EXPANSION of the 1520mm gauge Russian rail network is once again in prospect. Prof Sergey Zakharov of the All-Russian Railway Research Institute told the 7th International Heavy Haul Conference in Brisbane of proposals for modernising the 86660 km network over the next 30 years. Several major projects will add 15000 route-km by 2030, including dedicated heavy haul lines and high speed routes. New lines are planned in western Siberia and in the northern Urals, and plans to build a link to the island of Sakhalin are firming up.

Over 8000 km will be upgraded for 200 km/h passenger trains, and the Sokol prototype developed by RAO VSM is likely to become the standard high speed train. The proportion of lines electrified will increase from 47% to 52% by 2010, and new electric locos will have self-steering bogies, microprocessor controls and electronic fault diagnosis.

Work is in hand to develop gas turbine traction, and a prototype loco powered by natural gas is expected to begin trials by 2005. The Institute is meanwhile testing a pair of eight-axle diesel locos with General Motors EMD engines, and both are to be trialled on the RZD network.

Heavy haul developments will see train weights increased progressively to 16000 or 18000 tonnes - tests have already taken place with a train grossing 42000 tonnes.