«High-speed Railway»
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10 may

Russia gets prepared for a «railway Battle of Stalingrad»

Given Moscow-Kazan HSR is built in time, Russian GDP will grow by RUB7.9 tn. According to government officials, construction of the 770 km long Moscow-Kazan HSR line may become a crisis response or at least a lifebuoy for our commodity-driven economy. For the first time in Russia, an incredible amount of RUB1.07 tn will be invested in a high-tech transport project. The subject has been widely discussed on Russian Internet ever since HSR-2 presentation. Criticists have been quite hard upon the project, and most publications are evidently by railway professionals. Not everyone is sceptical, but economic and technical doubts are strongly argumented. “The HSR requires very high capex, and quality development and implementation“, writes forumite Fedor Pendolintsev. “Otherwise, the occurring tremendous losses will need to be somehow made up for. It is easier to launch Sapsans on standard renovated tracks 4 times a day, cancel all other day-time trains to encourage people to use high-speed trains, and distribute maintenance costs between all other trains. It will be much more difficult to do on a dedicated line serving only high-speed trains”. It is no wonder that supporters of transport infrastructure upgrade have also become active. “RZD has 17,000 km of tracks requiring urgent repair, it is about the entire double-track length of the Trans-Siberian Railway. What HSR to talk about! At least the existing tracks should be reconditioned” — notes forumite Aleksandr Gubin — … For example, the Southeastern Railway has strongly increased freight train speeds, which now move as fast as Kuban or Sochi premium passenger trains. The average freight train speed of 78 km/h on a 85 km long section, considering acceleration and braking distances, is really too much for a heavily loaded train. Indeed, there is logic in the words of the new project opposers. RUB1.07 tn to be invested in HSR-2 is enough to buy 5,900 new electric locomotives or, which is more relevant, have 8,500 km of tracks fully upgraded for the average speed of 160 km/h. Although, the country would eventually have railways not as good as the high-speed railway lines (allowing for a speed of 250 km/h or more), the upgrade would cover most troubled sections in the central and southern Russian regions. Besides, we have a well-established manufacture of EP20 electric locomotive with a designed speed of 200 km/h. It is fully home-made allowing us to avoid sanction risks. Certainly, the popular Sapsan has a higher designed speed of 350 km/h, but the Russian party has set a 250 km/h speed limit for the German engine. It appears, by the way, that express trains do not “fly” so fast in Germany. For information: the average speed of German ICE train is 160 km/h, although on some routes, for example Cologne-Frankfurt-on-Main, it goes at 230 km/h. Do not forget about the severe Russian climate with its snow storms, heavy frosts and ice rains, so it is not correct to match the operating conditions in Russia with those in Spain, France or even China. Meanwhile, in Finland, which can serve as a benchmark, Pendolino high-speed tilting trains move maximum at 220 km/h. Also note that as the train travel speed grows, maintenance costs grow many-fold, too. Certainly, maintenance costs influence ticket prices and, consequently, the general consumer appeal. For information: the price of a second class seat on a Beijing-Guangzhou high-speed train (1,890 km distance) is $138, which is more expensive than an economy air seat. However, according to HSR-2 Investment Memorandum, our tickets will be much cheaper than the Chinese peers — RUB3,671 on Moscow-Kazan route. And it will only cost RUB1,952 to get from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod. Prices may grow, but not drastically. More important is that with the new railway Russia will finally make a step into the 21st century. HSR-2 designers say that not only high-speed passenger trains will run on the line (with a permitted speed of 350−400 km/h), but night and passenger express trains (with a permitted speed of 250 km/h) as well. Also, special trains oriented at Chinese freight transit will also be served. In this case, cumulative GDP growth in 2019−2030 will reach RUB7.9 tn, and budgetary revenues from taxes at any levels for the same period will exceed RUB2.1 tn. As to equipment, as soon as HSR-2 starts to operate, at least 42 high-speed trains, up to EUR25 mn each, will need to be purchased. To be fair, an import substitution program is currently underway in the Urals engineering cluster. Also, according to Dietrich Moeller from Siemens, the German party is ready to agree to 80% localisation if at least 60 Sapsans are assembled. By the way, electric trains Sinara and Granite are now almost fully assembled from home-made parts, and Lastochka is by two thirds Russian-made. If the plan is met, this May Russia and China are to sign a memorandum on a concession agreement. And again, if the parties agree, the concessioner will be defined. The schedule published in January 2016 designates that the date when the Russian Government approves a concession agreement to be executed with the Chinese Government in Q3, will be the point of no return. It will be the start of land withdrawal, tenders and construction of Moscow-Kazan HSR line to be completed in 2020. Then in 2021 we can expect the railway start-up. In terms of HSR-2 design expert review, of particular interest are the Environmental Impact Assessment (by section) and Construction Project Moscow-Kazan HSR section. Investment Memorandum. It appears that huge work has been done, including thoroughly developed planning and engineering solutions. Risks arising at the phase of railway infrastructure construction have been identified and analysed separately. An anonymised source from Russian Railways said: “After a number of toilsome and nervous projects, including HSR-1 and Sochi Olympics, probably for the first time in Russia we have a team of skilled experts and managers who can do this work orderly, but step by step. Too early to call them a “gold pool”, but “a silver pool” would be adequate. They have the necessary competences, and first of all it is true for the Urals engineering cluster. And the Government now has adequate controls in place. We also know our weak points, such as failure to meet specifications, and budget overruns. Everything that had been done before was on a “whatever the price” basis, while HSR-2 is kind of an “economic Battle of Stalingrad”. If we cope, construction of high-speed lines may become out competitive benefit, same as nuclear power engineering or defence sector”. In other words, HSR-2 construction, being strictly within the schedule and the budget, may become the start of structural transformations that have been much talked about recently. Success will not only drive GDP growth, but improve the country's technological image. Source: Svobodnaya Pressa

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