across the European railway industry gathered in Brussels on January 31 for the 16th European Railway Award hosted by the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Companies (CER) and the European Rail Industry Association (Unife), the first in-person ceremony since 2020.

Ukrainian Railways (UZ) was the recipient of the “Rail Champion” award, the judges recognising the railway’s remarkable resilience and continuation of transport services in times of war and unimaginable hardship.

The award was presented to Mr Oleksandr Petrovskyi, board member of UZ. In a stirring speech, Petrovskyi reflected on the hardship endured in the 342 days since war broke out, which has left 327 railway workers dead and has led to the evacuation of more than 4 million people, including 1 million children, by rail. Despite continued Russian aggression, he said that UZ has continued to offer a lifeline to Ukrainian citizens and kept vital aid and supplies flowing through the country, including agricultural exports, a key component of the country’s economy.

Petrovskyi also vowed to continue working to draw UZ and Ukraine closer to Europe and the European “railway family.” His speech was met with a standing ovation by attendees gathered in the auditorium at the Royal Belgium Museum of Fine Arts.

“It’s an honour for the Ukrainian railway workers who keep doing their job on a daily basis despite constant shelling and infrastructure damage,” Petrovskyi said.

“The war is no excuse for us not to keep enhancing our service quality and to find new Euro integration routes. More railway connections with Poland and Romania in recent months are vivid proof of that. I herby invite all the railways in Europe and beyond to help Ukraine speed up the victory, to work with us on establishing more connections, and to personally visit Kyiv by the safe and comfortable trains of Ukrzaliznytsia.”

European Railway Award attendees gathered together on the stage at the Royal Belgium Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, with award recipients Mr Oleksandr Petrovskyi, of Ukrainian Railways, and Ms Eglė Šimė, of LTG Cargo, centre stage. Photo credit: European Railway Award Twitter

Words of solidarity and support for Ukraine were evident in other speeches, including in a video address from European parliament president, Ms Roberta Metsola, from Swedish minister for infrastructure and housing, Mr Andreas Carlson, and from Mr Henrik Hololei, director general of DG Move at the European Commission, who reflected on the success of the EU’s Solidary Lanes policy and reiterated the EU’s commitment to build standard gauge infrastructure into Ukraine.

“What we have achieved together during these dark days is here to stay,” Hololei said. “UZ will be indispensable for the reconstruction of Ukraine and for deepening EU-Ukraine relations. I look forward to welcoming Ukraine’s impressive rail network into the EU.”

Rail Trailblazer

This year’s “Rail Trailblazer Award” recognised efforts to increase female representation in rail, which is a priority issue for the sector given that only 20% of the workforce is female.

Ms Eglė Šimė, CEO of LTG Cargo, was selected by a jury of policy makers for her focus on empowering women in railways while ably steering her company through difficult times.

Ms Eglė Šimė, centre, CEO of LTG Cargo, accepting her Rail Trailblazer Award in recognition of her focus on empowering women in the rail industry and her efforts to increase female representation in the sector. Photo credit: CER

Šimė has continued to pursue a digitalisation strategy that is producing tangible improvements in performance despite the war in Ukraine, the growing political tension in Eastern Europe and the associated increase in the cost of energy.

During an interview on stage, she reflected on what this work involved as well as on her efforts to improve diversity at LTG Cargo. A key element is the introduction of a mentorship programme and a Women in Railway network. She said it was essential that female employees are given the confidence to speak up, which will result in positive contributions and help more women to progress further within the industry.

“This award to me is about the possibility and the need to change,” Šimė said. “I feel honoured by this recognition and accept it as an encouragement to continue strengthening our company in changing our business focus from east to west, and hopefully inspire other women in the sector to build confidence and to choose careers they can thrive in.”

The Rail Trailblazer award includes a €10,000 charitable donation, which Šimė chose to award to the Olena Zelenska Foundation, which was set up by the first lady of Ukraine to help restore the lives of people affected by the war.