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High Water in Bohemia: Trains Help People in Danger

High water strikes the Czech Republic again…

Velká voda v Čechách: vlaky pomáhaly lidem v ohroženíWith respect to railway operations, the June flood affected mainly the first corridor on the territory of the Czech Republic. While a range of restrictions affected other main and secondary lines, the numbers of affected passengers accumulated mainly on the Pardubice – Prague route (due to the closure of Kolín Main Station) and later on the Prague – Ústí nad Labem route. The main thing, however, was that railwaymen demonstrated they had learned from the 2002 flood.

Does the train go to Libeň or to Masarykovo? Do I have to change trains in Roztoky? How can I get to Dejvice? And do trains also stop in Řež? Question after question – and train crews search for answers. They’re talking about the Praha Masarykovo nádraží – Kralupy nad Vltavou route, which supplemented paralysed bus service and automobile traffic along the Vltava during the worst days of the flood. This is just one of many examples. The best known are the pendular trains which provided the only connection between the left and right banks of the Labe in Ústí nad Labem and elsewhere during the flood.

The Vltava did not reach the corridor

The Vltava’s ferocious flow below Prague destroyed and swallowed everything that property owners had laboriously restored over the last eleven years. Like most of the railway lines built ingeniously at a certain minimum height above the one-hundred-year flood line, the corridor line to Děčín can withstand an event similar to the August 2002 flood. This is not the case for roads, however, and thus the Praha-Sedlec stop experienced an unexpected influx of passengers who would otherwise have used buses.

Equipment at rail crossings was without power and out of service; trains had to proceed slowly following manual instructions. Most of the crossings were cordoned off anyway, and often led into water. Flooded underground pedestrian crossings at train stops were inaccessible as well. For this reason, for example, passengers travelling from Kralipy to Řež rode to Roztok-Žalova or Roztok and from there returned on a train in the opposite direction. Trains did not stop in Úholičky at all.

“Freight traffic is moving,” confirmed Miloš Krátký, director of ČD Cargo’s Prague operational unit, during the flood. Sure enough, two freight trains – one carrying containers for Uhříněves – soon came clamouring through the Vltava’s “Valley of Perdition”. Long-distance trains continued to operate, although passengers aboard international trains to Germany often had no idea what awaited them in Saxony, where the flood was raging as well. Surprisingly, machinery in Holešovice continued work on modernising the corridor; the construction workers could not have known that due to the high water their work would come to naught.

Water surges northward

After the high water was done with the Vltava, it struck the Labe with all its might. “Already on Monday, 3 June, we were ready to introduce special connections replacing municipal mass transport in Ústí nad Labem. The first flood-related service was a connection from Ústí nad Labem Main Station to a provisional stop in the municipal district of Vaňov, where the first Regionova ran at 14:20,” says Daniel Jareš, director of ČD’s Regional Centre for Passenger Transport in Ústí nad Labem. On Tuesday at around five in the morning – after the closure of the roadway onramps leading to the bridges – a RegioPanter ran as a special train from Ústí nad Labem západ to Ústí nad Labem-Střekov.

Despite the fact that residents of Ústí nad Labem were relatively well-informed about the change in municipal transport routes from the radio and other media, there was initial confusion at Ústí nad Labem-Střekov and Ústí nad Labem západ stations. Our colleagues at the Railway Infrastructure Administration had to direct boarding and disembarking, permit entry into the trackbed and provide people with needed information. As additional areas gradually became inundated, the road connecting Ústí nad Labem with Svádov, Valtířov and Velké Březno was also closed on Tuesday, as was the road to Sebuzín in the opposite direction.

There, too, ČD provided substitute transport. A Regionova ran at half-hour intervals between Střekov and the Malé Březno stop, as well as between Střekov and Sebuzín. “Other than by train, there was no way to get even basic food supplies to residents in this area. Thanks to our cooperation with ČD, we were able to resupply these cut-off areas several times per day,” says Pavel Boček, Deputy Mayor of Ústí nad Labem. “Special” flood services were dispatched in Děčín as well – between Děčín Main Station and Děčín východ. But at least one road bridge was open there – although it was primarily intended for emergency service personnel and security units.

Ústí nad Labem Main Station as an island

On the morning of Tuesday, 4 June, water began to seep into the underground pedestrian crossing at Ústí nad Labem Main Station – despite the fact that the otherwise accessible passageway had been closed off with anti-flood barriers. Passengers were directed to the platforms via a substitute route from the street. From the morning, the premises of the ticketing hall were cleared – ticket counters, the ČD Centre, as well as commercial shops. Ticket sales were provisionally relocated to Platform 1, while other services were performed by train crews, ticket inspectors and a range of other employees. Some of them came to help spontaneously. “My shift is long over, but I can see that every hand is needed here,” said head conductor Eva Hrušková.

By the morning of Wednesday, 5 June, the water had ploughed through the underground passageway far past the station. Both the underground passageway and ticketing hall were submerged in one metre of water; ČD had recently invested roughly CZK 50 million in their complete reconstruction. For passengers headed to or from Ústí nad Labem, special trains were dispatched from Ústí nad Labem západ. Those travelling on long-distance connections, however, experienced delays ranging from tens to hundreds of minutes. These were caused by falling trees as well as by outages of safety equipment. But traffic through the corridor never came to a halt! Nevertheless, certain trains were diverted to the right-bank line via Lysá nad Labem. On Wednesday, 5 June, however, the flood struck here, too – in the Mělník area.

Repairs will take months

The Labe peaked on the night of 5-6 June at a height of 10.7 metres. This is approximately one metre less than during the flood in 2002. “We’re already looking for ways to restore operations in the main station building, at least to a limited extent. One of the first tasks is to get the underground passageway opened and to provide provisional passenger ticketing, perhaps using mobile booths. We’ll know the extent of the damage only after the water recedes, but even now it’s clear that restoring the building to its original state will involve several months’ work,” said Patrik Konopásek, director of ČD’s Regional Property Administration in Ústí nad Labem, noting that the flood also impacted other stations in the region. Thus, much work still lies ahead.
MARTIN NAVRÁTIL, VÁCLAV RUBEŠ

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