«High-speed Railway»
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14 may

Catch up with the 21st century: high-speed lines to drive the economy

Development of high-speed railway communication will stop people outflow from large Russian cities. Russia has launched the century's largest infrastructure project, the construction of a high-speed railway network. Russian-Chinese consortium proceeded to design Moscow-Kazan high-speed railway line (HSR), and on May 8, during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Russia, a memorandum was signed, under which the Chinese party intends to invest up to RUS104 bn in the project and extend RUB300 bn as debt financing. The process is underway. Will we be able to use the benefits offered by the HSR and catch up with other countries' transport systems? Russia has fallen almost 30 years behind with the high-speed railways project. As far as in early 1980s, the USSR had a potential for high-speed communication development, but the country's disintegration then did not let to unleash the potential. During these years, the world saw a real transport revolution. It would be better to say is that the revolution is not complete, but still continues. In the last month alone we received news about speed records in different locations: a Japanese high-speed train hits 603 kmh, China starts developments of 800 kmh trains, and breaking the 1,000 kmh speed limit is no longer a fantasy (the US have a magnetic levitation project). Such ideas gradually go to designers and investors. For almost 200 years of railway existence, we have got so much used to the image of a train driver dressed in a beautiful uniform or a steward offering tea, that we can hardly fancy a modern train actually driven by a robot. High-speed train is not just an innovation, but a country's development concept. Practice is the best measurement. In any place where a high-speed railway is part of the lifestyle, transport revolution has grown into an economic boom. Remember that no megacity today could survive without a metro system. Highly populated large countries hardly differ from large cities by structure and consist of huge agglomerations rather than regions or provinces. HSR, as a kind of an interregional metro, has become the heart of transport infrastructure in many countries and gave rise to the notion of a “Gigapolis”, an area with a population of over 100 mn people (like in China). Globally, HSRs are mainly lobbied not by the transport sector, but rather by governors and city mayors. The appearance of Sapsans and Lastochkas (the predecessors of modern high-speed trains) in Russia has already changed the lifestyle of such cities as Vladimir, Tver, Nizhny Novgorod and St. Petersburg. I assert that Sapsan has helped to deliver thousands of new jobs, more events, and many-fold growth of tourist flows to the cities. If travel speed and intensity more than doubles, the multiplicative effect on the region's economy will not compare to any federal budget subsidies. Not only the Moscow, Vladimir and Nizhni Novgorod Regions, Chuvashia and Tatarstan will see changes for the better, but the neighbouring cities and regions as well. Speaking about the cumulative effect of Moscow-Kazan HSR, GDP growth by 2030 will exceed RUB12 tn with more than 350,000 new jobs. Same as metro integrates new city districts, the HSR can in a very short time improve a depressive mood of people living in distant provinces and become the key driver of economic decentralisation that Russia needs so badly, and integrate the country at the same time. As the Governor of a large region, I have had many negotiations with potential partners. Their main question, and often the only one, has been: How do I get there?” If a region is a part of a logistics scheme, it can generate money. It's an axiom today. Can many Russian regions boast good logistics? The answer is negative, I guess. In the nearest 10 years, a high-speed railway network should cover almost the entire central part of the country, i.e. almost 100 mn people (including most of the productive population). The principal goal is to stop the outflow of people, which is now disastrous even in some cities in the Russian centre. For example, such a large industrial city as Nizhny Novgorod is the global leader among megacities by the rate of population thinning. A centrifugal process may only be stopped by a reverse movement. But no matter what the authorities say or do, it's always people who make the choice. Today, 80% of people who work in Tokyo are not its residents, but come there by Shinkansen bullet trains. Similar situation is in France, Germany and Italy, and it is becoming true for China. Until 1970s, the entire France had rushed to Paris, while the regions almost degraded. High-speed trains helped to reverse the centrifugal movement and revive Lyon, Tours, Marseilles and other cities. People had no longer wanted to move to the capital for reasons of conform; and businesses had their own reasons — moving their offices from the expensive centre, building exhibition capacities; and a possibility to transport employees or clients to the suburbs at a lightning speed sometimes allowed for cost saving comparable to a company's annual profit. For many people, a chance to live in a nice and environmentally friendly small town in own house or large apartment (next to impossible in the capital) with one or one hour and a half trip to work (door-to-door) has become the main reason why peopled stayed in a province or even moved there from a megacity. The discussion about feasibility of railways has deep roots in Russia. Almost 200 years ago, most Nikolai I ministers did their best to convince the Czar that horse-drawn transportation was much more efficient than costly and effort-intensive railways. The Emperor's voluntaristic decisions caused a real development boom in the country. Current Russian borders are to a large extent defined by the railway network along which people had then settled and spread over Russian endless lands. The HSR effect is, therefore, vital not only for places with normal population density per sq km. Due to a HSR, Siberia and the Far East may have a new development impetus and become a powerful logistics hub for Europe and Asia. That is why our European and Asian partners show high interest in Moscow-Kazan project. However, the eternal Russian question here is not “What to do?”, but rather “How much?”. Creation of a revolutionary new transport service is not cheap. For us, the increase of railway speeds may become the very basis for the country's overall modernisation. Appearance of a mass and affordable transport service with travel speeds of 300-400 km/h, currently not available in Russia, will totally change our people's lifestyle. And very important is that today Russia has acquired a very important and unexpected ally — innovation technologies. Russia has a unique chance to join, in the nearest years, the club of countries possessing technology-intensive transport systems. Since we are starting from the ground up, we can take the best of what is available in the market and in a very short time achieve a good operating speed not in the railway alone, but in the country's economy in general. It took China only 10 years to build the world's largest state-of-the-art HSR network. It required large governmental efforts, both in terms of financing and organisation. Today, trillions worth investments pay off hundredfold and the money returns to the country's economy.

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