Technical fault halts Polish railways, a key Ukraine exit route

WARSAW, March 17 (Reuters) - Railways ground to a halt in many places across Poland on Thursday, disrupting an important means of transport for Ukrainian refugees after what the transport minister said was a traffic control system outage impacting several countries.

Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk said that identical faults in the traffic control systems, which are produced by a unit of French train maker Alstom ALSO.PA , had also appeared in India, Singapore and possibly Pakistan.

"The cause is still being determined," Adamczyk wrote on Twitter. "(Railway operator) PKP PLK is working non-stop to minimise the effects of the outage, which has affected about 80% of rail traffic in Poland."

Slawomir Cyza, the chief executive of Alstom in Poland, told Reuters by email that the outage had resulted from a data coding flaw.

"Alstom is aware of a time formatting error that currently affects the availability of the rail network, and thus rail transport in Poland," Cyza said, adding passenger safety was not compromised and that the company had implemented a plan to restore traffic.

Almost 2 million people have fled to Poland from Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24, and with free rail tickets on offer for refugees, the network has become a key means of transport for those travelling to stay with friends and family around the country.

"Regarding the transport of refugees, which has been the key task of the railway over the past few days, we are in full coordination of the process together with the ministry of infrastructure ... so that the process is not halted and can be carried out to the extent possible," PKP PLK deputy chief executive Miroslaw Skubiszynski told reporters.

The traffic control outage was nearly nationwide, affecting 820 km (510 miles) of track, he added.
Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz, Karol Badohal and Piotr Lipinski, writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Nick Macfie and Toby Chopra

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