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21:45 | Nov 25 | 2011

Forget the helicopters, trains are on their way!

Development of the railway network will make possible the year-round supply of goods to the northern territories.

Recently we had a chance to talk to Vladimir Yakovlev, who was born in Yakutia and is currently the President of the Russian Union of Constructors. Although Mr. Yakovlev spent a big part of his life in Saint-Petersburg, he did make a substantial contribution to development of infrastructure in Yakutia. The Republic’s “transport” past and future is what we discussed with him.

The railroad will allow solving many problems
- Mr Yakovlev, you are one of those people who contributed to actual beginning of construction of the railroad to Yakutsk. What kind of associations does your memory hold about that time (early 2000s)?

- In the summer of 2003, at the proposal of a member of the Russian Federation Government Council on Entrepreneurship Viacheslav Shtyrov (who, by the way, was born in Yakutia), we in the RF Government began considering a project for financing this railroad. The line is long, its construction involved complex technological operations, and therefore it required substantial funding. But this did not make us give up on this project! To get a clear view of what was going on with it, we decided to go to Yakutia. As soon as in the autumn that year, we first flew from Yakutsk to the city of Aldan, then took a train and travelled along the portion of the line that had already been built; in particular, we reviewed the construction of a bridge across the Aldan River. Then we decided that we must not be satisfied with what had already been achieved. The railroad had to be extended, a bridge across the Lena River built, and a big railroad station had to be raised in the very city of Yakutsk.
Since without a railroad Yakutia struggles to develop economically, to increase production, to build new enterprises. Besides, a railroad makes possible supplying goods to northern territories around the year and avoiding in future a situation where goods can be delivered to the Republic’s extreme north only by helicopters and planes, as the latter is several times more expensive!
- Skeptics say that central parts of Yakutia do not dispose any natural resources and, therefore, there is nothing to transport from Yakutsk. It would be sad to see the railroad forgotten the way BAM once was. What can you say in this regard?
- Those who say that are in fact deeply mistaken. A lot of studies, especially geological prospectings, have been made in the Republic in various periods of time, and they all came to the same conclusion: Yakutia is a superrich land. Take Elginskoe deposit as an example: there is a great volume of coal there, literally lying under one’s feet. The road must be extended to Elga, too; this will give another strong impetus to the economic development. One of the key tasks for Yakutia is jobs creation, since there is a deficit of jobs in the Republic. This road can solve many problems. In Soviet times the fear was that with the development of transport infrastructure in Yakutia local population would tend to move elsewhere. But the opposite can equally happen: the region may experience an inflow of people wishing to work in this beautiful land. Since, despite difficult climate conditions, it is a really fascinating place: as you travel by train, you can’t stop admiring the surrounding mountains, forests, lakes.

Trains and deer to take different routes
- An international conference on development of infrastructure in the country’s north-eastern territories was held in Yakutsk this August. One of the main issues was that of building a trans-continent transport corridor across the Strait of Bering, which could certainly be called the greatest construction project of all times. However, voices of skeptics can often be heard, who question the need for Russia to create such a crossing to Alaska. And what do you think about this?

- The issue of building a crossing over the Strait of Bering was first raised in the beginning of the last century. I think this project has prospects. For example, we currently have a chance of learning from experience of building a bridge to the Russky Island in Vladivostok; I think this experience can be instrumental in Chukotka when building a crossing over the Strait of Bering. But a lot of other issues should be studied as well in relation to this project.
- The railroad to the north-east will cross wild animals’ migration routes, in particular, those of wild northern deer, the hunting of which is a significant source of income for the small-numbered peoples of the North. How will this and other ecological aspects be taken into account when building the railroad and during its operation?
- You probably know very well that the State Counselor of the Republic of Sakha, the first President of the Republic Mikhail Nikolaev paid and keeps paying a lot of attention to issues related to indigenous peoples. I, when working as a Governor and a Minister, also participated in these programs. Let me remind as well that the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev recently talked about the need to support the indigenous peoples that live under especially harsh conditions, about protecting their rights. Of course, everything will be done to preserve the conditions that help these people to survive. This is why both ecology issues and wild animals’ migration routes should be taken into account when constructing large-scale assets.
- What do you think about the changes that currently take place in Yakutia?
- I rejoice at the success of Yakutia, its people, those who have built this road, which represents the Republic’s great achievement. I am glad the country leadership understands that such projects are necessary and makes every effort to support them.

From Governor to a Construction Industry Advocate
Vladimir Yakovlev is a Russian political and state figure. He was born in Olekminsk, Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. His professional career began in 1973 in a construction organization in Leningrad. In 1996 Vladimir Yakovlev was elected the Governor of Saint-Petersburg and by virtue of his position became member of the Federation Council. On May 14, 2000 he was re-elected the Government of Saint-Petersburg for a second term. In 2003 Mr. Yakovlev was appointed Deputy Chairman of Government of the Russian Federation (responsible for housing and public utility services, construction and transport). In 2004 he became the Russian Federation President’s Plenipotentiary in the Southern Federal District, and later that year was appointed the Minister of Regional Development of the Russian Federation. Since 2007 - retired. In 2009 Vladimir Yakovlev was elected the President of the Russian Union of Constructors (RSS).