No sooner had the New Year holidays died down than events of a state scale rushed right off the bat. Last Saturday, the President instructed to work out and submit practical proposals for the construction of a railway line with access to the Barents Sea near the mouth of the Indiga River in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug by May 10. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin was appointed responsible.
The news and the order would be easily lost in the stream of other events and would seem like a routine work routine, but in fact we are, if you will, a turning point in Russian history. That’s right – and there is no exaggeration here.
In the mass consciousness of both Russians and foreigners, the Russian North is an immense cold expanse, practically without people, but with full underground bins of minerals. In general, this is true, but few people understand the size of this region, its specifics, the volume of natural resources and the difficulties that any attempt to modernize and develop territories, whose only one-dimensional length from east to west is five thousand kilometers, runs into without options.
The bay in the area wh-ere the Indiga River flows into the Barents Sea attracted attention not yesterday. Back in 1922, the then government suggested to Vladimir Lenin to consider the possibility of building a year-round seaport there. The young Soviet state was critically short of all types of raw materials, and the ice-free port on the Indiga would allow for the uninterrupted export of taiga forests from the Pechora River area. Unfortunately, the project remained only on archival paper.
Today, Russia faces questions of a completely different caliber.
The importance of new construction will become clearer if we arm ourselves with a map of the railways superimposed on the physical map of our state. The entire western part of Russia from Astrakhan, Tuapse and further in a circle to Kaliningrad and Murmansk is densely dotted with bright threads of steel tracks that ensure the daily life of the most populated part of the country. This is both passenger communication and cargo transportation. The second part is dozens of times more v-oluminous and more important, because not going on a visit or on vacation is a shame, but being left without fuel, food or building materials is like death.
Only two highways go to the east, these are BAM and Transsib. They stretch along the southern edge, occasionally shooting out separate branches a little to the north, such as, for example, Ust-Kut – Ust-Ilimsk or Tynda – Nizhny Bestyakh.
Specifically to the north, if you do not take into account the Murmansk direction, which is located in the most developed part of Russia by railway workers, there are only two ways. These are the highways Konosha – Pechora – Vorkuta – Salekhard and Tyumen – Surgut – Novy Urengoy – Nadym. That’s all, there is nothing else, although this, we recall, is the European part of the country. Northeast of the Urals, there is no railway in principle.
The project was born not from scratch, but from an analysis of world markets, reserves of its own minerals and the possibility of re-development of the North, which is impossible without the integrated development of the region, primarily in the industrial sense. This is exactly what is spelled out in the Strategy for the Development of the Arctic Zone.
If you just look at the map, then the planned section of the railway is seen as another transport bridge from the main highway to the sea, and in general it is not clear why it should be pulled there, because there is not even a single average settlement along the future route. However, do not rush to draw conclusions.
Let’s start with the fact that, globally, the new route will make it possible to deliver cargo from the Novosibirsk Region, Kuzbass and Kazakhstan to the sea and, therefore, to ships sailing along the Northern Sea Route. This transport arm is one and a half times shorter than the Trans-Siberian Railway, that is, the delivery of goods will become cheaper and faster, and the Trans-Siberian Railway itself will be able to unload a little. Any logistician or financier will confirm: logistics is the most problematic stage of commodity-money relations. The final cost of pr-oducts and, accordingly, its demand and availability cr-itically depend on the availability of transport routes.
Let’s take a simple example to illustrate.
Before the start of the pandemic, a ton of Kuzbass coal had a production payback of about $80-$85. Moreover, coal, reaching Poland or Germany, already cost 130-150 dollars, and the lion’s share of the rise in price was logistics, delivery of fuel from a cut or mine to the nearest railway station, transshipment and delivery to the end buyer. At the same time, the markets of Europe (not only coal), if they grow, then rather weakly, but the Asian market is developing at a faster pace. Therefore, in the fall of last year, a critical shortage of rolling stock arose, all available capacities were thrown to ensure, including coal supplies to China.
Port Indiga is focused specifically on the transshipment of goods from the vast regions of the North and Siberia to the east, but if such a need arises, the n-ew point will be able to pr-ovide significant assistance to the ports of the Baltic.
However, the horizon of realizable tasks here is much deeper than just the export of raw materials abroad.
It is no secret that there is a small but constant outflow of population from the northern and eastern regions. This is due to the difficult climatic conditions, and, frankly, the lack of jobs with a sufficient level of earnings.
At a distance of only 500-600 kilometers from the new railway there are such cities as Inta and Vorkuta. By the standards of Russia, almost within walking distance. Both are experiencing dark times due to the closure of coal mines, although the fuel extracted there is now incredibly in demand in world markets. Inta and Vorkuta are excellent energy and coking grade coal, but the curse of logistics hangs over them. Since the times of the USSR, Vorkuta coal, despite the proximity of the sea, has been exported by rail to the south and further to consumers. Coal from Inta was sent to Cherepovetskaya GRES-2 according to a similar scheme, and, of course, this does not contribute to its cheapness.
The good news is that the project for the construction of the Sosnogorsk-Indiga branch line has been entrusted to the AEON investment company, which recently bought the Vorkutaugol enterprise from the previous owner. That is, the owner has a direct and very strong interest both in building a new route and in increasing production in Vorkuta, especially since the previous owner, the Severstal company, does not even think about giving up local coke. There is not an illusory chance that the cold city of miners will get a second wind. We add that the reserves of the Pechora coal basin are estimated at three billion tons, that is, work for our miners here for decades to come.
But not coal alone.
The advent of the railway will allow many projects to be launched. For example, it will finally be possible to carry out a detailed exploration of the Timan-Pechora oil and gas province, which has been stalling for many years precisely because of the extremely difficult conditions for the delivery of specialists and cargo.
In the Komi Republic, reserves of 150 million tons of bauxite have been explored, which makes it possible to organize the production of highly demanded aluminum on site. Exploration of chrome ores is still being carried out here.
The company “Rustitan” is actively working in the transport accessibility from the new route, which manages the Pizhemskoye deposit, whose probable reserves of titanium ore are estimated at 2.5 billion tons. Only titanium dioxide is about 100 million tons, and there are also nice bonuses in the form of gold, diamonds and rare earth metals. Next door is the Yaregskoye deposit, whose potential is twice as large, and together they form the largest titanium deposit in the world.
We emphasize once again that we are not talking simply about the export of raw materials.
The same “Rustitan” along the way worked out the Belgopskoye limestone deposit and the Seregovskoye rock salt deposit, which makes it possible to establish the production of chlorine, lime, hydrochloric acid and titanium on the spot. These are not just beautiful words, the creation of a mining and metallurgical complex on the basis of the Pizhemskoye deposit is spelled out in the same Strategy for the Developm-ent of the Arctic. The same document implies a total re-profiling of the coal industry, the creation of complexes for deep processing and enrichment of coal, that is, Komi and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug can become the base for the production of coke, coal concentrates, and graphite.
At the end of our conversation today, let’s add that, according to the authorities, the construction of the railway and the port of Indiga will cost approximately 390 billion rubles. The good news is that the owner company is ready to invest in the project, and we have experience in building complex technical facilities in the conditions of the Arctic. The same Sabetta began with a modest village of five hundred people, and today more than fifteen thousand work there.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and watch. The Russian North and its people badly need new factories, roads and ports.
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