As soon as a month and like clockwork, 29-year-old Guram used to take the Kutaisi-Batumi practice to go to his sister and her household in Ureki, 60 kilometres north of Batumi alongside the black beach.
His journey at all times began in his hometown of Rioni, south of Kutaisi, which doubles as a bustling practice station connecting routes all through Georgia.
He travels on the ‘elektrichka’, a category of suburban practice in a lot of the post-Soviet world that make frequent stops connecting villages and cities in addition to main cities.
Guram doesn’t thoughts how crowded the practice is: at ₾2 ($0.70) and with a handy schedule, the Kutaisi-Batumi elektrichka is likely one of the best routes he might use, particularly as buses or minibuses price greater than ₾15 ($5).
‘I bear in mind the practice being so full, folks standing, there was barely sufficient house to breathe’, Guram remembers of the tangerine season, as farmers packed in to convey their produce to market.
‘One time, I pulled these doorways open for one cease for us to breathe’, he says, including that he obtained in hassle for that.
Except for the low-cost elektrichkas, there are regional and long-distance traces. The elektrichkas are the slowest of the three, not solely due to their age, however as a result of they cease at each settlement with a platform alongside their path.
Within the 2000s, a brand new class of ‘modernised’ trains was launched on lots of the regional traces.
The elektrichkas should additionally make stops to permit their sooner counterparts go, taking sufficient time for passengers to hop off and smoke at the least one cigarette.
The place the trains cease for greater than a minute, teams of canines collect, ready for the trains to cease, as they know they might get meals. Among the practice employees fill up on bread upfront, realizing that they are going to meet hungry stray canines on their manner.
Earlier than the authorities halted all public transport throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been 15 elektrichka traces serving cities and villages throughout the nation.
For the reason that restrictions had been lifted, nevertheless, Georgian Railway has quietly declined to renew many of the routes; solely 5 now function.
The corporate, which is state-owned, claims to serve the ‘social pursuits’ of the inhabitants.
By the corporate’s personal admission, the elektrichka traces that are actually disappearing, with their ticket costs from ₾0.50– ₾2 ($0.17–$0.69), ‘usually serve the low-income sections of society’.
But in recent times, they’ve targeted extra on newer trains, such the corporate’s golden baby: the Tbilisi-Batumi-Tbilisi line and its trendy Stadler trains. In late July, they elevated the ticket costs for economic system journey on that route from ₾25 ($9) to ₾34 ($12), citing the rising prices of electrical energy, upkeep, and supplies.
Passenger transport has additionally proved unprofitable for Georgian Railway normally, producing solely round 2% of income in 2020 and working at a loss.
Firm director Davit Peradze mentioned in Might that Georgian Railway spends about ₾62 million ($21 million) yearly subsidising passenger traces, a shortfall the corporate makes up via its worthwhile freight transport.
Whereas in 2018, the federal government agreed to step up and take over subsidising passenger transport, the settlement has but to quantity to something. In Might, the federal government introduced this is able to not start till 2024.
Within the absence of different dependable and reasonably priced strategies of transport, the remaining elektrichkas are probably the most used traces by many low-income households, lots of whom depend on them to maneuver produce to city centres.
Ramazi, who owns a farm in a small village within the Kharagauli Municipality, makes use of the elektrichka connecting Zestaponi and Khashuri for ₾0.50 ($0.17).
‘With the elevated oil costs, I can’t use the automotive fairly often and like to take the practice, even when I’ve many luggage’, he says.
Standing on the finish of the carriage guarding his luggage, Ramazi says solely locals take this practice, and that passengers know one another. There are loads of kids aboard.
He has to stroll 20 extra minutes from the station to his residence, however even with the heavy luggage, this selection nonetheless appears handy for now.
‘Perhaps sooner or later, once they end the brand new freeway, it should shorten my route. Then I could take into account switching from this practice to a automotive if I can avoid wasting money and time on gas.’
Irina Khizanashvili, a spokesperson for Georgian Railway, instructed OC Media she didn’t know why many of the elektrichka traces had been deserted within the wake of the pandemic. Whereas not ruling out the chance that some could return, she couldn’t say for positive.
One of the vital well-liked elektrichka traces earlier than the pandemic was the Kutaisi-Tbilisi route. Gia, a practice driver for greater than 30 years, says he was stunned to be taught that the route was not coming again.
‘Perhaps if folks proceed asking for it daily, they are going to convey it again — hopefully’, he says.