The new high-speed railroad link between Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk, with trains running at speeds over 250 km/h, will cut the current journey time of 5 hours to 1 hour and 10 minutes as soon as 2024, consolidating the Ural’s two major cites with a population of 2.5 million people.
The $ 5 billion megaproject is likely to be realized with the participation of the German Initiative for High-Speed Transportation in Russia. In February 2019, the Ural Expressway signed on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference a cooperation agreement with this body, operating under the auspices of the German-Russian Chamber of Foreign Trade. Most prominent members are Siemens, Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Bank, Strabag, Bauer and Vossloh. “The twelve participants in this initiative are specialists from the railway industry, as well as construction and finance, and are prepared to actively support the Russian railway company RZD,” writes the initiative, in describing its objectives.
The bigger picture of the project goes beyond the regional impact. The 220-km line is part of the envisaged high-speed railroad corridor from Beijing to Berlin via Kazakhstan, Chelyabinsk, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Moscow and Belorussia with a total length of 9,447 km. The new high-speed Silk Road is more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’ question. The project fits into the “One Belt, One Road” initiative of the Chinese government aiming to invest billions in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids linking Asia, Africa and Europe.
The cost of the Ural segment will be shared by the participants of the public-private partnership Ural Expressway, which will obtain the right to operate the railroad under a concession agreement. On board are public funds, institutional investors as well as potential suppliers, including the German Initiative.
The project will boost the local economy and benefit the local suppliers as soon as the implementation starts. For example, EVRAZ Nizhny Tagil Metallurgical Plant is a potential supplier for innovative rails and Ural Locomotives is the country’s only manufacturer of high-speed trains.
Today, the Ural Region is already embracing the opportunities of this transport corridor, with trains daily passing through from China to Europe. A new logistics hub for agricultural products is supposed to facilitate the Ural’s export of wheat to China, employing the available empty railway cars heading back from Europe to Beijing. The $ 100 million project is being executed in conjunction with the Jinsha Group, the one of the biggest noodle producers and wheat consumers in China.