DECEMBER 3 saw the launch of improved high-speed services between Moscow and St Petersburg, cutting the 650 km trip to 4h 30min. The services will run five days a week, with early morning and evening departures each way targeted at business travel. The move follows the return to service of the original ER200 trainset, refurbished to work alongside the later Blue Arrow set (RG 3.99 p130).

The launch marks the revival of Russia’s high-speed programme, which was formally adopted by the Ministry of Railways in October. This envisages the introduction of 200 km/h services on 8000 route-km, including the trunk lines from Moscow to St Petersburg and Helsinki, and to Nizhni Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, Omsk and Novosibirsk. Trains will be worked by the EP10, EP101 and EP200 three-phase electric locos being built for RZD with Adtranz technology. The October Railway also has seven CS200 twin-units refurbished by Skoda last year.

The Ministry plans to form public-private joint stock companies to build three new high-speed lines. It hopes to complete the Moscow - St Petersburg route, started by the RAO VSM company, by 2020. This will be followed by a line to Minsk and Brest by 2025 and a line to the south in 2030.

Meanwhile, the Sokol 250 high-speed prototype built by RAO VSM was due to be handed over to the Ministry of Railways last month for trial running at the Shcherbinka test centre. Following the completion of the trials, series construction is expected to get under way at the Tikhvin plant near St Petersburg.

H Minister of Railways Nikolai Aksyonenko has backed plans to complete the part-built rail tunnel between Siberia and Sakhalin, both to serve oil and gas deposits in the area and to provide a simpler route to Japan than the proposed Korea - Kyushu tunnel (RG 12.00 p800). n