This proposal would create a high-quality inter-regional link, at right angles to the the proposed high-speed line Berlin – Riga, the proposed high-speed line Warsaw – Kaunas – Riga, and the existing Warsaw – Vilnius – St. Petersburg line. The line itself was built between 1865 and 1873 by the Ostpreußische Südbahn in the former East Prussia or Ostpreussen. It was originally a main line south-east from the East Prussian capital Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), to Białystok in the Russian Empire. The border crossing was south of Lyck (now the Polish town of Ełk).
The line in its East Prussian context, in the 1930’s…
The total length of the line is about 285 km. Traffic was disrupted by First and Second World Wars. After 1945, the northern half of East Prussia became the Kaliningrad Oblast within the Soviet Union. It is now an exclave of the Russian Federation. The rest of East Prussia, and Białystok, are now in Poland. The line therefore crosses the external boundary of the European Union. At present, that section, from Bagrationovsk to Bartoszyce is disused. Most of the line is in Poland, numbered line 38, and carries regional services. The section Ełk – Białystok (103 km) is electrified.
The proposed upgrade would create a double-track standard-gauge line, starting at the main Kaliningrad Passaschirski station. The network inside Kaliningrad Oblast was converted to Russian-gauge after 1945, but this line will not cut any other Russian-gauge lines. At most, some extra tracks may be needed near the station.
Kaliningrad itself has 420 000 inhabitants, and is the only large city in the Oblast (population 940 000). The line would serve the regional centres Bagrationovsk (population 6000, in the Rayon 32 000) and Bartoszyce (25 000, in the county 62 000).
When East Prussia was still part of Germany, the line had a junction with the Thorn – Allenstein – Insterburg – Tilsit line, the second main line of the Preussische Ostbahn. The junction station was at Korschen (now Korsze), 23 km east of Bartoszyce. The upgrading of this line between Poznań and Sovetsk was proposed here earlier. Instead of restoring a major junction at this small town, the new Poznań – Sovetsk line could simply bypass the old junction…
Inter-regional trains would therefore not stop at Korsze, although local services would. The fast trains would also serve Kętrzyn (28 000 inhabitants, county 67 000), and Giżycko (population 29 000, county 60 000), a tourist centre for the lake district. Here the line would connect with a reopened regional line from Kaliningrad via Pravdinsk.
The re-activation of the line Ełk – Olecko – Gołdap – Chernyakhovsk is a logical step in this context. (This was a local line of the Preussische Ostbahn, Insterburg – Goldap – Lyck, built 1879).
From Ełk, it is 103 km to Białystok. Regional population density is low here, and the line crosses the Biebrza National park. There are two county towns on this section: Grajewo (population 22 000, county 49 000) and Mońki (10 000, county 43 000). In addition, Osowiec station, between Grajewo and Mońki, is the main access point for the National Park.
Białystok itself is the largest city of the region (historical region of Podlesia or Podlachia), and the largest city on the line after Kaliningrad. It has 295 000 inhabitants: the total population of Podlaskie Voivodeship is about 1,2 million. The growth of the city was partly due to its location on the Warsaw – St. Petersburg line: the next large cities on that line are Hrodna (85 km north-east) and Vilnius. There are other lines out of Białystok: south to Brest and east via Volkovysk to Baranovichi. Both lines now cross the EU external border: the line to Volkovysk is closed, and should preferably be re-activated.
With 8 intermediate stops, on an upgraded electric double-track line, a Kaliningrad – Białystok journey time of around 3 hours is feasible. Regional services would continue to serve the other stations, on the sections in Poland. (Inside Kaliningrad Oblast, only Bagrationovsk would merit a station).