RUSSIA’S HOPES of building the Moscow - St Petersburg high speed line suffered a heavy blow last month when some provisions of the decree signed by President Yeltsin on September 13 1991 establishing the Russian High Speed Shareholding Co RAO VSM were wiped off the statute book. All that has happened on the ground apart from a symbolic ceremony on July 30 1993 is some work on the new station in St Petersburg. This does not form part of the main project and is funded by a foreign loan with a government guarantee. Dr Igor Kisilev of RAO VSM insisted in mid July that the move ’does not mean the cancellation of the project’.

The main difficulty is that traffic between the cities has fallen far short of forecast levels. A report from rail research institute Giprotranstei argues that ’the volume of passenger traffic will only attain the level of 1989 by 2010 if there is constant economic and social development.’ The prospects of that look thin.

In the meantime work is progressing on upgrading the existing 650 km line for trains to run at 200 km/h, as achieved to a limited extent with the ER200 high speed train built in the 1970s. About one-third of the line has so far seen track upgrading and improvements to the 3 kV DC catenary; the intention is to complete the work by 2000. By then optic fibre communications links should be installed along the whole route.

The aim is to run high speed trains between the two cities in a timing of 4h 20min. Rolling stock is likely to take the form of Sokol trainsets, a prototype for which is reportedly under construction; rolling stock provisions of the 1991 decree remain intact. Among contributing suppliers is SMC Transit, which has developed prototype door assemblies.

HIn line with the Russian Railways reform programme, all 17 regional managements are setting up separate companies to run long-distance passenger and commuter services. The first long-distance companies were established on the October, North Caucasian and Kuybishev railways, and the other 14 should be in place by November. The commuter companies are to be set up by December. V Shatayev, Director of the Ministry of Railways’ Passenger Service Department, said in June that accounts for freight and passenger businesses have been kept separately since April 1. o