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17:42 | Feb 09 | 2012

The Rails of Iron, the Link of Gold

The Railroad will Certainly Reach Yakutsk.

On November 15 the “golden link” of the railway Berkakit-Tommot-Yakutsk (Nizhny Bestykh) was ceremonially laid at Nizhny Bestyakh Station, on the opposite from Yakutsk bank of the Lena river. Operational management of the construction of the line at the Tommot-Yakutsk site is carried out by corporation “TransStroy-Vostok”, headed by Alexander Dudnikov.

No symbolism but a fact
- Alexander Nikolaevich, when the “golden link” of the Amur – Yakutsk Mainline (AYaM) was laid there were opinions that this is only a symbolic event, not more than a tribute to the traditions of BAM, and in fact the railroad would not be completed soon. Is this true?

- With regard to pure symbolism, I would be more careful in expressions. Even the coming of rail to the Nizhny Bestyakh station on its own marks the development of approximately 75% of the entire project – a 439 km part of the railway Tommot-Nizhny Bestyakh. The rails are laid only when the whole complex of works is carried out: clearings are hacked, earthworks are made and all the railway bridges are constructed. Moreover, these bridges are being built on a permanent scheme right away and are ready to take on the full train load. After this, rail-tie bars are laid, which eventually finishes in laying of the “golden link”. So one can not say that the coming of the rails is pure symbolism. This is a very difficult job.
- How many days will it take a Yakut citizen to travel by train from Bestyakh to Moscow?
- The train goes at a speed of about 1000 km per day. The distance to Moscow is 7850 km. Hence, the train will go for about 7-8 days. High speeds are not to be expected for now: on some sections, for example near Novosibirsk, the train will speed up to 120 km/h, and somewhere will slow down to 50 km per hour.
- Will the road cross the Lena river to the left bank, to Yakutsk?
- Dmitry Medvedev said at the laying of the “golden link” that the railroad must come to Yakutsk. This is a large passenger flow: Yakutsk itself has about 270 thousand people plus the Vilyuisk group of uluses, beyond the river and adjacent uluses (a total of nearly 600 thousand people (the total population of Yakutia, according to the 2010 census, is 960 thousand people – IF). In addition, Yakutsk means the presence of a deepwater port where heavy vessels of “river-sea” type operate. Of course, it is necessary to bring the road to the river port of Yakutsk to make the scheme “freight car -on-board” work, when a crane just takes and puts. And if we stop at Nizhny Bestyakh, then we take out of the freight car and either put on a truck or to a storage, then by ferry across the river to the other side, then from trucks to storage or on-board. The chain grows, increasing costs, efficiency decreases and we cannot transport greater volumes. Therefore, the connection to Yakutsk should be made for sure, and in the nearest future. The presence of the railroad in Yakutia would noticeably impact on the prices of products and manufactured goods.

The Fight against Frost: 1-0 in our Favour
- Were any technical solutions characteristic only for Yakutia used during the construction of the railway?

- Most of such solutions are related to permafrost and prevention of its thawing. Usually frozen soils are found in the shade of trees and covered with moss, which protects them from sun exposure. In summer about two meters of soil to the deep is heated, but in winter it freezes again. When the road is laid, the trees are hatched, the moss disappears and soil is easily affected by the sun. Plus, trains go by the road and, because of this, thawing processes begin in the permafrost. If the permafrost thaws the roadbed and the road itself would “float”. To avoid this, solution options are designed for each road segment. The first thing that should be done is to put a continuous layer of heat insulating material, expanded polystyrene, in the foundation of the roadbed to screen the heat coming from the surface. Somewhere a single layer of 5 cm is applied, somewhere it is two layers. Expanded polystyrene can be placed not only in the base, but also in the body of the roadbed – it all depends on the characteristics of a particular site.
- Do you take any actions to freeze further on the road?
- Seasonal cooling installations that stand along the sub-foundation and go about 8 m deep into the ground are applied. Previously, such installations, called Gapeev’s tubes, were filled with kerosene. Meaning that in winter, when temperature falls below 40° C, kerosene got cooled near the surface and becoming heavier fell down, squeezing up the warmer part. Accordingly, in summer the cooled kerosene stayed down. Recently, instead of Gapeev’s tubes new units began to be applied – they are pressure-proof sealed and contain easily evaporative refrigerant such as ammonia. In general, the principle of circulation is the same. In Yakutia, the operating experience is still moderate, but at the Tyumen North such units have already proven efficient.
In addition, there is another proposal, which is used in areas where the railway line as if “embedded” in the terrain and is in a groove between the two slopes. The permafrost on slopes can also thaw, which would endanger the base of the roadbed. It is offered to construct horizontal wooden sheds on such slopes to prevent the slope from being covered by snow in winter thus forming a natural insulating layer. As a result the atmospheric cold would easily affect the soil and make it freeze.

Yakutsk - Alaska Route is a Reality
- How do measures to stabilize permafrost affect the cost of construction?

- The main appreciation goes at the areas where the main difficulty is created by the terrain. And this is associated with the replacement of soil at the base of the roadbed. Somewhere the sub-foundation is not very high, for example a meter high, and does not have enough stable soils at the base which is insufficient to distribute the load of a train. Depending on the area sometimes the soil needs to be changed to a depth of 6 m. This causes the greatest appreciation. The permafrost gives only 10-15% appreciation of the total cost of the roadbed. Well, up to 20% maximum.
- In summer at the economic forum in Yakutsk, the question of construction of a railway Yakutsk-Magadan-Chukotka-Alaska-U.S., with a bridge or tunnel crossing over the Bering Strait was actively discussed. Is it real at all? Can this project be implemented, for example, in this century?
- In economic terms, a year-round ground transcontinental road is quite effective. Remember the experiment of the Russian Railways when the train from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad was driven in 9 days, while it took the ocean vessel about a month to get from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad. Such a railway line would immediately reduce the cost of delivery of goods, say, from China to the United States, and this path would be much faster than a sea one.
But still there is a political point. It's a great project that could be a result of collaboration of superpowers, their willingness to cooperate. Though, questions whose way it would be immediately arise, whether Russia would have a monopoly on the transit of goods between Asia and America. However, these issues are, of course, resolvable, and, technically, such a project if desired can become reality within the next 20 years.