Monday, November 19, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Krasnoyarsk Hopes to Realize Stalin’s Plan for a North Siberian Railway

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 19 – The leadership of Kranoyarsk Kray wants to “return to the Stalinist idea of the construction of a North-Siberian Rail Road” believing that “without the development” of that infrastructure, the “effective” exploitation of the northern regions of Siberia in the near term “will be slowed down,” “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported today.

            Aleksandr Chernyavsky, who writes frequently for that Moscow paper on regional and economic issues, notes that the first person to propose the construction of such a railway in the far north was Joseph Stalin.  In December 1945, he proposed extending it all the way to the Bering Straits (

            The first stage of the project, which was to extend 1263 kilometers between Salekhard and Igarka, was begun in the spring of 1947. Some eighty percent of those working on it were GULAG inmates.  By the time of Stalin’s death, however, only 900 kilometers of this segment had been completed, and the rest of the project was cancelled.

            But over the last few years, scholars from the Moscow State Transportation University sought to revive the idea, projecting the construction of a new mainline across the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District, Tomsk Oblast, Krasnoyarsk Kray, and Irkutsk Oblast, linking up there with the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM).

            Officials in the regions were skeptical, however.  Chernyavsky recounts that Aleksandr Khloponin who was governor of Krasnoyarsk, told him in 2005 that any such project would be too expensive and that given the outflow of population from the North, it was not clear to him that there was any need for it.

            Despite that comment, Chernyavsky says, Khloponin at a session of the State Council in 2007 suggested that Moscow should back the project.

            According to the “Nezavisimaya gazeta” journalists, most observers now say that the idea of such a rail line is not “utopian.”  Andrey Kopytov, a Moscow political scientist, says that the country needs access to the natural resources of the north and that such a line, if built with Moscow subsidies, would ultimately pay dividends.

            But an article in the issue of “Ekspert” released today suggests that Moscow is unlikely to provide the funds anytime soon and that the Russian rail monopoly is unlikely to be able to raise the kind of cash at reasonable rates in capital market either within the Russian Federation or from abroad (

            In their analysis of the new investment program for Russian railways, Andrey Gorbunov and Dmitry Sivakov say that in the short term at least Moscow’s investment in the country’s railways is still high but declining and that it is focused more on acquiring new rolling stock than on building new lines.

            Moreover, if money were forthcoming for new rail line construction, Russian Rail recently suggested that there were far more deserving projects to eliminate some of the “choke points” in the system and that its own experts believe that the country in fact needs “thousands of kilometers” of new lines.

            Last year, Russia constructed 683 kilometers of rail lines, a low figure given the size of the country  but one that has been exceeded during the immediate post-war period in the Soviet Union. Now, Russian Railways could like to see between 16,000 and 20,700 kilometers built over the next 17 years.

That would result in a slightly higher rate of construction than last year’s but not enough to build anything like a Northern Mainline. And given the aging infrastructure, the “Ekspert” analysts say, Russian Railways is unlikely to build even that much and will instead direct most of its infrastructure funds to the reconstruction of the existing network.


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