RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has backed proposals for a north-south rail freight corridor linking the Baltic Sea with the Persian Gulf, via a Caspian Sea train ferry. A formal agreement to develop the corridor was signed in St Petersburg on May 21 by Russian Railways Minister Gennadi Fadeyev, Iranian Transport Minister Ahmad Horram and representatives from the Indian Railways Ministry.
According to the three ministries, this rail-sea routing from St Petersburg to Bandar Abbas is three times as fast as an all-sea passage via the North Sea and Suez Canal. The aim is to increase the volume of freight moving between northern Europe and India from 2·5 million tonnes in 2001 to around 12 to 15 million tonnes over the next five years. The Caspian Sea train ferry will run from the port of Olya southwest of Astrakhan to Amirabad or Bandar Anzali in Iran.
Key to the Russian share of the project are the development at Olya and the upgrading of the existing port of Makhachkala. A 50 km branch to Olya from Zenseli on the Astrakhan - Makhachkala line is due to be completed this summer at a cost of US$100m. The work is being funded by Russian shipping lines and an EBRD loan.
- Upgrading of the east-west Caspian Sea train ferry route between Baku and Turkmenbashi, which forms part of the Traceca corridor linking Europe and Central Asia, was identified as a priority by the regular conference of CIS railways held in Bishkek at the end of May.