They know how to celebrate in Russia. The Second Russian Railway Congress may not sound like much of a party but its celebration of Russian Railway’s (RZD) successes for the estimated 3000 present, not to mention the pop concert afterwards, was quite an occasion.

It was held in the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall outside the Kremlin Walls built in 1817 for the Tsars to exercise their horses in the Russian winter.

The congress outlined RZD’s plans for the future, and its importance in the development of the Russian economy, with many speakers acknowledging the work of RZD’s personnel in often harsh conditions.

The Congress was, however, much more than a large scale away-day for railway employees.

Also present were government representatives, investment bankers and European railway companies to hear of RZD’s large scale investment plans which cannot be wholly funded from RZD and the Russian federal budget. Addressing this shortfall was the theme that dominated the Congress.

Rossiyskie Zheleznye Dorogi

Rossiyskie Zheleznye Dorogi (RZD) is the world’s second largest rail network with 85,200 km of track, 43,100 km of which are electrified.

It is also one of the world’s largest employers, with a total workforce of 975,000, and each year carries 1.3 billion passengers (40% of Russia’s passenger journeys) and 1.2 billion tonnes of freight, about half of which is coal and oil.

This is 42% of Russia’s freight including pipelines, or 82% excluding pipelines. RZD and its subsidiaries have around 20,000 locomotives and a million wagons. Annual income is around £200 billion and it consumes 5% of Russia’s electricity.

Government ministers at the Congress emphasised RZD’s crucial contribution to the development of the Russian economy.

With vast distances where there are few roads and climatic extremes, Russia depends on RZD for the movement of goods and exploitation of its natural resources. Although industry deregulation has encouraged airline growth, RZD’s passenger market share is 40%.

There is an intensive network in the European part of Russia with high-volume suburban systems. Thus, to a far greater extent than for any other G8 country, Russia’s economic success depends on the performance of its railway.

The 23 year plan

On April 11 2007, RZD presented its $US 390 billion two-stage strategic development plan to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

This plan is in two parts, firstly to completely modernise rail transport by 2015 and thereafter a major expansion with the construction of around 20,000km of new lines up to 2030. Key features of the plan include:

  • Measures to restructure RZD and privatise its subsidiaries
  • Upgrading existing lines to improve track quality and removal of traffic bottlenecks with more and longer passing loops, freight depots and lines to relieve capacity
  • Acquiring 23,300 locomotives, 996,000 freight cars and 29,500 passenger coaches
  • Constructing 20,000 km of new railways, including 4,600 km lines to promising mineral deposits and industrial centres
  • High speed expansion by accelerating long distance passenger trains with new rolling stock, reconstructing existing lines between key regional centres for trains at 160 to 200 km/h and building 350 km/h high speed routes along selected corridors
  • Developing international freight transit corridors
  • Creating 40 Terminal Logistics Centres.

The issues associated with rail freight improvements were reported in Issue 86 of the rail engineer (December 2011).

High speed passenger expansion includes dedicated 350km/h routes from Moscow to St Petersburg (650 km), Nizhny Novgorod (460 Km) and Krasnoe (456km).

As well as making a key contribution to the Russian economy, international events such as the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and Russia’s hosting the 2018 World Cup are a driver for the construction of these lines and associated rail infrastructure.

Meeting of the 3000

Speaking to the assembled 3000, Vladimir Yakunin, President of Russian Railways, reported on progress with the development plan to date.

In doing so he summed up the rail industry reforms over the last four years during which time RZD had been transformed from a territory-based organisation to one that was now focused on business activities with some of its subsidiaries privatised.

He acknowledged that the global economic downturn had a significant impact, delaying implementation of the development plan by about four years and requiring pay cuts.

He acknowledged that this had been a difficult time for RZD’s employees and paid tribute to their work in often difficult conditions.

The Congress included 40 presentations covering a wide variety of topics. Many, including Minister of Transport, Igor Levtin, stressed the railway’s vital importance to the Russian economy as did presentations from the Natural Gas and Chemical industries.

Several speakers echoed Vladimir Yakunin’s praise of RZD employees and stressed the importance of Training and Development initiatives.

One such being the 26 children’s railways in Russia that give school children evening classes that qualify them to operate trains on the school’s narrow gauge railway.

Although generally upbeat, some speakers did stress the requirement for improved operating efficiency citing freight trains being delayed, often for lack of locomotives and long distance trains of empty wagons crossing each other.

Perhaps of greatest interest to the rail engineer readers were presentations from European railway companies and on RZD’s Innovations.

The European Dimension

Introduction of world-class technology is considered by Vladimir Yakunin to be a “cornerstone” of RZD’s railway investment policy, and European rail companies such as Siemens, Bombardier and Alstom are all active players in Russia.

At the Congress, Dietrich Moeller, President of Siemens Russia, described how the Siemens Velaro high speed trains provide RZD’s flagship high speed services between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod running at 250 km/h.

These services were inaugurated in December 2009 and have carried more than 4.7 million passengers and are RZD’s most profitable trains.

In addition RZD has just placed an order worth over EUR 2 billion with Siemens for 1200 Desiro RUS commuter train coaches.

Chris Antonopoulos of Bombardier explained how Bombardier’s EBI Lock 950 and associated signalling systems had been developed for use throughout RZD’s infrastructure.

This led to Bombardier becoming RZD’s strategic partner for rail control systems with resultant technology transfer to Russian manufacturing plants to RZD’s and Bombardier’s mutual benefit.

Alstom’s Allegro trains, a derivative of the Pendolino, commenced service between St Petersburg and Helsinki in 2010 running at 220 km/h.

In addition Alstom has a strategic partnership with Russia’s TransMashHolding for the development of freight locomotives. One result of this is the joint production of electric passenger and freight locomotives featuring asynchronous AC motors.

Since their alliance the two partners have received orders for 700 locomotives worth EUR 3 billion.

On the infrastructure front, Antonio Marin, President of ADIF, Spain’s rail infrastructure company, described the development of Spain’s 2,776 km high speed network, the largest in Europe and how ADIF was part of the consortium building the 444 km high speed line between Medina and Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

ADIF has signed collaboration agreements with RZD and clearly hopes for a role in the development of Russia’s high speed network.

Innovation at the Congress

A number of presentations mentioned specific innovations to improve efficiency. These included low maintenance freight car bogies and the use of satellite navigation for train control.

However, with diesel fuel and electricity amounting to 16% of RZD’s operational costs, it was not surprising that most innovations mentioned at the Congress concerned energy efficiency.

Energy-saving measures that were described at the Congress included energy efficient lighting, the use of heat pumps in buildings, improved traction supply control, automated locomotive traction control to minimise energy use and the introduction of asynchronous AC motors which RZD Vice President, Valentin Gapanovich, predicts will save 16 million kWh per year.

Perhaps the most intriguing innovation discussed was the GT-1 gas turbine locomotive which was introduced in 2007 and has an 8,300 kW gas turbine, fuelled by liquefied natural gas, powering a 6000 rpm synchronous generator.

It is made up of two units, with a total weight of 300 tonnes. One unit has the gas turbine and the other has a 17 ton LPG tank giving the locomotive a range of 750 km.

In September 2011 the GT-1 hauled a test train weighing 16,000 tons at a test track outside Moscow.

The locomotive required the development of cryogenic equipment and a heat exchanger to handle and recycle natural gas. GT-1 is 30% cheaper to run than a diesel locomotive as Russia’s abundant natural gas is half the cost of diesel oil.

The Innovation Train

As part of the Congress, a visit was arranged to RZD’s Innovation Centre and Train at Moscow’s Riga Station. The innovation centre was opened in 2007 to demonstrate technical developments and innovations on Russian Railways.

On 3rd August this year, RZD commissioned a travelling exhibition train which consists of three office/residential coaches and eight exhibition coaches including displays on high speed rail, rolling stock, railway infrastructure, and energy efficiency.

As well as being a showcase for RZD’s technology it is also intended to develop technical creativity amongst pupils and students. The train is scheduled to make 45 stops in Russia’s 15 regional railways over a two month period.

Meeting the Boss

Engineer, Chemist, Diplomat, Government Minister and now President of Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin is an impressive character.

One highlight of the Congress was the opportunity to interview Yakunin in English.

He explained how he felt the Congress to be an important event enabling employees, foreign partners, bankers and railway companies to learn of the issues first hand as well as creating the necessary confidence in Russia’s railways.

Vladimir Yakunin’s vision is to develop and significantly expand the railway network to support Russia’s economic development with key priorities being the creation of a High Speed network and the development of freight lines in North West Russia and Siberia.

He considers that a global approach is required, and contrasts this to the Soviet approach of not wanting to know your neighbours.

As examples, he mentioned RZD’s contract to build a high speed line in Libya, which included construction of North Africa’s only welded rail plant, and the freight line that RZD built in North Korea.

He spent some time explaining the rationale of the proposed 400 km broad gauge line from Kosice in Slovakia to Vienna.

This will give access for Russian rail freight to the centre of Europe without a change of gauge and will significantly boost freight transit traffic across Russia.

He advised that there is political support from all countries involved for this project which is estimated to cost €5 billion and will include a new freight terminal in Vienna.

He believes that it will take 3 years to construct the new line and services should start in 2016.

The involvement of foreign rail companies is part of this global approach. In particular, Yakunin felt that foreign expertise in high speed rail network construction will be essential.

However, he does not consider there are many opportunities for foreign companies to work on RZD’s conventional infrastructure, other than in the provision of on-track machines.

Finding the required investment will be a big challenge. The development plan to 2030 requires 14 trillion roubles (£286 billion) at 2007 prices and there is currently a 400 billion rouble shortfall.

However, Yakunin expressed confidence that this will be met through the issue of bonds, private finance and possible tariff increases.

Russia’s Railway Renaissance

If all goes to plan, and providing that the funding issues can be resolved, in less than 20 years time Russia’s already vast rail network will have increased in size by 23%.

It will include a 1600 km high speed network and will have replaced all its traction and rolling stock.

Delivering this railway renaissance will be a huge challenge. RZD will no doubt be looking for continuing involvement from European rail companies, and it remains to be seen whether UK rail companies will be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Russia’s ambitious investment programme.

This article was written after being invited to attend Russia’s Second Railway Congress by Russian Railways (RZD) whose assistance in the preparation of this article is greatly appreciated.