Moscow revives plans for a railway to Arctic coast at Sabetta

Little progress has been made on the Northern Latitudinal Railway Project, but that could change with a recent endorsement from President Putin.

All traffic to Sabetta today goes by plane or ship. In the future, the far northern settlement could get also a railway. (Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Observer)

After Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted the Northern Latitudinal Passage in a recent address to the nation, the major Arctic railway project might get a boost.

Putin previously made clear that he wants a railway line to the northernmost coast of the Yamal Peninsula. The far northern seaport of Sabetta should be developed into ”a universal port for all kind of goods,” and get supplies both from the BAM and Trans-Siberian Railways, he said in a 2015 press conference.

Since then, little progress has been made with the major infrastructure project.

But that could now change. In his address to federal legislators in late April this year, Putin highlighted the project, and since then developments appear to have been put in motion.

“This project has been under elaboration for a long time. Now is the time for its launch,” Putin said in his speech.

Government officials now bustle to follow up the requests of their chief commander.

Dmitry Artyukhov, governor of the Yamal-Nenets region met in mid-May with Deputy Prime Minister Murat Khusnullin to discuss the project, according to the regional government.

According to the regional leader, the projected railway line will give a “significant effect on the economic and industrial development of Yamal and the whole Russian Arctic zone.”

Khusnullin responded that it now is “vital to take all necessary decisions in the shortest possible time and proceed with project development.”

The Northern Latitudinal Passage was subsequently a key issue in this week’s session in the federal Arctic Commission, a body chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev.

According to the commission, the project could ultimately be included in a plan for infrastructure developments until year 2024.

The railway must be able to carry more than 9 million tons of goods per year and open a new export routes for natural resources from Yamal, via the Northern Sea Route, Trutnev said in the meeting.

The deputy premier has now commissioned the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Finance to come up with a financing plan for the project.

The Northern Latitudinal Passage includes two parts, the first an east-west connection across the great river Ob between Nadym and Labitnangy. The line will link two of Russia’s key Arctic railway lines, the Northern Line from Arkhangelsk and the line between Nadym and Tyumen.

The second part of the Northern Latitudinal Passage includes an extension to Sabetta of Gazprom’s current railway to Bovanenko in the Yamal Peninsula. This extension will be about 170 kilometers long and move across the open tundra of Yamal and in the harshest of Arctic conditions.

The price tag for the whole project is huge. According to estimates from the Nenets-Yamal government, the bridge across the Ob River alone is estimated to cost 70 billion rubles.