INTRO: Technical advances and more efficient operating methods are helping to boost capacity on Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway, enabling RZD to win more of the traffic between the Pacific Rim and Europe

BYLINE: Gennady Fadeyev

President, Russian Railways Ltd

THE TRANS-SIBERIAN Railway is unique. For more than a century, the line has played a special role in our country’s national transport infrastructure, and it remains the backbone of the Russian Railways network. Providing an overland freight corridor between Europe and Asia, during 2003 it handled more than one-third of RZD’s total freight tonnage.

At 86000 km, Russia’s railway network is the largest in the world under a single management. It also has the greatest length of electrified route, with more than 40000 km now wired. The railway accounts for 80% of Russia’s total freight movement; in global terms, RZD carries more than 20% of world rail freight and 15% of passenger journeys.

In 2003, the volume of freight carried rose by 7·2% compared with 2002, reaching 1162 million tonnes. Although all sectors of the market showed growth, this was particularly evident in the movement of major economic and export commodities. Crude and refined oil products increased by 15·6% to 206 million tonnes, cement by 10·5%, iron ore by 10% and coal by 7·6%.

Despite the extra traffic, operations also improved, lifting the average speed of freight movements by 15%. Passenger traffic was also boosted by the strengthening economy, with a 2·4% increase lifting ridership to more than 300 million passengers. Overall, RZD’s revenues rose by no less than 24% in 2003 to almost US$20bn.

Freight volumes along the Trans-Siberian Railway continue to grow all the time, reaching almost 400 million tonnes in 2003. Today, the TSR is a high-capacity corridor, double-tracked and electrified throughout. It is usually first to benefit from the latest advances in automation and information technologies, including the most up-to-date optic fibre communications network.

Boosting traffic

There is still room for expansion, above all by speeding up freight handling. For example, in an effort to cut idle time at ports and border stations, we have simplified customs formalities for transit containers. An extra copy of the waybill acts as the customs clearance document, so an invoice is no longer required. A detailed description of goods allows customs officials to identify them easily.

These changes have cut container demurrage from between three and five days to just a few hours. These simplified customs formalities and inspection for freight traffic using the TSR also apply to containers bound for third countries.

Transit freight also enjoys special shipping rates. These were negotiated by the International Co-ordinating Council for the Trans-Siberian Railway, which includes representatives from railways in other countries, shipping companies, port operators and forwarding firms. Last year the council agreed average through tariffs for foreign trade moving in containers between the Asia-Pacific region and Western Europe via European border stations and Russian ports on the Baltic.

Harnessing technology

For the streamlined clearance procedures to work effectively, shippers and transport operators need to have high-quality real-time information about the movement of their traffic. The creation of a 45000 km optic fibre communications network has brought a fundamental improvement in management information for the Trans-Siberian corridor.

Wagons and containers are monitored automatically using programmes known as Dispark and Diskon that pinpoint the location of every container in real time. So a customer can find out where his freight is, note when it has passed any of the check points, and predict when it is expected to arrive at any destination in Russia or at one of the border crossings.

We are currently reorganising traffic management along the Trans-Siberian corridor. Regional control offices are being set up to oversee the operations on lengthy sections of the route, co-ordinated by the main rail transport control centre in Moscow.

Another boost to TSR container traffic has been the introduction of dedicated express trains running to special timetables. As soon as these services were introduced, RZD was able to reduce the quoted delivery time for Europe-bound single containers to just 15 days, which is significantly faster than the trans-oceanic shipping route.

These express container trains are hauled by fast passenger locomotives, rather than the higher-powered but slower locos used on the line’s heavy freight trains. Electric locos can be used for the entire run, following the completion of electrification on the Far Eastern Railway in December 2002 (RG 1.03 p13). The special schedules call for container trains to cover the 9880 km from Nakhodka Vostochnaya to Moscow Buslovskaya in under 10 days, at an average of almost 1200 km a day.

During 2003 no less than 994 fast container trains to Europe were loaded and dispatched from the Pacific coast. In total the route handled 67000 containers last year, an increase of 170% on the previous year. Work is now in progress to extend the loading terminals at sorting yards so that these trains can be lengthened from their present limit of 45 or 50 vehicles to 71 wagons.

Today, the bulk of goods to Europe from Asia travels by sea through the Suez Canal, which has a limited capacity. Average journey time is 40 to 50 days. By rail, this can be cut to only 14 days. Our estimates suggest that the shorter leasing periods for containers would save consignors between US$200 and US$300 per trip, offering them obvious benefits.

International connections

A major objective for the next few years is to create a direct link between the Trans-Siberian Railway and the ports of South Korea. This would extend our high-quality transit route to serve even more of the Asia-Pacific region, and offer a much shorter sea crossing to southern Japan. A major benefit will be that freight will be able to travel for more than 12000 km covered by a single set of transport regulations.

The main effort required to create this corridor is the restoration of the Trans-Korean Railway through North Korea to the Khasan-Tumangan border crossing. Work has already started on modernising the 240 km in Russia from the border station at Khasan border station to the TSR at Baranovsky near Vladivostok. The first new bridges have been built at the 24 km mark, near the village of Nezhino.

According to preliminary estimates, bringing the 700 km Tumangan - Vonsan - Kumgangsan line up to modern standards may cost between US$2·5bn and US$3bn. A proposal to set up an international consortium to rebuild and operate the Trans-Korean Railway is currently being considered.

Another ambitious project now taking shape is the proposed North-South Corridor between northern Europe with southeast Asia via Russia, Iran and India, linking ports Russia’s Baltic coast with the Indian Ocean. The programme includes modernisation of border and port stations and the provision of better approaches to ports. New container terminals will be built at key locations, and existing terminals enlarged to handle increased volumes of traffic.

In the west, this will increase the importance of the Baltic container terminal at Ust Luga. The port already has a coal terminal, and work has started on a container terminal and facilities to accommodate ferry services. Construction of improved rail access to the port is underway, together with upgrading of Luzhskaya station. Current estimates suggest that by 2010 the railway and port workers will be handling up to 30 million tonnes of freight every year.

In the anticipation of heavier container traffic along the North-South Corridor, work is underway to improve rail access to other existing and planned Baltic ports, including St Petersburg, Vysotsk, Primorsk and Baltiisk near Kaliningrad.

In southern Russia, the main focus is the Caspian Sea port of Olya, which will have a total of 40 km of shipping berths. Olya already has a modern container terminal, and work started in October on the construction of a rail link between the port and the nearby main lines. The first train is expected to arrive at Olya in August 2004. Once regular services have started, we will be able to move transit freight from the Caspian to any destination in Europe.

Upgrading is also in prospect for the international routes between the Russian railways and those of western Europe. At present, most traffic from the Trans-Siberian, plus the emerging North-South flow, is funnelled onto a single westward connection - the so-called Second All-European Transport Corridor, linking Berlin, Warszawa, Minsk, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.

Corridor 2 has its own transport co-ordinating committee, which was set up a few years ago. This brings together senior railway executives from Germany, Poland, Belarus and Russia to focus on the traffic potential and upgrading requirements for the route. Thanks to some important decisions that have already been taken by the four partners, the average transit time between Moscow and Berlin should be cut to seven days during 2004.

This year will see the introduction of electronic document transfer, which should help to speed up the customs clearance for transit freight at the three border crossings along the route. There are also good prospects for the introduction of gauge-convertible wagons to simplify the transfer between 1520 and 1435mm gauge.

Improvements to Corridor 2 are also planned to benefit passenger services as well as freight traffic. In particular, we are planning to increase the maximum speed to 160 km/h by 2010.

Overall, I believe that Russian Railways is well-placed to serve the entire Eurasian continent, thanks to innovations that are providing faster services at lower cost. In co-operation with our partner railways and shipping companies, RZD can already deliver any goods to any destination with efficiency and reliability. And we are looking to the future with optimism.

TABLE: Table I. Trans-Siberian containers

Year TEUs

2000 39200

2001 48800

2002 70000

2003 119000

CAPTION: Unloading containers in the Pacific port of Nakhodka, at the eastern end of the Trans-Siberian landbridge Photo: RIANovosti

CAPTION: RZD President Gennady Fadeyev (right) and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov inspect a cab mock-up for a new generation of electric loco

Photo:RIA Novosti/ V Radionov

CAPTION: The new Trans-Siberian regional control office at Yekaterinburg


CAPTION: Khabarovsk yard is a key node for wagonload freight on the Far Eastern Railway, serving both the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur corridors