Staunton, July 24 – Flooding as a result of heavy rains not only stopped traffic in both directions on the Trans-Siberian Railway but highlighted just how fragile Russia’s transportation network is and how a minor problem can become a major one because that system lacks the redundancy most national systems have.
Last week, flooding destroyed a bridge over which the Trans-Siberian railway passes, leading to a suspension of service in both directions for three days. The situation was especially dire because a branch route had suffered a similar disaster a few days earlier precluding a redirection of traffic (vz.ru/incidents/2021/7/24/1110504.html).
The bridge collapse, some 300 kilometers from Chita in the Trans-Baikal, had such serious repercussions for Russian economic development in the Far East and the transit of goods to and from China that Vladimir Putin convened a session of the Russian Security Council to discuss how to get the bridge repaired and the line running again.
East-Siberian transportation officials have begun an investigation to determine whether the bridge collapse was simply the result of flooding or reflected human error; and the Russian government at the order of Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has dispatched equipment for repairs from elsewhere in Russia.
There have been suggestions that if the bridges had been upgraded and repaired more regularly, this problem might have been avoided and problems with China and other Far Eastern trade partners avoided (vgudok.com/lenta/u-rzhd-rushatsya-mosty-poka-nachalnik-zabzhd-igraet-v-deputata-avariya-na-transsibe-stavit-na).
Whatever the final verdict is this calamity, “the consequences may be extremely serious,” equivalent to the blockage of the Suez Canal or the Bosphorus Straits, Russian experts say, first on the Russian Far East and then on Chinese-Russian trade relations (vostok.today/39594-ostanovka-transsiba-mozhet-bolno-udarit-po-jekonomike-dalnego-vostoka.html).
(A similar bridge disaster in Murmansk Oblast in June 2020 had similarly serious consequences within the country but did not have an equivalent impact on Russia’s foreign trade relations (severpost.ru/read/102514/).)
Moscow’s biggest worry appears to be that China will further downgrade the importance of the Trans-Siberian as a route for its east-west trade and shift shipments away from it to other paths as Japan and South Korea have already done. If that happens, Russian officials say, a superficially minor bridge collapse will have large geo-economic and even geo-political consequences.