SWEEPING proposals to reduce the cost of operating Russia’s 87469 km rail network are being implemented under an ’anti-crisis programme’ agreed at a board meeting of the Ministry of Railways in July. Recently appointed Railways Minister Nikolai E Aksyonenko said that the restructuring of Russian Railways (RG 3.97 p149) was making progress despite serious financial difficulties, but he ordered that a special programme be launched to stave off future problems by reducing costs and improving service levels for strategic freight customers.

The anti-crisis programme is based on proposals drawn up by First Vice-Minister of Railways V Kovalyov. His concept sees routes divided into four categories by tonnage levels, with maintenance resources reallocated to ensure their most effective use on the busiest lines. Category 1 includes the key route east of Moscow from Perm to Nizhni Novgorod and the rest of the Transiberian main line, the Samara - Kropachov line and a number of other routes handling more than 30 million gross tonnes a year and/or 20 passenger trains a day. In category 2 are routes carrying from 15 to 30 million gross tonnes, with category 3 comprising lines with 5 to 15 million gross tonnes. Those lines with less traffic are all designated category 4, and some of these are to receive only minimal levels of maintenance; others may be earmarked for closure.

Several routes between major industrial centres will be given special strategic status. These comprise lines carrying flows of oil, ores, coal and other minerals essential to the economy as well as those moving export freight. Key flows will be rerouted on to these trunk corridors, allowing maintenance to be reduced on parallel but less busy routes. At the same time operating costs will be cut thanks to more efficient use of motive power, crews and wagons. About 100 fewer locos and 5000 fewer wagons will be needed to move the same volume of traffic.

Better management of finances is an essential part of the anti-crisis programme, and these are to be brought under central control with an internal auditors’ department set up at the Ministry of Railways. Full budgeting for future operating expenditure and investment will be introduced this year, and efforts will be made to lift the annual rate of return on investment projects to more than 10%.

Priority will be given to development of container, piggyback and other intermodal services. This is likely to see a comprehensive service agreement signed between Trans Siberian Express Services and NDX Intermodal, the aim being to provide seamless transport between CIS states and western Europe. This is likely to become more important as the Transiberian landbridge struggles to remain competitive. TSES has a fleet of 2000 flatcars which it runs in block trains of 55, and this summer sees it introducing ’smart’ reefers for refrigerated traffic; they will run in groups of 10, with power provided from a generator car and security ensured by on-board staff.

Greater use of computers to speed information flows is seen as essential. Vice-Minister Podavashkin said that a 50000 km network of optic fibre cables will be laid to help improve communications links, and that 311 km of optic fibre cable are already in use in the Sverdlovsk region.

Stressing the need to stabilise the Russian economy, First Prime Minister B Nemtsov called for further analysis of the effect of lower rates being introduced for selected types of freight and asked for the establishment of dedicated long-distance and short-distance passenger companies to be examined.

The number of RZD’s regional managements has been cut from 19 to 17 under the restructuring programme, and the Moscow region has already succeeded in reducing its locomotive fleet by one-third and has cut fuel and power consumption by nearly 20%.

High speed line

While preliminary work for the 654 km Moscow - St Petersburg high speed line has begun in St Petersburg and alignment clearance has reportedly started in forested areas near Novgorod, questions remain about the project’s future. The Russian parliament has asked the government ’to monitor the construction of the high speed line at the design and implementation stage’, but this does not mean that the project has been officially sanctioned. An appeal has been issued by 90 members of parliament and 27 local authorities to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation seeking repeal of presidential decrees and government decisions favouring the project. Among concerns listed are environmental problems and the failure of the Tver District Administration to sanction construction on its part of the route.

HOn July 25 work was completed on the first stage of the Chechnya bypass route when the first freight train ran from Kizlyar to Karlan Yurt. Work is due to be finished in 1999, when the route will be able to handle 16 trains a day each way. o