INVESTMENT in the sprawling and run-down Russian Railways network is to rise by 20% this year compared with 1999, according to Minister of Railways Nikolai Aksyonenko. Speaking at the annual board meeting of the Ministry of Railways on December 24, he called for more intensive use of assets to raise productivity. Given the poor condition of track and trains, it is not clear how far his aspirations can be met, as equipment is already being worked beyond its limits to keep services going.

Indeed, Aksyonenko warned that under current regulations one-third of the electric loco fleet, half of the diesels and 40000 wagons should in theory be withdrawn from service.

Were this to happen, the network would face certain collapse, as traffic is once again on the rise - the minister told his board that ’for the first time for more than 10 years the volume of cargo handled by RZD went up substantially in 1999.’ He drew attention to worn-out track and other infrastructure, and announced the priorities for investment this year: purchase of modern motive power and rolling stock, safety enhancements, and better communications.

According to Deputy Railways Minister A Misharin, RZD now has 11200 km of optic fibre communications links, the most recent being on the route from Moscow to Samara, Volgograd and Novorossiysk.

There are encouraging signs that investment funds are starting to flow into the 86660 km network. Last year saw about 400 route-km electrified, and wiring is under way on the Saratov - Volgograd route; funding is split between the Ministry of Railways and the local administrations in Saratov and Volgograd.

During 1999 RZD took delivery of 270 EMU cars and 280 long-distance coaches. In the view of V Andriyaka, General Director of Rosvagonmash Corp, Russian rolling stock suppliers have the capacity to build up to 1200 coaches a year. Rosvagonmash was set up recently as a joint venture by the Ministry of Railways, Tver Passenger Coach Manufacturing Ltd, Demikhovo Commuter Car Manufacturing and Novocherkassk Locomotive Works. This year the group’s deliveries will include 36 coaches to form two replacement sets for the premium Aurora service between Moscow and St Petersburg.

Andriyaka confirmed that series production of Class EP200 and EP201 electric locomotives will shortly begin at Kolomna, and of Classes EP1 and EP10 at Novocherkassk. n