Russia’s Yamal region moves forward on massive rail infrastructure project

A major Arctic infrastructure project takes a leap forward as Governor of the Russian Yamal-Nenets region Dmitry Kobylkin this week signed a deal with Russian Railways and its President Oleg Belozerov.

The Northern Latitudinal Passage includes a new railway connection between Novy Urengoy, the powerful gas hub, and regional capital Salekhard, and an extension of the Bovanenkovo railway to Sabetta, the new port on the Yamal coast.

The railway project will open a new major infrastructure connection to Russian Arctic waters, Nenets-Yamal authorities say.

Speaking in the recent Arctic Circle conference in Iceland, Governor Kobylkin underlined that the Ural region and Western Siberia will be connected with the Northern Sea Route and that regional hydrocarbons will get a new route to markets.

Yamal-Nenets Governor Dmitry Kobylkin at the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, Oct. 7, 2016. (Atle Staalesen / The Barents Observer)
Yamal-Nenets Governor Dmitry Kobylkin at the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, Oct. 7, 2016. (Atle Staalesen / The Barents Observer)

“The distance from Sabetta to Paris is the same as to Beijing,” he underlined, thus making clear that oil and gas can be shipped eastwards to Asian buyers along the Northern Sea Route.

“We have taken a step towards our goal,” Russian Railways President Oleg Belozerov says in a press release posted on the website of the regional government. “Soon we will follow up with a meeting where we will outline concrete further steps and formulate a progress plan.”

The Northern Latitudinal Passage includes the construction of bridges across the rivers of Nadym and Ob, as well as the construction of the 170-kilometer (105-mile) Bovanenkovo-Sabetta railway.

The grand project will ultimately link two of Russia’s key Arctic railway lines, the Northern Line from Arkhangelsk and the line between Nadym and Tyumen.

When finished, the new line would enable train travel from Arkhangelsk and through Labitnangy, the current last stop on the line, across the Ob Bay and all the way to Novy Urengoy and Surgut. The project was formerly called the “Ural Industrial – Ural Polar.”

The project comes with a price however. Required investments are estimated to 190 billion rubles (about $3 billion at current exchange rates), a staggering sum for a federal budget in major hardship. Although the project is planned as a private-public partnership, the sum could be beyond current reach.

According to Governor Dmitry Kobylkin of the Nenets-Yamal Autonomous Okrug, the bridge across the Ob River alone is estimated to cost 70 billion rubles (about $1.12 billion). That is to be covered by the region itself.