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Russian transport infrastructure: problems and prospects

Russian transport infrastructure: problems and prospects

With the vast expanses of Russia, to ensure the country's life, its territory, naturally, must be linked by powerful automotive, rail and sea communications, united into a single transport hub and complementary to each other. One side, each transport artery develops as if independently, on the other hand, they must provide a high throughput of freight traffic, taking into account the capabilities of each of the transport routes.

The main task of the transport hub is to provide communication between Russian regions from Kaliningrad to the Far East and use the country's advantageous geographical position for international traffic.. Russia is the shortest route by land and sea between the countries of Southeast Asia (China, Japan, South Korea) and Europe, and this imposes its own requirements on Russian transport communications. They can develop effectively only taking into account the provision of an international transport corridor West - East, and this, along with the presence of internal freight traffic, is one of the main tasks of the development of the transport infrastructure of Russia.

Rail and road communications

Russian rail and road transport infrastructure, created by previous generations, continues to develop and improve successfully. The Transsib remains the main Russian railway - the longest railway in the world with a length of 9 288 km between Moscow and Vladivostok, uniting the European and Asian regions into a single whole and providing a link between the Baltic, Northern and Far Eastern ports of Russia and railway connections to Europe and Asia.

Transsib, the construction of which began at the end of the 19th century, until the 50s was an internal highway, but with the rapid development of Japan's industry, it was in demand for organizing a shorter Japan-Europe transport corridor. Since the late 1980s, Japan has been ousted by China with a significantly increased container cargo turnover.. If at the beginning of the 90s the cargo turnover was 90 thousand containers per year, to the 2020 year this flow reached 950 thousand containers, that is, an increase in freight traffic by more than ten times. And this is understandable: transit time from China to Germany by Transsib 11-15 days, that about 20 days less, than by sea through the Suez Canal.

The Transsib did not meet the growing needs back in Soviet times, besides, it passed at the very border and could be cut at any moment. In this regard, parallel to the Transsib in 1989 the Baikal-Amur main line with a length of 4 287 km, connecting the station Taishet near Baikal with the port of Vanino on the Pacific coast. Today it is predominantly a single-track railway with diesel traction., requiring serious modernization, since only on 25 percent of the line has a two-track track.

BAM was intended mainly for the transportation of minerals, since it was built as an integral part of a project to develop the significant natural resources of this region, which has not been fully started. From BAM were built and are now being built "capillary" branches to mineral deposits: South Yakutsk coal cluster, Elga coal deposit, Khiagda uranium and polymetal deposit, Chineyskiy polymetal deposit, Udokan copper deposit. It is impossible to develop these deposits without transport communications., therefore, the development of BAM gives a second life to these territories. To accelerate their development, the Transsib and BAM were combined into a single transport artery by branches in Tynda, Novy Urgal and Komsomolsk-on-Amur, which allowed to optimize cargo flows. Modernization of BAM is constantly going on, a branch to the north to Yakutsk is under construction, design and survey work is underway to build a bridge to Sakhalin to shorten the route to Japan.

The narrowest "bottleneck" in the western section of the BAM from Taishet to Tynda is the single-track Severomuisky tunnel, the largest in Russia, length 15 343 m, commissioned only in December 2003 years and does not allow to seriously increase the throughput of the highway. According to experts, construction of the second Severomuisky tunnel will increase the throughput of BAM from 16 to 100 million tons of cargo per year.

AT 2018 year the group "Sibanthracite", mining highly demanded anthracite, proposed to build the second Severomuisky tunnel without attracting budget funding instead of passing its cargo out of line. In June 2019 a contract was signed with the American company The Robbins Company, a major player in the field of tunneling, for the supply of two rocky single-panel complexes, allowing to build a tunnel at a speed of 300 m per month up to 1 km.

AT 2020 year the project was unexpectedly suspended, since Sibanthracite owes about loans to Russian Railways and federal companies for freight and passenger transportation of about 587 million rubles. Of course, loans have to be paid, but by their actions, state structures, instead of providing financial assistance to the executor, endangered the construction of a strategic facility, and the issue of continuing construction has not yet been resolved.

Also, work continues to increase the capacity of the Transsib, it was fully electrified, the bridge over the Amur was reconstructed, double-track, Khingan tunnels were reconstructed, and the Transsib was connected to the Chinese railways. The work carried out on the Transsib and BAM made it possible to increase the total throughput of the Eastern range (Transsib and BAM) at 2020 godu to 144 million tonnes per year. TO 2024 year is expected to reach 180 million tons, and by the end of this decade - 280 million tonnes per year.

Today, this transport artery is loaded to capacity., and freight traffic through the Transsib and BAM has quadrupled in recent years, and they do not meet the need for freight. In this regard, an urgent need has come to modernize the BAM. In April 2021 military railway workers on the eastern part of the highway from Tynda through Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Vanino with a length of 1,5 thousands of kilometers. In three and a half years, a fully electrified two-track track should be laid on this section., a bridge was built over the Amur and tunnels were laid on the Kuznetsovsky pass.

Considering the inevitable significant increase in freight traffic from China to Europe and the impossibility of the Eastern landfill to satisfy it, Russia and China are discussing the possibility of implementing the Beijing-Moscow high-speed railway project as part of the Silk Road Economic Belt, allowing to create a new transport corridor.

Beyond the East Range, the entire network of Russian railways is developing, ensuring an increasing transit traffic and communication between regions. Few paid attention to the appearance of the Nakhichevan transport corridor under the protection of Russian peacekeepers following the results of the last Karabakh war.. And this corridor makes it possible to restore and develop a section of the railway in the Caucasus and satisfy the interests of Russia., Turkey, Iran and especially China on the organization of cargo flows to Europe through Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia, eliminating the influence of the United States on this process. The concerned countries of the region are making serious joint efforts to implement this project as soon as possible..

Along with the railways, the road network is seriously developing and modernizing. For communication with Crimea, the Don highway and the Tavrida Crimean highway have been practically rebuilt., the Crimean bridge was erected, also commissioned the high-speed highway Moscow - St. Petersburg, providing access to the West. Construction of the Moscow - Kazan - Yekaterinburg highway has begun, which will become the beginning of the Euro-Asian highway and provide an automobile exit to the East. This ambitious program of covering the country with modern highways requires separate consideration..

Arctic Marine Corridor

The second grandiose transport communication, connecting European Russia with the Far East, is the Northern Sea Route long 5 600 km, passing in the Arctic from the Kara Gates to Provideniya Bay. The distance by the Arctic sea route from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok is about 14 thousands of kilometers (through the Suez Canal from above 24 thousand).

For all the attractiveness of this transport corridor, it has practically not been used for decades., since navigating through it is fraught with difficulties. Until recently, due to severe ice conditions on the route (ice thickness reaches four meters) navigation could only last from May to November.

Due to the complexity of navigating ships along the NSR, cargo flows along it are very modest. Mainly mined in the North are transported minerals: liquefied gas from the Yamal LNG fields, oil, natural gas, polymetals, manganese, bauxite. Container transportation is carried out in an insignificant volume, since not every cargo can be transported in such climatic conditions. In addition, only two deep-water ports operate along the entire Northern Sea Route - Sabetta and Murmansk., which also limits the possibilities of the route.

A serious impetus to the development of the NSR was the rapid development of the oil and gas complex in the Yamal region and the need to transport oil and liquefied gas to Southeast Asia.. The NSR development program began with the restoration of Russian military bases and jump airfields along its entire length., as the United States has shown a genuine interest in this promising region. Infrastructure is seriously developing on the Arctic coast, acceptable living conditions are created, a deep-water port was built in Sabetta, the same port is planned in Arkhangelsk.

Operation of the NSR is impossible without a powerful icebreaker fleet. Russia is the only one in the world that has had it since the days of the Soviet Union, but it required serious development. A new generation icebreaker Rosatomflot was created within the framework of Rosatom, capable of navigating ships in ice up to two meters thick, but this was not enough for year-round shipping. To solve this problem, the Zvezda shipyard was commissioned in the Far East, on which ice-class gas carriers are already being built, and in April 2021 a series of three icebreakers of the heavy-duty class "Leader" was laid, the first of which - "Russia" - should go into operation in 2027 year. The characteristics of such a giant at the level of an aircraft carrier: travel speed - 22 host, length - 209 m, width - 47,7 m, icebreaking capacity - 4 m, displacement - 70 thousand tons.

All this made it possible to rapidly increase the volume of traffic along the NSR.. If in 2016 year it was only 7,26 million tons, to the 2020 year grew to 33 million tons, to 2030 it should be on the level 120 million tons and to 2035 ― 160 million tons. It should be noted, that the prospects for the development of the NSR are associated with the implementation of the international project "Northern Maritime Corridor" to create a unified transport system of ports and infrastructure from China to the North Sea.

The Suez Canal is a natural competitor to the Northern Sea Route., one of the busiest arteries in the world. On average, per day pass through the channel 48 courts, and in a year of order 19 thousand ships, and is transported now to 1,25 billion tons of cargo per year. The most promising cargo traffic through the Suez Canal is the transportation of containers, which is growing rapidly. From these numbers it can be seen, that in terms of its capabilities, the NSR cannot yet compete with the Suez Canal.

To go from Europe to China by the Northern Sea Route, on average, you need 25 days and 625 tons of fuel oil, and when using the Suez Canal - 35 days and 875 tons of fuel oil. Depending on the route chosen, time savings can be 6-19 days.

The passage through the Suez Canal costs 250 thousand dollars plus insurance 230 one thousand dollars, caused by piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea and the deployment of armed guards on board. When passing along the NSR, the icebreaker escort fee - 380 thousand dollars and insurance 70 one thousand dollars. Delivery of goods from Rotterdam to the ports of Asia (Japan, The Republic of Korea, China) through the Suez Canal - on average 33 day, through the NSR - 23 day, total savings 10 days. From an economic point of view, shipping through the NSR is more profitable, but the Suez Canal is year round navigation, established trade relations, the presence of large ports along the route, developed infrastructure along the route, etc.. d. None of this is on the NSR route, and this still limits the increase in freight traffic.

To turn the NSR into a world trade artery, significant investments are required in infrastructure at the junction of logistic routes of various modes of transport., service development, information infrastructure with monitoring of vessel traffic, timely information support for crews and, the main thing, commissioning of heavy-duty icebreakers for year-round navigation. Then not only gas carriers, but also container ships from all over the world will strive to pass this route.

Solving these problems requires huge financial investments., and the main source of these funds can be China, for which the NSR can become a serious help in its global confrontation with the United States.

The creation of the infrastructure of the NSR can also be served by the revival of the Transpolar Railway project along the Arctic coast., erected from the end of the 40s by the forces of the GULAG and closed in 1953 year on the initiative of the first deputy head of the Soviet government Beria. She was supposed to connect Vorkuta with Yamal and Norilsk. Some of the remaining sections of the highway are now used for local traffic., and its revival can serve as a serious impetus for the creation of the infrastructure of the NSR. China can be more interested in this issue than anyone else with its advanced technologies for the construction of railways and highways., just remind, that China annually commissions an order 10 thousands of highways with unique bridges, junctions and viaducts over the gorges.

Chinese megaproject "Belt and Road"

Russian infrastructure transport projects intersect with the Chinese mega-project "Belt and Road". Its essence is in the search, formation and promotion of a new model of international cooperation, in which China, in collaboration with 86 countries is going to develop a network of new sea and land routes, connecting export centers with remote markets. It covers 63 percent of the world's population and 40 percent of world gross domestic product. The planned total investment in this project is more than 1 trillion dollars.

The concept of "belt", or "Silk Road Economic Belt", refers to land routes for road and rail transport, linking China, Central and Western Asia, Middle East and Europe, and the "way", or "Maritime Silk Road", refers to sea routes.

The Silk Road Economic Belt project provides for three geographical areas:

- Northern belt - through Central Asia and Russia to Europe;

- Central belt - through Central and Western Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea;

- Southern belt - through Pakistan and the Indian Ocean to Southeast and South Asia.

The Sea Silk project includes the creation of two sea routes: one to the South Pacific, and the other to Europe via the Indian Ocean. In addition to the "Sea Silk Road", Russia and China agreed to build the "Polar Silk Road" along the Northern Sea Route.

In accordance with the Belt and Road megaproject, China will build ports on the routes of its implementation, roads, bridges, airports and telecommunications networks, at the same time, issue "tied" Chinese loans with the obligatory supply of Chinese machinery and equipment and at least 50 percent of Chinese workers employed in the project.

With this approach, partner countries fall into the Chinese debt loop, which is what happened with Venezuela, Montenegro and African countries. Ukraine follows the same path., despite the scandal with Motor Sich, she signed in july 2021 of the year with China a memorandum on the construction of infrastructure (ports, railways and highways, airports, communications), according to which China will lend to these projects on its own terms.

Russia is not Ukraine, and she is unlikely to be satisfied with such conditions, she needs investments and partners, not future owners. The implementation of the Chinese megaproject presupposes the direct participation of Russia in both the land, and marine component. In addition, China has a strategic problem of the Strait of Malacca., this "bottleneck" on the Chinese sea communications. In the event of a conflict with the United States, it will be easily blocked, therefore, land and sea corridors through Russia are of strategic importance for China, and he will look for ways to implement them.

It should be understood, that Russian and Chinese transport projects are competing in Eurasia and that Chinese is still more attractive for the states of the region, as it offers a significant investment of funds. So the two powers will have to look for common ground and mutually beneficial compromises to realize their strategic interests in the inevitable confrontation with the Americans..

Yuri Apukhtin,specially for alternatio.org

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