The river Prut forms the border between Romania and Moldova, running roughly north-south. For most of the past two centuries, this part of the river was the eastern border of imperial Russia and the Soviet Union. Few roads and railways crossed it. There is no main road along the valley either – and no road at all, in some places. The Prut is now the external border of the European Union, which does not help either.
The lower Prut did form a natural barrier in the past. The valley floor is wide and low-lying, and regularly flooded in the past: there are escarpments on both banks. The old map shows the valley around 1910, with meanders and swamps at the site of the present main road crossing (Albita).
The valley before reclamation: from an Austro-Hungarian military map.
After disastrous floods in 1970, the river was regulated, with the construction of the Stinca-Costești dam. The lower Prut is no longer an obstacle to either east-west or north-south infrastructure. With modern construction techniques, a rail line along the valley is technically feasible: it can run through open flat agricultural land.
Because the area never developed, the local population is insufficient to justify a rail line. However, in the absence of alternative north-south corridors, a Prut valley line could have a regional and European function. It would roughly parallel the Siret valley and Birlad valley lines in Romania, and the Lviv – Odessa main line, creating a new freight route, from Chernivtsi in western Ukraine to Galați on the Danube. It would certainly serve some villages, although most are too small to justify a station. In other words, it would be a new mixed-traffic line. That is unusual for Europe: most routes which would justify a long mixed-traffic line, already had one by 1900. The Prut valley is an exception.
This post looks at the Iași – Galați section, which is the easiest to construct. Iași is about halfway along the proposed Prut valley corridor, which is about 500 km long. The northern Chernivtsi – Iași section has more obstacles: incised meanders south of Lipcani, the Costești reservoir, and the dam itself. The two sections would join near Cristești, 10 km outside Iași.
New and existing lines
The line would be built as a double-track electric railway over its entire length. The new sections would be built for a line speed of 150 km/h, now standard for new lines in Europe. Existing lines would be upgraded for 120 km/h, which requires realignment on the oldest sections.
From Iași, the line would use a new alignment along the Prut valley, possibly crossing the river several times. From Cantemir, it would follow an existing railway on the east bank, to Cahul. South of Cahul, it would cross the river again, to join an existing west bank line into Galați.
Iași (population 300 000), is the main city of north-eastern Romania, and the logical interchange point for the Iași – Chișinău – Odessa line, the only east-west main line across the Prut. The city is not in the Prut valley itself, but about 15 km to the west.
At Cantemir, there is another east-west line across the Prut. It is a secondary line from Birlad in Romania to Bender and Chișinău, with a very convoluted alignment. From Cantemir station, a rail line runs south along the east flank of the valley, to Cahul and Giurgiulești. The last section was built in 2008, for strategic reasons. Moldova is landlocked, and Giurgiulești is its only Danube port, directly at the confluence of the Prut and the Danube. The line follows the edge of the valley floor almost exactly, diverging to avoid villages:
On the opposite bank of the Prut, the line from Birlad to Galați (line 703) also follows the valley flank, for about 30 km. That is the only standard-gauge along the river: all others were either built in the Russian Empire, or converted to Russian gauge in the Soviet period. On the east-west lines, the break of gauge is at stations near the river. A new standard gauge line along the river, will not substantially alter that. It was proposed here earlier, to convert the railways west of the Lviv – Odessa line to standard gauge. In that case, the Prut valley line would connect entirely with standard-gauge lines anyway.
Alignment Iași – Galați
From Iași station, trains would use the existing line to Holboca, at the edge of the city. From there, the new line would turn south-east across the valley floor, passing Ţuţora. (A curve from Cristești would connect this exit line, to the northern section of the Prut valley line).
The line would then follow the valley floor, rather than the flanks, toward Cantemir. To serve some villages on the flanks, the line would, however, deviate from the shortest possible alignment. The line is at first between two river channels, the Jijia and the Prut itself. Near their confluence, it would cross to the east flank, and run toward Leuseni. There, it would cross the main road into Moldova from the EU, the E581. The station would be located where the road runs next to the east flank, about 3 km from Leuseni itself. (It is also possible that the line could run on the west side of the valley as it crosses the E581, but that requires more bridges).
From Leuseni, the line would run along the valley floor, crossing to the west flank at Stănileşti, then across again to serve Leova, a district capital. The line would then cross the valley again to Vetrișoaia, and then run along the east flank to Cantemir.
Crossing the valley several times does not necessarily make the line longer – that is sometimes the shortest route. It does mean that some stations might be at quite small villages, because the alignment does not pass the largest villages.
At Cantemir, a district capital, the new line will join the existing railway – one of only two east-west lines across the Prut. The station is outside Cantemir, and simply called ‘Prut’ – a frontier station with break of gauge. The line eastwards can, if necessary, remain as a broad gauge line The new line would have its own platforms to the north of the existing station, to avoid higher ground. Alternatively, the passenger station could be moved about one kilometer westwards.
The Iași – Cantemir section would be about 130 km long. From Cantemir, the existing Soviet-era line to Cahul (45 km) would be converted to standard gauge, upgraded and doubled. The halts at smaller villages would be closed.
South of Cahul line is modern, built in 2008, but the alignment also follows the edge of the valley exactly. At Vadul lui Isac, an entirely new line would diverge, crossing the valley floor to Stoicani. This section, about 10 km long, is liable to flooding and might be entirely on viaduct. Stoicani is on the existing single-track line into Galați, Romanian line 703. This line too would be doubled, electrified, and upgraded.
The Cahul – Galați section would be about 60 km long. The 2008 line from Cahul to Giurgulești would retain a passenger service, but converted to standard gauge: the station at Giurgulești is already equipped for both gauges.
Context of the line
The Prut valley line from Iași to Galați would be about 235 km long. On a mainly new line, on flat terrain, an inter-regional service with four stops would take well under three hours. Regional trains would take over three hours: the service might be split into Iași – Cantemir and Cantemir – Galați services.
The new line would connect at Galați to the proposed Wallachian Plain high-speed rail corridor from Bucharest (București). At Iași it would connect with the proposed high-speed rail corridor Kiev – Vinnytsia – Iași – Bucharest, and with a possible Chernivtsi – Odessa HSL. For more on the lines in the wider region, see Rail structure in Moldova and Budjak.