During a recent meeting of the Public Council for Matters pertaining to the Development of High Speed Lines in the Russian Federation, First Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Alexander Zhukov and RZD Chairman Vladimir Yakunin were elected as the Council’s co-chairs.
The Public Council was founded in April 2012 as an advisory body for the development of high speed lines in Russia, and comprises representatives from the federal and regional authorities, the scientific and business communities, the Russian and international railways, and from construction firms and rolling stock manufacturers.
At the Speaker’s request, a working party has been set up within the State Duma. The Speaker stated the need for a consistent transport policy ensuring the unity of Russia. In his speech, Alexander Zhukov noted that high speed rail can hardly be bettered as a response to this need. Whilst Russia remained a high speed power, it had allowed its superiority to slip away when its only serious competitor was still the Japanese Shinkansen. Yet today high speed networks existed in almost all European countries, as well as in China, Japan, and countries such as Taiwan and Turkey.
There were currently 17 thousand kilometres of high speed lines in service across the world, and this figure was growing by thousands of kilometres each year thanks to China’s massive investments",
Vladimir Yakunin highlighted.
At the Council’s meeting, it was observed that the Russian government was examining various options for building various high speed rail lines and for releasing funds for the scoping and design of these lines. The priority routes for new lines are currently: Moscow – St Petersburg, Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod – Kazan – Yekaterinburg with connecting services to Perm, Ufa and Chelyabinsk, and Moscow – Rostov-on-Don – Adler with connecting services to the surrounding towns and cities.
RZD has already delivered various projects intending to develop new types of rail services on existing infrastructure. “Sapsan” trains are operated at high and very high speeds (over 200 km/h) on the Moscow – St Petersburg and Moscow – Nizhny-Novgorod routes. Electric “Allegro” high speed trains operate from St Petersburg – Buslovskaya (and on to Helsinki), and “Swallow” trains run at high speed from St Petersburg – Veliky Novgorod and from St Petersburg – Bologoye. In the near future, the Swallows will begin serving the line from Moscow – Nizhny-Novgorod and on the intermodal airport links in Kazan and Sochi.
Strong demand for what are new services in Russia demonstrates the pull these ongoing projects have on passengers. Records for 2012 show that the Sapsan and Allegro trains carried 3.4 million passengers last year; a total of 9 million people have used them since they entered service. For their part, the Swallows have carried almost 50 thousand passengers since they entered service in January 2012. Further increasing speeds on the existing network is thus impossible without disadvantaging other types of rail transport (both passenger and freight). As well as increasing speeds, building high speed lines will also enable a host of more fundamental issues to be resolved.
Experience around the world with high speed rail over the last thirty years demonstrates its significant influence on national and regional development. Much mainline and interregional traffic is now carried on high speed lines, reducing road congestion and freeing up other parts of the rail network for freight, whilst also benefiting interurban high speed networks – much appreciated by towns and cities whether they be established or up-and-coming. In his speech, RZD First Vice-Chairman Alexander Misharin stated that carrying container traffic on high speed lines offered the regions potential in terms of transit traffic.
Those attending the meeting noted that investing in such projects was also cost-effective for the state. Building high speed lines served as a catalyst for industrial development and boosted the construction industry. Given the sophisticated technology involved, it also benefited the scientific and technical sectors. Alexander Misharin said it would be dishonest to claim that such projects could be delivered as “turn-key” solutions using imported technology, materials and engineers. Rather, they required advanced technologies to be located and sourced from Russian companies. The principal example of this was the joint venture with Siemens to build Swallow electric trains at the works in Verkhnyaya Pyshma. At maximum output, the works employed over one thousand specialists, and that output for RZD was modern trains.
In the light of the research conducted, participants in the Public Council recommended that the pilot high speed network be outlined from this year, and that work begin scoping the project. Within this network, the Moscow – Kazan “polygon” was proposed. Outside of the federal budget and funding from RZD and the business community, the potential sources of financing mooted include pension funds, the Russian Fund for Direct Investment, the National Welfare Fund, bond issues for the infrastructure, etc.
The conclusion of the meeting was that the Public Council advises RZD to continue working with the government of the Russian Federation to obtain government support for high speed rail projects and their operation, and suggests that RZD liaise with the President of the Russian Federation, communicating to him the need to decide on a start date for construction of the high speed network. It is recommended that the constituent entities of the Russian Federation support RZD, particularly in planning for the initial investment needed to build very high speed lines and, in the regions, in organising the move towards very high speed rail by setting up public information centres with representatives of governmental bodies, commercial organisations, and public/scientific organisations.