January 1, 2003｜Russia
Professor, Niigata University of Management
News arrived a few days before New Years Day, reporting that the electrification of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the world’s longest railroad, had at last been completed after a total of 74 years work. To commemorate this event, a magnificent ceremony and fireworks display was held at Ruzhino Station, a small station in Primorskiy krai.
It is hoped that the completion of electrification work will have a significant economic effect. Even running at full throttle, a diesel locomotive can only pull freight carriages weighing a total of less than four thousand tons, while electric locomotives can tow up to six thousand tons. In addition, transport costs can be reduced by 25% and the speed will increase from 80km to 120km.
The completion of the electrification work will also make the Trans-Siberian Railroad more attractive as an international transportation route connecting East Asia and Europe.
The abovementioned moves could be considered to be one example showing how Russia’s strategy for improving international transportation hubs, including in Siberia and the Russian Far East, has become increasingly dynamic and has begun to make a certain amount of progress.
2002 was a year of high growth in Russia’s transportation sector. The volume of marine freight increased 8%, while the volume of freight handled at ports increased 13% compared with the previous year (preliminary report). The amount of freight handled between January and November at Vostochny Port, one of Far Eastern Russia’s main ports, reached 14,849 tons, an increase of 30.8% compared with the same period of the previous year, while at Vladivostok Port it increased 4,400 tons between January and September, up 30% on the same period of the previous year. Such large increases mainly arose from an expansion in the volume of export and import freight handled. There have been signs that ports in Far Eastern Russia, which had been considered to be suffering from low capacity utilization, are experiencing a recovery.
Such factors as the electrification of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the expansion of ports, the introduction of high-speed “container trains”, and fare reductions are also making a contribution to strengthening the competitiveness of the Siberian Land Bridge (now known in Russia as the East-West International Transportation Corridor), a transportation route with the Trans-Siberian Railroad at its core. Freight transportation through the East-West Corridor has shown a steady rise, increasing by 38% on the previous year, compared with a growth rate of 25% in 2001.
The idea of connecting the Trans-Siberian Railroad and the Trans-Korean Railroad, which links the ROK and the DPRK, has surfaced as the focus of a strategy for increasing international competitiveness. According to the Russian Railroad Ministry, a team of Russian experts has completed a study of the area through which the railroad is due to run and will conduct the feasibility study necessary to commence the railroad construction project before the end of this year.
According to some calculations, if the Trans-Korean Railroad were constructed and linked to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the volume of transit freight passing through the SLB would increase by half a million 20-foot containers. As a result, the amount of revenue for Russia would increase by approximately one billion dollars.
The route that goes through the Korean Peninsula, Far Eastern Russia and Siberia will allow the transportation period from Busan Port of the ROK to Western Europe to be shortened to 12 days, which is far less time than that required on the major sea routes currently in use, which take about a month, and the route is expected to take advantage of the fact that it is the shortest transportation route connecting Asia and Europe. Accordingly, a virtuous circle may be created, in which technical innovation and freight control systems in Russia’s transportation service sector become more advanced in order to further strengthen the competitiveness of the SLB. (On the other hand, some voices have been raised in opposition to this, due to worries that the development of an overland route may reduce the volume of freight passing through ports in the Russian Far East.)
Whatever the case may be, there is a slew of problems involved in revitalizing the Russian transportation sector in earnest, particularly issues relating to international transportation routes, in order to make it a major competitive industry. First of all, the enhancement of a comprehensive control system for the transportation sector is needed. In particular, the necessity is indicated of adopting such laws as those aimed at developing a cooperative framework that includes ports and railroads officials, those which clarify the rules relating to carriers’ activities, and other port-related laws, as well as being more active in promoting the development of the legal system.
There are also diplomatic issues. Unless a solution is found to the issue of the DPRK’s nuclear program, it seems inconceivable that the abovementioned TKR construction program will get underway. In that sense, it is vital for Russia, which is greatly interested in the project, to invigorate diplomacy with the DPRK, for the sake of its own economic interests. In line with this, Russia is destined to make increasingly explicit its stance as a key player in a multilateral cooperative framework to deal with the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
[Translated by ERINA]