An interesting observation at a Polish railroad crossing

I have spent the past 15 years of my life as an American ex-pat living in retirement in southwestern Poland, and I saw an interesting thing at a railroad crossing the other day.

I was stopped at the railroad crossing to allow a 30-car freight train to go by, and it was the contents of the train that were noteworthy.

All the railroad cars were open flatbed cars — no boxcars.  The flatbeds were depressed in the middle, which is a common configuration when hauling super-heavy vehicles like tanks.

Half the flatbeds were empty, and of the remaining flatbeds, they were loaded with military vehicles.  I saw no tanks or mobile rocket launching systems, but I did see a number of heavy military transport vehicles.

What caught my eye was that these came from the German military!  I could tell that by the license plates they bore.

In the European Union countries, there is a standardized form for license plates.  With the exception of Belgium, whose plates are somewhat shorter and come with red alphanumerical characters, license plates in the E.U. are about twice as long and half as wide as license plates in North America.

All of them have a blue zone on the left.  Inside the blue zone is the 12-star gold circlet, which is emblematic of the E.U.  Below that is a 1- to 3-letter country code — F is for France, PL is for Poland, IRL is for Ireland, etc.

German license plates, passenger and commercial vehicles alike, all have 1- to 3-letter codes, which indicate where the vehicle is registered.  For example, M is for München; B is for Berlin; GR is for Görlitz; and NOL stands for Niederoberlausitz — Lower Upper Lusatia, as strange as that might sound.

Each German plate then bears two stickers arranged vertically, and then comes the rest of the alphanumerical information to identify the individual plate.

The plates on these military transport vehicles didn't follow this pattern.  There were no blue zones to the left.  Instead, these plates bore a small German flag in their lower left-hand corners, and the rest of the plate information didn't follow the standard E.U./German form.

Nevertheless, they were definitely German in origin, and must have just crossed the Neiße River border into Poland, which is about 50 miles to the west.

Where was the train going?  It was heading east.  I can only surmise that it was heading to Ukraine, which is about 400 miles to the east.  I say "to Ukraine" and not "into Ukraine" because Ukraine, like Russia, uses a different railroad track gauge.  Anything on the train would have to disembark and then be reloaded onto a Ukrainian-bound train to go farther.

Why were there so many empty flatbeds?  If the military transport vehicles I saw were the total consignment heading into Ukraine, why then would Germany go to the trouble to add so many unneeded empty flatbeds?  I surmise that the train probably will make one or more stops inside Poland to pick up other vehicles before ending at the Polish/Ukraine border.

There hasn't been a train like this, originating in Germany and heading for Ukraine going through Poland, in 80 years.

Image: Picryl.

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