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Russia: British To Aid Construction Of High-Speed Rail Station

St. Petersburg, Russia; 21 October 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Two British financial institutions will provide a loan equivalent to $200 million to build a huge new high-speed rail train station and business center in Russia's former imperial capital, St. Petersburg.

RAO High-Speed Rail (VSM), a joint-stock company owned 85 percent by the Federal Property Committee, instigated the project. It expects the rail connection to be operating within ten years. The railway is to cut travel between St. Petersburg and Moscow from eight hours to under two hours.

The station to serve the high-speed trains is to be completed in the year 2000.

The British institutions (Credit Agricole Indosuez and SBC Warburg Dillon Read) signed an agreement last week with Russia's Vneshekonombank to provide loans for the project. The Russian government and the British government's export credit guarantee agency are guaranteeing the loan.

The high-speed rail link was controversial when proposed in 1991. Environmentalists continue to oppose it because it calls for a whole new rail line to be laid through the 200-kilometer length of Valdai National Park in the Novgorod and Tver regions. Besides being one of Europe's most beautiful and pristine nature reserves, Valdai is the watershed for four rivers, including the Volga. Environmentalists claim that the park's ecosystem will suffer.

The St. Petersburg train station complex, however, has broad support. The train station itself will occupy less than half of the final complex. Hotels, restaurants, shops, offices, businesses and commercial exhibition halls are to use the rest.

Nikolai Peshkov, press secretary for VSM, told our correspondent that the commericial tenants will make the station a profitable, self-financing venture.

There has been considerable debate for five years over the center's architectural style. A committee of leading city officials, architects and art historians oversaw the planning. The predominant architectural style is to be neo-classical. Ludmilla Likhachyova, spokesperson for the City Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture, told our correspondent that the citizens of St. Petersburg don't care for modern tastes and trends.

"We do not need tragic innovations in architecture as we had in the 1960s and 1970s," she said.