[b]Belarusian transport specialists focus on developing infrastructure[/b]Many opinions exist regarding the nature of Belarus’ major resource. Some claim human potential, while others note our fertile lands or potassium salts. I believe that our geographical position is our main treasure, although our location has brought as much sorrow as joy over the centuries. The frontlines of the last two wars passed through our territory but, at present, Belarus’ position between the West and the East and between southern and northern Europe is not only honourable but advantageous. Two trans-European transport corridors cross our nation — known as number II (connecting Berlin and Moscow) and number IX (Finland-Greece). The IXВ branch covers Gomel to Kaliningrad. By 2015, Belarus hopes to generate almost $3.5bn from transit but, at the moment, our transport corridors enjoy no more than 25-40 percent of their real capacity.
Many opinions exist regarding the nature of Belarus’ major resource. Some claim human potential, while others note our fertile lands or potassium salts. I believe that our geographical position is our main treasure, although our location has brought as much sorrow as joy over the centuries. The frontlines of the last two wars passed through our territory but, at present, Belarus’ position between the West and the East and between southern and northern Europe is not only honourable but advantageous.
Two trans-European transport corridors cross our nation — known as number II (connecting Berlin and Moscow) and number IX (Finland-Greece). The IXВ branch covers Gomel to Kaliningrad. By 2015, Belarus hopes to generate almost $3.5bn from transit but, at the moment, our transport corridors enjoy no more than 25-40 percent of their real capacity.
In recent months, the President of Belarus has been focusing on the country’s transport potential, stressing at one event, “Our country is a transit state, which primarily envisages infrastructure.” Mr. Lukashenko states that Belarus shall continue focusing on the development of its transport infrastructure and road construction.
Additional possibilities are opening up as a result of the Customs Union. Minsk has every reason to hope that cargo flow from Kazakhstan and Russia (heading westwards) will concentrate on Belarus, since our western border is simultaneously the border of two huge economic unions: the European Union and the Customs Union. Since April 1st, 2011, a single ‘one-stop’ control has been used at the external borders of Belarus and Russia. Now, a trilateral agreement has been prepared for signing, envisaging car control on the external border of the Customs Union.
Following a range of special measures, transit flow rose by 21.5 percent in the first half of the year and, according to estimations, exports of automobile transport services are expected to attract over $850m into the country. Despite financial difficulties and the global crisis, Belarus’ automobile network and railway transport continue developing, yielding economic profits and enhancing the quality of life in the country. Both Minskers and guests to the capital are already witnessing positive changes.
City starts with railway station
As a theatre starts with the coat-check room, cities begin with their stations. Speaking more broadly, the transport system forms the ‘face’ of a city. In this respect, Minskers are lucky, as anyone who has ever witnessed a Moscow or Kiev traffic jam can easily confirm. However, our capital is ever expanding. It can be a true challenge to get around during rush hour and, to cope with this, we must act quickly.
In early September, Mr. Lukashenko devoted one of his working days to discussing transport-related issues, visiting the reconstructed Tsentralny bus station and launching a promising joint project by Minsk Mayoral Office and railway workers. The President also made a short trip by a Swiss-made city train.
Specialists note that the ‘City Lines’ joint project was initiated at an opportune moment, becoming a real ‘breakthrough’. Minskers now have a new form of transport: the city train. In fact, the underground is not being extended as quickly as we might wish to keep up with new residential suburbs. Millions of square metres of accommodation are being generated, with more people than ever requiring use of public transport.
Every day, two million people use public transport in Minsk. The capital’s Mayor, Nikolai Ladutko, tells us that 48km of rail has already been laid near the city, requiring only the right kind of train. After assessment, Swiss Stadler was chosen as the best option, with plans to set up a joint facility in Belarus. Stops just need to be constructed, alongside links to other transport services.
The ‘City Lines’ project is the first stage in realising a new format of passenger transportation; Belarusian Railways launched it back in 2010 and the project is a breakthrough not only technically but also organisationally. It envisages the classification of connections as international, interregional, regional, city and commercial — a new approach for Belarus.
In October, the first Swiss train was launched on regional lines, able to travel at a speed of 160km/h. In total, ten electric trains for regional and city lines were ordered from Stadler, which is to service the interregional lines connecting Belarus’ regional centres. “Initially, we plan to increase the speed of trains travelling between Brest and Minsk,” explains the Deputy Head of Belarusian Railways’ Passenger Services, Alexander Belostotsky. “The Baranovichi-Brest section will become the first stage of the project; its infrastructure is currently being reconstructed.”
Belarus ‘inherited’ well-developed railway infrastructure from the Soviet Union but this now needs modernisation. The process is underway and the Minsk-Brest section is allowing trains to travel at a speed of 140km/h. Another positive aspect deals with co-operation with neighbouring Lithuania. In 2010, a plan of action was signed envisaging speedy railway passenger communication. Its first stage is now complete, cutting travel time between our two capitals from four to three hours. Moreover, by 2015, journey time should be reduced to just two hours, following electrification of the Molodechno-Vilnius section.
Over the coming five years, Belarusian Railways plans to completely electrify the Belarusian section of the IXB international transport corridor, aiding launch of efficient and speedy electric trains. The move will attract additional transit flow and, importantly, improve the ecological situation.
Cargo pulled up
From January-July, Belarusian Railways transported over 74.5mln. tonnes of cargo — up 13.5 percent on the same period of 2010. To raise the figures even more, railway infrastructure must be revamped. In early 2010, Belarusian Railways signed a contract with China Machinery and Electric Equipment Import and Export Corporation and Datong Wagon Repair Plant to buy 12 cargo electric trains in 2012; these are developed by the Chinese jointly with a leading French machine building company — called Alstom.
The purchase of new electric trains is in response to rising transit flow through Belarus. Cargo trains arriving in our country from Russia have an average weight of about 5-7 tonnes. “At present, trains with such loads need breaking up at Orsha station as various sections of the line can only cope with 4,700 to 5,500 tonnes,” explains Belarusian Railways’ Press Service. “This results in reduced carrying capacity and financial loss.”
Belarus also needs high quality wagons for its own exports. On July 29th, the President of Belarus visited Osipovichi Wagon Building Plant, stressing that, over the coming two years, a range of components for railway carriage production should be mastered there and at Mogilev Machine Building Plant. “We must make our own wagons. This would be an industrial breakthrough,” Mr. Lukashenko asserted with confidence.
Modern carriage production at Osipovichi plant aims to solve several vital problems. Firstly, it should satisfy domestic needs. Cargo flow across our territory is growing, while our railway fleet is becoming obsolete — requiring us to purchase rolling stock from abroad. The second impetus is the need to earn foreign currency. Osipovichi wagons should sell well, generating income and creating a thousand new jobs in the small town. Russian money has been found for the pilot investment project. This will set the scene for future co-operation with foreign partners, allowing us to see how well obligations are fulfilled and whether our partners remain pleased with Belarusian business conditions.
So far, work lags behind our outlined ambitious plans but, by the end of the year, industrialists promise that lost time will be made up for. Cargo carriages are already manufactured in Mogilev while wagons for transportation of cement, grain and timber are undergoing certification tests in Russia — the major market for Belarus. Mass production should soon begin.
Road construction continues
Not long ago, journalists asked the President about his views on the further development of transport and roads in the country, wishing to learn his priorities. Pointing to the recently constructed Zhdanovichi railway station (a destination of the city train), Mr. Lukashenko said, “The whole country should be developed in the same way, irrespective of anyone else’s wishes.” He stressed that ‘despite increasing pressure, no disorder or destruction will be accepted’. He notes that German standard motorways will be open within about five years, connecting Minsk with regional centres. Some works are complete while others are ongoing. At present, the road towards Mogilev is being revamped, while the second ring road around Minsk is being constructed — covering 154km. This is to open by 2017, easing transit flow through Minsk and solving ecological problems. One of the major tasks in developing transport infrastructure is to shift the IXВ trans-European corridor (Gomel-Vilnius) away from Minsk ring road. “We are focusing on road construction and will continue doing so in the future,” stressed the President.
Belavtodor Department — involved in road building in Belarus — is to continue construction works despite cuts to budget financing. Its Director, Anatoly Lytin, explains that a proposal has been made to build and reconstruct roads using loans from Belarusian banks and the World Bank, in addition to possible loans from Chinese banks. Chinese investors are showing interest in reconstructing Zhlobin-Gomel section of Minsk-Gomel motorway, with the total cost of the project approaching $400m. Only small sums are to be allocated from the state budget for road works, with Belavtordor’s annual budget reduced from Br300bn to Br200bn or less.
Infrastructure-related projects — especially dealing with transport — are essential for the development of the economy. To ensure competitiveness, comfortable and fast road travel and environmental friendliness, countries around the world are investing huge funds into road construction and machine building. China is the most dynamically developing country, with up to $1bn allocated to transport infrastructure over the coming five years; most will be spent on building 108,000km of new roads, including motorways. This should aid its economic development.
By Igor Slavinsky