If Russia, by virtue of its geographical position, plays the role of a bridge between Europe and Asia in trade relations, the Russian railways are the main supporting element of this bridge.
Ahead of the 3rd International Eurasian Transport Conference (St Petersburg, 10-11 September 2003), Russia's Railways Minister Gennady Fadeyev describes the Russian railways.
Past Experience and 21st Century Technologies
The railway network of Russia is the world's second in length (86,000 kilometres) and first in the degree of electrification (over 80 per cent). The railways carry little under 50 per cent of all freight in Russia. In global terms, Russia's railways already account for more than 20 per cent of world-wide freight turnover and 15 per cent of passenger turnover. And this is not the limit.
The Trans-Siberian Railway (Transsib), which holds a special place in the country's transport structure, has recently marked its 100th anniversary. It is a unique element of the international transport infrastructure. While being the backbone of Russia's national transport system, it is also the largest connecting link for freight flows of the Eurasian continent.
Today the Transsib is a powerful electrified two-track line equipped with modern automatic devices, communications facilities and information technologies. It is here that we test the latest railway technologies, and it is here that a modern network of fibre-optics communication is operated.
Trans-Siberian Railway Has No Match
In 2002, the Trans-Siberian Railway hauled 375 million tons of freight, including 55 million tons in foreign trade goods. Of the latter, 51.1 million tons were exports, and 2.3 million tons imports. The artery still has considerable reserves for increasing freight traffic. Above all, by accelerating and improving the handling of goods.
For example, in order to shorten the idle time of transit containers in ports and at border stations, a simplified procedure for declaring the goods carried has been introduced. An additional copy of the memorandum bill is used as a customs control document. There is now no need to submit an invoice. It is enough to have a detailed description of the goods for customs men to identify them.
These steps have cut the demurrage of containers from 3-5 days to several hours.
The simplified customs formalities and control for transit commodities carried in containers by the Trans-Siberian Railway have also been extended to containers bound for third countries in all directions. In addition, exclusive tariff terms are offered for the carriage of transit goods.
The railways of a number of countries, shipping companies, port operators, and forwarding companies, all members of the International Coordinating Council on Trans-Siberian Carriage, have agreed average through tariffs on the haulage of foreign trade goods in containers from the Asia-Pacific region to West European countries through border crossings and Russian ports on the Baltic Sea.
High Technologies on the Railways
Keeping track of the movement of freight is essential for shippers and transport agencies. And the Trans-Siberian route is no exception. The branch-specific 35,000 kilometre-long fibre-optics network has cardinally altered the information picture, marking a big stride towards modern logistics.
At present, wagons and containers on the Transsib are tracked by means of the automatic DISPARK and DISKON programmes which in real time determine the location of each container. That is, we are ready to answer any of the client's questions - where his freight is found at the moment, when it reaches one or another check point and when it is expected to arrive at any point in Russia or on the country's border.
Train traffic on the Trans-Siberian Railway is currently being re-organised, with regional control centres being set up to handle freight transportation, together with the main traffic control centre in Moscow, over long stretches of the line.
Container Trains Travel at Express Speed
Transit containers are carried by express speed trains under a special schedule. This has had an immediate effect in reducing delivery times, compared with one-off containers. As a result, the time advantage over the trans-oceanic route of shipping goods to Europe has reached 15 days.
Traction is provided by high-powered locomotives, which haul high-tonnage trains, and by high-speed locomotives, which haul passenger and container trains. Container trains move along the Transsib at a speed of about 1,200 kilometres a day. A special schedule for a container train on the Nakhodka Vostochnaya-Buslovskaya section takes a container over a distance of 9,880 kilometres in a matter of 9.7 days.
While developing and upgrading the line, Russian railwaymen constantly bear in mind the services for their clients. And this is already bearing fruit. In 2002, the overall volume of containerised freight along the Transsib from Asia-Pacific countries to Europe via the Far East's ports and border stations with Mongolia and China reached more than 70,000 containers in 20-foot units equivalent, against 48,800 in 2001 and 39,200 in 2000. In the first seven months of this year the line already transported 55,300 containers, which is 73 per cent more than in the same period of last year.
No person is without a future, and so the railways too should have prospects. One of the main areas of future effort for the Transsib is to organise a direct rail link between the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation. The main prerequisite for such a connection will be the restoration of the Trans-Korean Railway right up to the Khasan-Tumangan border crossing to access the Transsib. The Russian side has already started modernising a 240-kilometre stretch from border station Khasan to station Baranovskaya outside Vladivostok.
Implementation of this project will create the shortest Asia-Europe-Asia transit corridor. Its main advantage will be the passage of freight along more than 12,000 kilometres under common transport law.
Bringing the Tumangan-Wonsan-Kumgansan line about 700 kilometres long to world standards may require, according to preliminary estimates, 2.5 to 3 billion US dollars. The project to be realised presupposes creation of an international consortium for the construction and exploitation of the Trans-Korean Railway.
Today the bulk of freight flowing to Europe from Asia is by sea through the Suez Canal, which has a limited throughput capacity. The average period of cargo transportation is 40 to 50 days. By switching a considerable portion of East-West and West-East cargo traffic to railways, the time of transporting a container may be cut back to 14 days. Besides, delivery of every container will dock 400 dollars off the cost as a minimum.
Advantages for the shipper are obvious.
Another equally ambitious and promising project of the Russian railway ministry is the North-South International Transport Corridor (ITC) (South Asia-India-Iran-Russia-Europe), linking the Indian Ocean and the Russian coast of the Baltic Sea.
To do so, existing border and pre-port stations are being modernised, port approaches reinforced, the network of existing container terminals expanded, and new terminals built to handle large-tonnage containers.
On the western flank, we attach particular attention to the construction of the Baltic container terminal in the port of Ust-Luga. Its coal terminal is already in commercial operation and work has begun on a ferry service and a container terminal.
Construction is going apace of railway approaches to that port and of elements of station Luzhskaya. As seen by analysts, the railwaymen, together with port dockers, should handle up to 30 million tons of freight annually.
Already, in anticipation of an increased volume along the North-South ITC of heavy-duty containers, work is under way to reinforce railway approaches to other Russian ports on the Baltic, both existing and under construction: St Petersburg, Vysotsk, Primorsk and Baltiisk in the Kaliningrad region.
The port of Olya with a total berthing length of 240 kilometres is a key element on the southern flank of the North-South corridor on the Russian coast of the Caspian Sea. A modern container terminal is being built here, as well as a railway branch to link the port with main railway arteries. The first train is to arrive at Olya as early as August 2004. Then transit shipments can be delivered by rail from the Caspian Sea to any spot in Europe.
European Transport Corridors
Speaking of the international component of Russian railway transport one cannot omit to mention close ties with intra-European transport corridors. The Transsib and the North-South ITC, for example, are linked, via the railway network, with the 2nd all-European transport corridor (Berlin-Warsaw-Minsk-Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod).
Prospects for this route concerning freight and passenger traffic in Europe were discussed by top railway executives of Germany, Poland, Belarus, and Russia at the coordinating committee of the 2nd Transport Corridor. They adopted a series of important decisions to develop the project which involves four countries. The delivery time for goods from Berlin to Moscow by rail may be cut back to 7 days by 2004. By decision of the coordinating committee, this route is to introduce electronic document turnover, and expedite customs clearance of goods that cross three borders. In the future, rolling stock on extendable wheelsets will be used for going over from the Russian to the European standard gauge.
Changes in transportation through the 2nd Transport Corridor will next year affect not only freight carriage, but also passenger traffic. In December 2003, a passenger service between Kaliningrad and Berlin will open, and by that time representatives of the railways of the four countries must decide all matters related to daily departures of passengers on the Berlin-Moscow line. By 2010, passenger trains on the route of this corridor will be able to travel at a speed of up to 160 kilometres an hour.
In sum, I would like to say that Russian railway transport already can deliver any goods to the Eurasian continent's processing centres, using its price advantage. We are looking to the future with optimism.