St. Petersburg, 1 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's first high-speed rail link, which could cut the 650-kilometer journey between St. Petersburg and Moscow down to 2.5-3 hours, is finally moving off the drawing board and into reality.
Yesterday, the business newspaper Delevoi Peterburg (Business St. Petersburg) quoted Vladimir Tulaev, the general director of the company leading the project, RAO "High-Speed Train-Lin," as saying that, "Our plans are moving off paper and into concrete action. We will begin building the new train station for the high-speed rail link."
Construction of the station is scheduled to begin in the third quarter of the current year. A large complex of hotels, restaurants, shops, business centers, and commercial exhibition halls is planned along with the station. Conservative estimates for construction cost is $200 million.
The long-awaited high-speed rail-link, in the works since the late 1980s, has long been marred in controversy. One of the most contentious problems is the potential environmental damage. The project calls for a whole new train line to be built through the 200 kilometer length of Valdai National Park. One of European Russia's most beautiful and pristine nature reserves, Valdai is the watershed for four rivers, one of which is the Volga. Environmentalists claim that the park's fragile eco-system will suffer greatly if the project goes ahead.
The Russian federal law, "On the Protection of Natural Preserves," clearly forbids any activity on the territory of a national park that can damage what lives and grows there. The law also explicitly forbids the building of roads on such territories.
Professor Aleksei Yablokov, head of the State Expert Ecological Committee that is studying the effects the high-speed train link will have on the environment, has publicly launched a crusade to fight the government's current plans for the rail link. He told the liberal weekly Moskovsky Novosti in April that if the project goes ahead in its current form, "the damage to Valdai and to the whole country will be irreparable."
While he believes in the necessity of a high-speed link between Russia's two capitals, he says there is technology available that is cleaner, cheaper and more effective than what is currently envisaged in the project.
St. Petersburg's chief architect, Oleg Kharchenko was quoted by Delevoi Peterburg last week, as saying that the high-speed rail is necessary because with the building of the new ports on the Gulf of Finland more and more cargo will be imported and exported through St. Petersburg. Effective rail connections will be necessary to move those goods from inland cities to St. Petersburg and vice versa.