Addressing the ’Congress of Transport on the Threshold of the New Century’ in Moscow on December 6, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went to some trouble to assure delegates that the national rail network ’is and will remain the backbone of Russia’s transport system’. He told them that to prevent any situation where transport problems could retard economic development ’we have made adjustments to national policy’.

Putin stressed the need for investment to modernise the network and its equipment, warning that ’the transport system of the country is catastrophically ageing ... we still use the equipment and the technology from Soviet times.’ On some routes passengers ’spend four times longer than in Europe or Japan’ for journeys of the same length.

Noting that domestic industry was developing modern electric locomotives, long distance and commuter coaches, he said that the government would be monitoring progress on the implementation of the different state programmes. At the congress, First Deputy Prime Minister & Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko reported that the volume of freight and passenger traffic was rising again, with 12 and 8% increases respectively over the first 10 months of the year compared with 1998.