EUROPE: The heroism and resilience of Ukrainian Railways over the past year was marked at the 16th European Railway Award celebrations, with the presentation of the Rail Champion award to national railway company Ukrzaliznytsia.

More than 400 railway executives and political representatives gathered at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels for the event on January 31 hosted by industry associations CER and UNIFE.

UNIFE Director General Philippe Citroën and CER Executive Director Alberto Mazzola commented that UZ had demonstrated ‘remarkable resilience in times of war and unimaginable hardship’.


Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, UZ had ‘provided a lifeline to millions of displaced citizens and kept vital aid and supplies flowing through the country’, they explained. ‘Working under the most difficult and dangerous conditions, UZ employees’ heroic efforts are ensuring the continuation of transport services according to a regular railway schedule. These efforts demonstrate the enormous resilience and crisis fitness of the railway system and the importance of strong railway companies.’

European Commission Director-General for Mobility & Transport Henrik Hololei said he was ‘humbled and inspired’ by the work of everyone at UZ to keep the network operational, evacuating people and transporting essential products, both exports and imports. ‘This award recognises that determination to continue, not to be bowed’, he added. ‘What we have achieved together during these dark days is here to stay: Ukrzaliznytsia will be indispensable for the reconstruction of Ukraine and for deepening EU-Ukraine relations, and I look forward to welcoming Ukraine’s impressive rail network into the EU.’


Collecting the award on behalf of the railway’s entire workforce, UZ board member Oleksandr Pertsovskyi said it was ‘an honour for the Ukrainian railway workers who keep doing their job on a daily basis, despite constant shellings and infrastructure damage’. To date the railway had evacuated more than four million people by rail, including a million children, he reported, at the cost of 327 lives.

Pertsovskyi emphasised that ‘war is no excuse for us to not keep enhancing our service quality and find new routes for European integration’. Noting that additional railway links had been established with Poland and Romania in recent months, he said UZ was ‘striving for more’. He invited ‘all the railways in Europe and beyond’ to work with Ukraine ‘to establish more connections’.

Building diversity

This year’s Rail Trailblazer award was presented to LTG Cargo CEO Eglė Šimė, recognising her focus on empowering women in the railway sector while steering her company through tumultuous times.

According to CER and UNIFE, women and girls account for more than 50% of rail ridership but only around 20% of the workforce. Suggesting that a more mixed workforce ‘leads to a proven increase in problem-solving competence and innovative strength’, they reported that companies were taking action ‘to redress the gender balance’.


As one of largest freight transport businesses in the Baltic region, the Lithuanian Railways subsidiary has faced challenges in recent months, reflecting geopolitical tensions in eastern Europe and the war in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the independent judging panel felt that Šimė had ‘not neglected the working environment’. As CEO of LTG Cargo, she has been transforming the company culture and encouraging all employees to make the most of their career opportunities.

An ambassador for the LTG Women Club, she personally mentored several female colleagues, while guiding the company through its biggest digitalisation project. Since 2019, the proportion of women in the company’s management increased from 19% to 26%.

Collecting the award, Šimė said it was ‘an encouragement to continue strengthening our company, in changing our business focus from east to west’. She hoped that it would ‘inspire other women in the sector to build confidence and dare choosing careers they can thrive in’.

The Rail Trailblazer award was accompanied by a €10 000 donation to a charity of the laureate’s choice, which Šimė has presented to the Olena Zelenska Foundation, established by the First Lady of Ukraine to help people affected by the war.


Offering his heartfelt congratulations to both winners, UNIFE Chairman and Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said UZ’s dedication and performance was ‘an inspiration to us all’, adding that ‘they have the full support of the European railway sector’. He felt Šimė’s work at LTG Cargo ‘demonstrates that we can successfully address the digitalisation of our processes and improve our gender diversity when we face these challenges with sufficient determination’.

CER Chair and ÖBB CEO Andreas Matthä said the award winners had ‘demonstrated the resilience and innovative potential of the railway sector’, which gave him ‘great optimism for the future of Europe’s railways’.