Clinging to a narrow strip of coastline between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, the 150 kilometre long Sochi conurbation is the world’s second-longest after Los Angeles. Its terrain is such that planes can only land at its airport from the sea. In Russia, Sochi is a popular tourist resort with long beaches, tropical palms, sunshine and a humid subtropical climate. In 2007, it was chosen to host the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Although this might seem an odd choice, Sochi does have a mountain winter resort 48 kilometres inland where the outdoor events will be held. Indoor games are to be held on the coast at a new Olympic Park which, after the games, will be the site of the first Russian Grand Prix. Given that most of the £21 billion being spent preparing for these games is on infrastructure improvements, the rail engineer was keen to accept an invitation from Russian Railways (RZD) to see its Olympic rail improvements.

Into the mountains

As the mountain venue is currently reached by a twisting narrow road through a deep river valley, a new high capacity road / rail corridor is required. This project includes a 50km road with six major junctions and a 48km railway with two new stations. This line will be electrified at 25kV and climbs to 560 metres with a maximum gradient of 1 in 25. It is single tracked in the mountains with four dynamic loops, giving a capacity of four train pairs per hour. Due to the demanding nature of the terrain, 46% of this new line consists of bridges or tunnels. This explains why the project’s cost is £4.5 billion, of which 60% is the new rail line.

With such a narrow corridor, road and rail construction is inseparable. For example, there are three tunnel complexes where parallel road and rail tunnels share the same service tunnel. As shown in the table, 12 tunnels totalling 27.4km are being constructed by Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM), Roadheaders (RH) or Drilling and Blasting (DB). TBMs are both German Herrenknecht and Canadian Lovat machines. Rail, road and service tunnels are typically 10.6, 13.2 and 6.2 metres in diameter. All rail tunnels are single tracked, except for the double tracked Number 6 tunnel, and the scheme won New Civil Engineer’s Major Tunnelling Project of the year in 2011.

Bridges galore

The project includes 23 rail and 23 road bridges, totalling 11.5 km and 9 km respectively, criss-crossing the river Mzymta. Bridge designers had to take account of the region being subject to earthquakes and a curvature radius of 600 to 1200 metres for most of the rail bridges.

The large number of bridges, required by the design to minimise the impact on the river bed, meant that they could be built in kit form with standard components. Beam spans ranged from 18 to 34 metres and trussed girders from 55 to 110 metres. The exception is a 766 metre cable-stayed road bridge, with pylons 82 metres high and a maximum span of 312 metres. At this location, the river runs directly below the line of the road and the long bridge removes the need for pylons in the river.

The project’s enabling works are a further indication of its scale. These include eight work camps housing 7,800 people, five access roads totalling 37km and 10 temporary bridges. Electrical substations at the tunnel portals have a total capacity of 41.3 MW and are fed from 40km of new power lines. On the coast, two freight yards were opened in 2009, one for aggregates and one for construction components, with annual capacities of 11 million and 3.7 million tons respectively. The largest construction facility is a tunnel lining plant that also houses 570 workers. The production capacity of its four production lines, which produce various types of lining, is 15,000 cubic metres per month.

A controversial aspect of the project is its environmental impact on the Sochi National park, in particular the river Mzymta. In consultation with Greenpeace Russia and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the design was changed to either avoid particularly sensitive areas or to minimise impact by the use of elevated structures. Other mitigation measures include planting 163,000 rare plants, the provision of animal crossings and releasing 50,000 salmon yearlings into the river. Once construction is complete the riverbed and floodplain will be subject to remedial works.

Visiting the project in May 2012, it is clear that much has been achieved, including almost all of the tunnelling. RZD advises that work is 75% complete and are confident that the road / rail corridor will be completed by April 2013, after which there is a three month testing and commissioning programme to ensure the route is ready for the games in February 2014.

Along the coast

Until recently, the 103km railway between Tuapse and Adler had eight single-track sections totalling 30km. With Sochi’s Olympic preparations requiring an additional 65 million tons of freight, and the big increase in Olympic passenger traffic, these bottlenecks had to be removed. From 2008 until April this year these sections have been progressively doubled, increasing the lines capacity from 54 to 70 train pairs per day. The construction of these second tracks required significant structures along the shore and two additional single track tunnels of 1km and 0.8km.

At Adler, the station is being rebuilt as a major interchange hub. One reason for this is that passengers using the newly opened Sochi airport line have to change here for Olympic venues. Another is to provide a park and ride facility and a maritime connection to reduce road congestion along the Black Sea coast. When completed, the station will have a floor area of 23,000 square metres on six levels. Its normal capacity is 15,000 passengers an hour, although during the Olympics it will be able to handle 24,000. Work on the station was well advanced when the rail engineer visited, during which cross bracing for earthquake protection could be seen. RZD expect to complete the station by the end of the year.

From Adler, a new 2.8km long railway to an elevated station at Sochi Airport was opened in February of this year. This railway included two tunnels (164 metres and 368 metres long), four bridges totalling 794 metres, and 980 metres of retaining walls. It has a capacity of four trains per hour and is expected to carry 60% of all airline passengers during the games.

The train just arrived from Germany

Doubtless Sochi’s rail infrastructure will be ready for its games, but what of the trains to run on it? In May, the first new Olympic train had just arrived from Germany. From Siemens’ Krefeld factory north west of Düsseldorf, its journey involved a barge along the Rhine to Amsterdam, a coaster to Sassnitz, a train ferry to Ust Luga near St Petersburg, from where it ran 2,500km to Sochi.

This journey started in 2009 with an agreement between RZD and Siemens to develop and deliver 38 five-car suburban electric multiple units (EMUs). To Siemens, these trains are the Desiro RUS, the latest in their Desiro EMU family. In Russia, they have been named Lastochka, Russian for swallow.

This is the first of 294 such trains. However, few will make the tortuous journey from Krefeld. Part of RZD’s international strategy is localisation of production to both reduce the cost of trains and develop Russia’s manufacturing capability. Siemens have clearly bought into this strategy, having signed contracts in 2010 and 2011 to deliver a further 16 and 240 trains with respectively 35% and 80% of the production value in Russia. It is investing £160 million to construct a factory at Yekaterinburg for this purpose.

The Lastochka is a big train. At 3.5 metres wide it is 0.7 metres wider than its Scottish cousin, the class 380 Desiro unit which is also manufactured at Krefeld. This explains why, by UK standards, the Lastochka might be thought heavy at 54 tons per car. In fact, it has a lightweight body shell made up of aluminium fabrications and extruded profiles.

With this, and an intelligent traction control system, Siemens claim that their Desiro RUS will use 30% less energy than current Russian EMUs. There are power cars at each end of the five coach unit that deliver a total of 2,550kW. The trains have a dual voltage power supply, 3kV DC and 25kV AC, and are fitted with regenerative braking. They have been tested in Rail Tec Arsenal’s climatic wind tunnel in Vienna at temperatures between -40°C and +40°C, and underframe equipment is designed to prevent the accumulation of ice and snow.

KLUB Class Signalling

In-cab signalling is provided by a Unified Integrated Locomotive Safety System (KLUB-U), a system developed by RZD which uses coils under the train to detect AC pulse patterns in the track that denote signal aspects. KLUB-U uses GPS, supplemented by wheel sensors, and a stored electronic rail system map to display the train’s position, gradient, allowable speed and next significant asset. GPS is the Russian GLONASS (GLObalnaya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema) which is widely used by Russia’s railways with 12,000 rail vehicles using the system. The first KLUB device was certified in 1994 and there are now around 30,000 vehicles so fitted.

KLUB-U can override the driver to ensure maximum permitted speed is not exceeded and signals are not passed at danger. It also controls driver vigilance, applies sanders if required and records train movement data. If digital radio is available, KLUB-U requires radio authorisation to pass a signal at danger and give controllers the ability to remotely stop a train in an emergency.

Sochi’s Olympic lines will be a pilot to further development of this system by the use of digital radio, GLONASS and KLUB-U to provide radio block signalling that meets the requirements of ERTMS level 2. This is part of a £1.2 billion deal between RZD and Finmeccanica of Italy which will use Russian radio block signalling whilst the Italians provide telecoms expertise. The pilot scheme will also include a computerised traffic management system that can implement the optimum train service pattern to recover from any disruption.

Be the best you can be

The Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher, Stronger) challenges individuals to become the best they can. Sochi’s Olympic rail investment, with an award winning tunnelling project and cutting-edge signalling system, shows how Russian Railways are also striving to be the best. RZD has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 by restructuring, privatisation, introducing new technology, and by engaging with leading international rail companies such as Siemens and Finmeccanica. As a result, those who come to Sochi in 2014 will see the world’s best athletes and a world class railway.