Arctic railways: New pathways for northern supply routes
Future of road network expansion24 october 2023
The law 'On Northern Supply' will take effect in April 2024. Russian Railways will begin transporting certain goods to Arctic regions, and a proposal for additional concessions for transporting goods for new Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation enterprises is under consideration. While railways do exist in the Russian Arctic, they do not form a dense and well-coordinated infrastructure as they do in the mainland. In mid-October, the establishment of the North Siberian Railway project was announced, which aims to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway with the North Sea Route. The project is set to be unveiled at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2024.
The North Siberian Railway is expected to significantly alleviate the load on the Trans-Siberian Railway, which currently serves as the primary route for cargo transportation from the European part of Russia to the Far East. Gennady Guselnikov, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Interregional Association 'Siberian Agreement' of the Siberian Federal District (SFD), asserts that Siberia requires access to the North Sea Route. It is anticipated that one of the branches of the new railway will extend to the Arctic—possibly directing trains to Yamburg or the port of Sabetta in the YNAA.
This initiative will constitute a component of the substantial and challenging endeavour of mastering the Arctic. At the opening ceremony of the 3rd International Forum 'One Belt, One Road,' Russian President Vladimir Putin made specific reference to this.
The head of state highlighted that a continuous railway connection will be established along the entire route—from our northern city of Murmansk to the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, as experts suggest. He mentioned both the North Siberian Railway and the Northern Latitudinal Railway among the projects underway.
The latter is one of the infamous 'long-term construction projects' initiated as far back as 1978. In May of this year, news surfaced about the reconstruction of the Nadym–Prystan–Pangody section, which is identified as a segment of the Northern Latitudinal Railway. Currently, it is known that the NLR will span 707 km, linking the western and eastern parts of the YNAA, the Northern and Sverdlovsk railways, with an estimated annual cargo volume of approximately 23.9 mn tons.
Drawing from the president's remarks, it can be inferred that in the future, the Norilsk railway may be integrated into the unified Arctic railway network, and the Kola railway in the Murmansk Region may be fully constructed. At present, it remains a 'patchwork quilt' of unfinished, abandoned and refurbished sections.
The potential for the development of Arctic railways is colossal, mirroring the anticipated investments. However, considering the new approach to the northern supply, the exponential increase in Arctic cargo turnover, and the local economic entities' need for reliable logistics, there is no doubt that Arctic railways will ultimately materialise.