The Russian Far East regions are among the most remote areas in the world. Transportation means are limited due to the vastness and distances of the region. However, at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science the head of the Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin presented ideas to change that.
Plans to link the Russian Far East better with the rest of country have been unveiled at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science last week according to The Siberian Times. The plans dubbed Trans-Eurasian Belt Development (TEPR) were presented by Vladimir Yakunin, head of the Russian Railways and included the construction of mega roads and a high-speed railroad network. The route taken would be a corridor through Siberia and the Russian Far East and connect to existing networks of roads and railroads. Alongside of the existing Trans-Siberian Railway, a network of roads, pipelines towns and facilities for supplies are in the mind of the planers. In case of a success, Mr. Yakunin believes that it would create about 10 – 15 new industries, new cities and a huge number of new jobs. It also will help to develop to develop Siberia and the Russian Far East and will aid the people of Chukotka and other Russian regions. However, Mr. Yakunin’s plans do not seem to stop at the coast of Chukotka. Vladimir Fortov, head of the Russian Academy of Science said: „The idea is that basing on the new technology of high-speed rail transport we can build a new railway near the Trans-Siberian Railway with the opportunity to go to Chukotka and Bering Strait and then to the American continent.” Mr. Yakunin also estimated that the costs of the projects will be trillions of dollars, but “the economic returns would outweigh these investments”.
At the meeting Viktor Sadovnichy, rector of the Moscow State University, was also in favor of the proposed plans by Mr. Yakunin. He sees the possibility to increase the development of those regions in Russia that had been isolated in the past decades. “Recently I returned from Khabarovsk (which is situated about 750 kilometers north of Vladivostok, Red.), where I met with rectors of universities of the Far East, about 100 of them in total. The main problem we discussed was isolation. Up to 30 percent of talented young people graduating from schools leave these regions.” Vladimir Fortov in addition called the project “very ambitious and expensive”. However, he also said: „It will solve many problems in the development of the vast region. It is connected with social programs, and new fields, new energy sources, and so on.”
There are many obstacles for these plans: huge vast areas without any infrastructure, quickly changing weather conditions, and thawing permafrost grounds, a rugged coastline, the Bering Strait. The last road in the area is the R504 Kolyma Highway that ends in Magadan. Additionally, nothing in the unveiled plans mentioned how the gap between the rugged Russian coastline and the flat Alaskan coastline will be crossed. In the past, plans like a bridge, a tunnel or a ferry system to cross the Bering Strait had been presented, but none had been pursued seriously. The shortest distance between Russia and Alaska measures a mere 88 kilometers, but difficult weather, sea and ice conditions put an end to any ideas of an easy crossing. And even if it was possible, it would still leave the stretch between Nome (where the hypothetical connection to the Russian mainland would be made) and the next road and train network at Fairbanks open with its more than 850 kilometers of road-less wilderness.