Staunton, August 14 – Unless Russia can seriously upgrade the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway, there is a real danger that the line could become a bottleneck in shipping between Europe and Asia and a source of conflict between Moscow and Beijing, according to Russian commentator Yury Apukhtin says.
Even in Soviet times, the analyst in a survey of the transportation network of Russia says, the Trans-Siberian could not satisfy the growing demands on it domestic and foreign. That as one of the reasons the BAM was built and connected with the Trans-Siberian to form a single system. But far more needs to be done.
Only 25 percent of the BAM route has more than one set of tracks, sharply limiting the amount of traffic and its speed; and changing this is hard because it involves digging more tunnels. The worst case of a single-track tunnel is the Severomyisk one which extends more than 15 kilometers (alternatio.org/articles/articles/item/93922-rossiyskaya-transportnaya-infrastruktura-problemy-i-perspektivy).
If a parallel tunnel is built so that trains can move in both directions at speed, experts say the BAM’s carrying capacity will increase 600 percent. But if that doesn’t happen, Apukhtin says, China will look elsewhere for railways to carry its products to European markets. Various efforts have bene made to start this project, but none has come to fruition.
Meanwhile, Russia has been improving the capacity of the Trans-Siberian by electrifying more of the route, building better bridges and expanding the Khingan tunnel as well as directly linking the Russian rail network to that of China. But China wants to send more goods than these lines can now carry even with the upgrades.
Consequently, in April of this year, Moscow sent in Russian railway troops to work on BAM. Over the next 42 months, they are to transform it into a completely electrified two-track system, something that will require wholesale reconstruction of 1500 kilometers of road bed, the analyst continues.
China views all this as a necessary part of its one road, one path program; and it stands ready to rebuild the railways of other countries on the basis of loans extended to them. But such loans create dependence, as Ukraine and African countries have already learned. And Apukhtin underscores that in this way as in many others, “Russia is not Ukraine.”
Moscow will only be too happy to have China as an investor and a partner in all this, but it doesn’t want to bring onto its territory “future masters.” The problem is that unless Russia can upgrade the BAM in the time it has announced, China will look elsewhere or threaten to in order to force Moscow to be more cooperative.