The direct rail service from Kyiv to Berlin is due to be axed at the end of this month. The final departure from Kyiv will be on Sunday 30 September, and the last return run from Berlin will leave Zoo station in the German capital at 21.35 the following evening. The Kashtan has been a staple of European schedules for many years and its withdrawal will sever the last remaining direct rail link between Ukraine and Germany.
Cast back a couple of years and, in addition to the Kyiv to Berlin carriages, the Kashtan also carried, according to the day of the week and the season, through sleeping cars from Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Simferopol, Odessa and Lviv to Berlin. Those have been cut, leaving just the main Kyiv to Berlin portion, and the frequency of the train has been progressively reduced. Last winter it ran just four times each week.
The Kashtan (the word means ’chestnut’ in Ukrainian, recalling the trees that line the boulevards of Kyiv) has echoes of the old Kyiv Express which in the late 80s and early 90s ran every day from Kyiv to Berlin — and in its heyday even carried through carriages that were detached from the main train in Warsaw and continued via Dresden to Munich. The Kyiv Express still runs from Kyiv to Warsaw.
Following Ukrainian independence, the Kyiv to Berlin train became progressively slower, the travel time from Kyiv to Berlin being extended by eight hours between 1991 and 1997. Despite a new name and modernised rolling stock, the Kashtan has been unable to compete with discount airlines and fast coach services linking Ukraine with Germany. The Ukrainian railway authorities have bemoaned the hefty track access charges imposed by Germany, and travellers from Germany have often complained of difficulties in securing reservations for the Kashtan.
The final departure of the train from Berlin on 1 October will mark the end of an era. No longer will Ukrzaliznytsia sleeping cars with their distinctive blue and yellow livery be seen in Berlin, or indeed anywhere else in Germany. From next month, rail passengers from Kyiv bound for Berlin will need to change trains in Warsaw.
The train also carried through carriages from other places to Berlin. For many years, the overnight sleeping cars from Gdansk and Kraków were attached to the Kashtan at Poznan. They are long gone, but the train does still convey sleeping cars from the Russian port city of Kaliningrad to Berlin. The demise of the Kashtan now raises questions about the future of the overnight Kaliningrad to Berlin service.