Will Japanese Bullet trains shoot to Moscow?
A Russian trade delegation, headed by the Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov invited the Japanese to build Russia’s high speed rail network. The Minister was taking part in the “Trade and Industrial Dialog Russia-Japan” conference on the 29th February 2016 in Tokyo. Organized by the Russian government and supported by the Russian State Champions (Russian Helicopters, Ruselectronics, RZD Russian Railways, GaspromNeft, EXIMBANK, the Association of Industrial Parks and the Association of the Russian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers) the event was to boost trade and industry between Russia and Japan.
The message continually pushed by the Russians was that, despite sanctions, business will continue.
Oleg Belozerov, head of RZD Russian Railways, reported that rail freight traffic between Russia and Japan had increased almost nine times in 2015, reaching over half a million tons. Containerised rail-freight transport increased by 17% totalling more than 2,400 TEU.
“I believe that our cooperation has significant potential. This is confirmed by the fact that rail freight transport between the two countries in has in general a positive trend in recent years.”
Oleg Belozerov President RZD Russian Railways
Russian Railways cooperates with Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota in automotive and logistics.
Oleg Belozerov commented that RZD Russian Railways was developing Siberian and Far Eastern rail infrastructure; the upgrade of the Baikal-Amur Main Line (BAM) and Trans-Siberian Railway, and the development of rail connections to the Far East ports.
Of note and a principal reason behind his attendance, Belozerov said the work on the formation of a single Russian transport area needed government and private investment:
“We are interested in attracting investments from Japan for the development of transport infrastructure, particularly in the Far East. First of all, we propose investments in projects that focus on the development of terminal & logistics infrastructure”.
RZD Russian Railways is focusing on the development of “door to door” freight transportation services. The new “Baikal Shuttle” is a time-tabled rail-freight transport service between Yokohama Port, Japan and Moscow with a 25-day transport time, saving over 17-days.
The development of high-speed rail is important to the Russians with both German and Chinese companies vying for lucrative infrastructure and rolling stock deals. The distances involved in Russia are vast and transit times for freight is measured in weeks unlike the European Union and U.S.A., where it is measured in hours.
RZD Russian Railways have proven innovative in speeding up their container traffic on rail. Block freight trains shadow the express passenger locomotives along the Trans-Siberian railway and thus reduce transits. But, this is usually for headline purposes and is not a long term solution. The BAM and TSR need to be multi-tracked, fully electrified and able to run at high speeds if Russia wants to bring Asian markets and its own Far East closer to home.
If recent announcements are to be believed, the Chinese are winning (and paying for) the bigger infrastructure contracts. The Chinese discussed an 11,000 kilometre high speed link between China and the Belarus-Polish border. China and Russia already signed a MoU for the 4000 km high speed link between Beijing and Moscow last year and agreed the Moscow to Kazan high speed connection.
However, China has also financed links across Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. They bid on buying and operating the new deep water port in Georgia. They have invested in Azerbaijan and are Iran‘s biggest trade partner. They are not averse to backing rail freight corridors that will be in direct competition with RZD on the Europe to China leg. The Turkish proposed “Iron Silk Road” and Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR) are all viable alternatives to the existing Russian rail freight routes. Neither would work without Chinese investment.
What is in the best interest of China is not necessarily in Russia’s best interests. Both countries are competing in the so-called ‘near-abroad’ Central Asia and in buying influence and sell infrastructure, thus far, China is a long way ahead.
In line with Premier Xi’s $140 billion “One Belt, one road” strategy, any high speed line crossing Russia would be a Chinese financed and built railway line, running Chinese technology. Russia could end up being partner in name only; in effect, the shoulder bearer, between the €1 billion daily EU- China trade and with little comparative control or remuneration.
Therefore, a Russian invitation to the Japanese to cooperate in high speed rail, in competition with the Chinese, is logical. Japan was the first country to build a dedicated high speed railway network (bullet trains) and has over 10 billion cumulative passengers. Plus, Japan is China’s biggest regional competitor and is viewing the revitalised Silk Road with concern.
“Experience of Japanese colleagues in the field of construction and operation of high-speed rail lines is important for us. We invite Japan’s companies to consider an opportunity of cooperating in this promising area for us.”
A trans-Asian high speed railway line from Russia’s Far East to Europe, built with Japanese technology, is an interesting prospect.