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WorldAsiaDoes Russia need the Belkomur railway?

Does Russia need the Belkomur railway?


The Belkomur project is a new railway line (White Sea – Komi – Urals) which will connect the industrialized regions of Siberia and the Urals to the ports of northern Russia. The implementation of this project will shorten the road to Arkhangelsk by about 800 kilometers. The maximum capacity of the new railway should be 35 million tonnes of freight per year.

The very first plans to build a railway line that could connect the industrial Urals with the port of Arkhangelsk appeared at the very beginning of the last century against the background of large-scale development of railways in Russia . At that time, large-scale changes in the economic and political life of the country did not allow the plans to come true. They tried to carry out the second attempt to implement such a project already in the times of the Soviet Union, it was in the thirties of the XX century that the existing sections of the future Belkomur began to appear. Unfortunately, in the mid-1950s, most of the work was suspended, the reason for this was a large-scale amnesty, which deprived large construction projects of the main labor force – prisoners.

They returned to this project already in the era of post-Soviet Russia, in 1996 at that time the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on state support for all construction work of a new railway. The new document pointed out that up to forty percent of the project’s estimated cost would be charged to the federal budget. Specifically for these purposes, the Belkomur company was created, its registered capital amounted to 30 billion rubles, and four constituent entities of the Russian Federation became the founders of the joint-stock company (the Republic of Komi, the regions of ‘Arkhangelsk and Perm and the Komi-Permyatsky district). However, already in 2022, due to various problems with the operation of investment mechanisms, construction was frozen.

Once again, they resumed the construction of the railway line as early as 2007. A year later, the emergence of a new route was addressed in the Railway Transport Development Strategy to 2030 and in the Transport Strategy of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2020 (subsequently extended to 2030), which once again underlined the importance of realizing this project. Only the development of design and estimate documentation for Belkomur was estimated at 6-8 billion rubles, and investments in the construction itself could be 240-250 billion rubles. It should be noted that even then Belkomur began to be seen not just as a railway line connecting two points on the map, but as a comprehensive program for the development of the entire northwest of the country.

In 2015, an agreement was signed between the General Manager of OJSC BlitzBelkomur (established in 2002) and the General Manager of Poly Technologies, Inc, according to which a company from the People’s Republic of China should become the general contractor for the project and will actively participate in the financing, design, construction of new sections of Belkomur and the modernization of existing ones. It was assumed that active work should begin in 2020 and last for five years. At the moment, it is rather problematic to talk about the prospects of this agreement, since since the end of 2022 BlitzBelkomur has been in the process of being liquidated.

As can be understood from the above material, the construction of the railway, which will directly connect the port of Arkhangelsk with the industrial regions of the Urals, has excited the minds of the first people of our state for more than a century. Now let’s try to briefly explain why Belkomur looks like such an economically attractive project.

So, Vladimir Shchelokov, General Director of BlitzBelkomur, says that such a project for Russia is not only profitable, but super profitable. According to him, experts have calculated that the gross regional product of the three constituent entities of the Russian Federation, which will pass directly by road, will increase by 5.4%, about 40 new enterprises will be created. Regions will have another infrastructure opportunity to unlock their natural resource potential.

If you look at the regional context, the new road will allow the Perm Territory to export potash fertilizers from the Solikamsk Basin. Moreover, it will create additional opportunities for the development of forest resources, which cover 70% of the territory of the region. The Komi Republic will have the ability to increase production from the Pechora coalfield deposits. Infrastructure will also be created to facilitate the development of ore deposits. The Arkhangelsk region will be able to increase the efficiency of diamond mining in the deposits named after. MV Lomonosov and them. V.Griba. In addition, the region will be able to develop forest resources more quickly.

We must pay attention to the strategic shortcomings of this project. For example, the technical and natural shortcomings of the port of Arkhangelsk raise serious questions. Despite the fact that they are trying to compensate for the disadvantages of the port of Arkhangelsk by building a new deep-water port in the city, the economic feasibility of this project remains questionable, since, according to experts, its cost could even exceed the estimate of the entire Belkomur. Questions also arise about the financing mechanisms of this project, as is often the case in Russia, many large projects come up against a problem of money. For a long time, the public-private partnership under the concession regime was considered the best option that would suit everyone who was interested in the project.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the implementation of Belkomur is inextricably linked with other major Russian projects in the Arctic. We are talking about the “Murmansk transport hub”, the “Northern latitudinal route”, the construction of a new port of Sabetta and the expansion of the port of Arkhangelsk. It is their successful joint implementation that will give a strong impetus to the development of the northern regions of the Russian Federation, which is especially important in view of the growing transport isolation of our country and the proximity to the road North Sea, one of the main alternative routes for the export of national products.

Author: Victor Anufriev

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