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Baikal-Amur railway continuation advantageous for Russia — experts

July 09, 2014, 15:28 UTC+3 MOSCOW
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MOSCOW, July 09. /ITAR-TASS/. The construction of a new line of the legendary Soviet-era Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railroad is an extremely important economic project that can yield large benefits for Russia and help maintain the eastern regions’ infrastructure, Russian experts said on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin inaugurated on Tuesday the ceremony of laying a silver rail joint - a section of the rails symbolizing the launch of the construction of a new railway line. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the start of the BAM construction.

The new project envisages a higher throughput capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline from current 16 to 32 railway vehicles daily by 2017.

Putin said the new project was aimed at comprehensively developing Russia’s Far East and Eastern Siberia.

Launched in 1974, the BAM construction became the Soviet Union’s largest project during the period of the late rule of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

A considerable part of the Soviet youth was mobilized for participation in the top-priority construction project announced by the Soviet Union’s Communist Party.

As a result, the BAM railroad built in the country became one of the world’s largest railways with a total length of 4,300 km. The railway runs across six mountain ridges, over 200 rail stations, more than 60 towns and settlements and crosses 6 rivers. A total of 2,230 bridges and 8 tunnels were built along the railway.

“The BAM was not only a huge construction project, but also a big challenge for the country,” Putin said. “It had both strategic military and economic significance.”

There were doubts in the 1990s about the need for the BAM railway, the Russian president said, adding that with the start of the 2000s “it became obvious that the BAM was highly needed, and its capacity was already not enough".

The Russian government has made a decision to modernize the railway and increase its throughput capacity.

The BAM railway currently transports 12 million tons of cargoes annually and is expected to increase its throughput capacity to 75 million tons. For this purpose, Russia needs to build new rail tracks, additional passing points and radically improve the infrastructure. The project also envisages the construction of new railway sections leading to deposits in Yakutia and required to develop the Vanino and Sovetskaya Gavan ports in the Russian Far East.

The BAM construction was once the most expensive project in the Soviet Union - its cost in 1991 prices was estimated at over 18 billion rubles. The Russian government intends to allocate as much as 150 billion rubles (over $4 billion) from the National Welfare Fund, which accumulates surplus oil and gas export revenues, to modernize the BAM railroad as well the Trans-Siberian trunk railway (TransSib), even through the Russian economy is not performing well this year.


Driver for Russia's economic development

The BAM-2 construction will be a driver for Russia’s economic development, Director of the Transport Economics and Transport Policy Institute at the Higher School of Economics Mikhail Klimkin told ITAR-TASS, adding that the Soviet-era BAM had been of serious military and ideological significance but had barely related to economics.

“In the last few years, the BAM has become super-advantageous but it has turned out that the existing railway’s throughput capacity is disastrously insufficient, considering the growth in the exports of coal, ore and timber in the eastern direction to Asia-Pacific countries,” the expert said.

“In current conditions, this is an absolutely economic project with real prospects of development, considering the growing exports of non-hydrocarbon raw materials,” he stressed.

The Russian expert community perceives the BAM-2 project exclusively positively and does not see politics in this undertaking, the expert said, adding that the project had been developed before deterioration in relations between Russia and the United States and was of purely economic nature.

Schematically speaking, the BAM railway is an export mainline while TransSib is an import-oriented railroad. The availability of such two trunk railways is a very positive factor for the successful operation of Russia’s transport system, the expert said.

Meanwhile, Director of the Center for Urban Transportation Studies Konstantin Trofimenko said that BAM-2 had both economic and strategic significance.

“The entire infrastructure of the cities east of the Urals relies on this railway and if we want to maintain these regions at the current level, to say nothing of their development, this infrastructure should be preserved,” the expert said.

At the same time, the expert said that a modernized BAM would have limited potential to compete with Chinese sea ports and draw an inflow of goods currently supplied from China to Europe.

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