The new tunnel crosses the Baikal Mountains and links two of the Russian regions. Its western and eastern portals are located in the Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia, respectively.
The construction of the tunnel was launched in 2014 under a project to upgrade and develop the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway, being implemented in accordance with the instructions from the President and the Government of Russia.
Located 300 metres beneath the ground, the new two-way tunnel boosts the railway section’s capacity several times over.
Taking part in the ceremony, held via videoconference, were Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, Presidential Aide Igor Levitin, Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev, Special Presidential Representative for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport Sergei Ivanov, Head of the Republic of Buryatia and Chairman of the State Council commission on Transport Alexei Tsydenov, Russian Railways CEO – Chairman of the Executive Board Oleg Belozerov, and, Chairman of the Board of Directors of USK MOST Ruslan Baisarov.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Friend, good afternoon.
I am really delighted to see you all.
Today, we are launching railway traffic through the second Baikal tunnel. It goes without saying that the tunnel’s creation is an important achievement for the national transport sector and the entire Russian economy.
I am happy to note that this significant event is taking place ahead of Railway Workers’ Day, due to be marked on August 1.
I would like to sincerely congratulate everyone working in the national railway sector on this upcoming holiday. Your intensive and conscientious work facilitates reliable railway traffic all over our huge country, its vast territory, and successfully implements promising development projects. Thank you very much for your dedicated and responsible attitude towards your job.
And, of course, I would like to warmly thank the specialists involved in building the second Baikal tunnel. You have completed major, tremendous work, you have accomplished complicated technological tasks, and you have made a weighty contribution to upgrading the Baikal-Amur Mainline.
With the opening of the new tunnel, the throughput of one of our main railway lines will increase significantly, by several times in fact, from 17 pairs (of trains per day) to 33 during the first stage, and later on, up to 57 as far as I am aware. The head of Russian Railways will probably talk about the prospects today. This will certainly open up some new opportunities for business, for increasing freight traffic in the Eastern Operating Domain, for tapping Russia’s entire transit potential. It will also give an additional impetus to economic and social development in a number of regions in Siberia and the Far East.
Overall, we will continue to develop modern transport infrastructure throughout Russia: we will build airports and sea terminals, and develop motor and rail network. We need this to increase the connectivity of the Russian regions, for convenient movement between cities and regions, for the creation of effective transport corridors to link the European part of Russia and the rest of it beyond the Urals – to connect Europe and Asia in a bigger sense. All these are long-term development plans, which I am sure we will definitely implement by joint efforts.
Now let me say just a few words about our current objectives. I am referring to the restoration of the Trans-Siberian Railway sections destroyed by torrential rains a few days ago now.
The head of Russian Railways has already reported to me that the situation there is quite complicated, as you know: the railway service with a number of regions was disrupted, hampering the delivery of goods, including foodstuffs. Instructions have been given to relevant agencies to carry out repairs; I know that the work is already underway and being done and that considerable resources and funds have been allocated for this purpose.
Again, the head of Russian Railways reported that a large part of the work had already been done. Today I would like to hear how the restoration of the damaged sections is progressing, and when traffic is going to be restored to its usual level. Let me emphasise – this is important for the economy, for ensuring stable transport connectivity throughout our country.
Please, Mr Belozerov, go ahead.
Russian Railways CEO – Chairman of the Executive Board Oleg Belozerov: Thank you very much.
I am now here, at the Eastern portal of the Baikal tunnel. I arrived last night from the Trans-Baikal Railway, from the restoration operations site.
I would like to report to you that at 9.20 pm [Moscow time] on July 26, we reopened both tracks, thus restoring normal rail service on the Trans-Siberian Railway. During the restoration works, 2,176 passengers were transferred by car and bus and 986 by airplane.
I would like to thank the Ministry of Transport, Rosaviatsia and the regional governors for help in carrying the passengers. Over 500 train movements were suspended during this time.
As of now, 297 trains, including 17 passenger trains, have passed through the restored section, and rail service has been fully restored. We will need about 10 days to get all of the trains back into service. Now, all loading restrictions for the east have been lifted, and everything is operating normally.
Mr President, we are in a key location. This is a mountain pass section, an obstacle in the Eastern Operating Domain. As you said, 17 pairs of trains is a serious limitation. After the tunnel is put into service, we will have 33 pairs and will create the potential for up to 85 pairs in the next five months.
Unique design solutions were used in building the tunnel. I will mention just a few of them. The track uses no ballast here, and in this section, automatic doors will maintain a constant temperature throughout the year.
Of course, I would like to make special mention of environmental protection. Untreated water will no longer be dumped here. Most advanced sewage treatment facilities have been installed here. During the construction, more than 40,000 trees and plants have been bedded out on more than 20 hectares of land and over 16,000 hatchlings have been released into the Selenga River.
The previous tunnel was built 37 years ago. It took our fathers eight and a half years to build it, eight months ahead of schedule. This time, the builders continued the tradition of their predecessors; they finished it in five and a half years and five months ahead of schedule. Construction workers who built this tunnel are here with us. The contractor is here too, including head of the company Ruslan Baisarov, who is ready to report to you on the construction.
Vladimir Putin: Mr Belozerov, I understand this is Russian Railways’ third longest tunnel, right? It is over 6,500 metres long.
Oleg Belozerov: Yes, Mr President. It is a unique structure.
Vladimir Putin: I see. Mr Baisarov, go ahead, please.
Chairman of USK MOST Board of Directors Ruslan Baisarov: Good afternoon.
Mr President, colleagues,
I am Chairman of USK MOST Board of Directors Ruslan Baisarov.
We are now at the eastern portal. Let me report to you briefly some of the details of our new Baikal tunnel. The overall length is 6,682 lineal metres. Tunnelling and finishing works were going in parallel. The total amount of the finishing materials was 180,000 tonnes; it took 3,000 carriages to bring it in. We brought it here from Krasnoyarsk where we made and prepared it at our plant. About 427 km of cables were laid. Video cameras, domestically made, and I would like to emphasise that, were installed. They have self-cleaning optics; they clean themselves round the clock.
Indeed, we installed gates, or doors, near the portals of the Baikal tunnel. We can maintain a constant temperature of +9 C regardless of the humidity. The thermal differential is high here. However, importantly, in an emergency a locomotive can break through them without any damage to the train, if necessary. They are made of composite polymers.
Importantly, we worked through very difficult earth, displacing over a million cubic metres of it.
Our tunnel is located right in the middle of the Irkutsk Region and the Republic of Buryatia, at 800 metres above sea level.
There are many interesting people among our workers, for instance, those with a total service record of 40 years. About 2,500 workers from all parts of the country worked on the tunnel despite the difficult climate, natural and geological conditions. A few got married during this time, and some had children. You could say we established a dynasty. Our sons are adults now and worked here too, on the same tunnel. We are grateful to them, of course.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the head of Russian Railways for his constructive cooperation.
Thank you. This concludes my report.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Mr Baisarov, there is a man standing next to you on your left, apparently one of the 2,500 specialists who worked there. Can you let him have the microphone?
Ruslan Baisarov: With pleasure.
Vasily Fomin: Good afternoon, Mr President.
My name is Vasily Fomin. I was born in 1951.
I have been working at the Baikal-Amur Mainline since 1979. I participated in the construction of the existing tunnel and other Baikal-Amur Mainline tunnels. I also took part in opening the Severomuysky tunnel, which is the main project I worked on.
So, I wanted to say that indeed, the new Baikal tunnel is somewhat superior in terms of specifications than the existing tunnel, but it was built with innovative technology making it a modern project. So, we would like the existing tunnel to be brought up to code so that Russian Railways and operating organisations – TChE-24 – can safely operate this facility and ensure the capacity that you are talking about and that our colleagues mentioned as well.
Vladimir Putin: You have been working at BAM for so long now. If we put it in perspective, what was there before and what we have now – you mentioned innovative technology – how did it play out in practice, in the actual work?
Vasily Fomin: Our innovative technology primarily makes it possible to eliminate a lot of manual labour. This makes our work easier, speeds up construction and improves the quality and installation work.
Importantly, this is what the project needs now. If, say, when we were building the Baikal-Amur Mainline, we had tight deadlines and cut corners occasionally – I am saying this openly, because the deadlines were really tight back then – the new tunnel is perfect in terms of quality.
The people are the same. The younger generation that is now replacing us consists of trained specialists who know what they are doing. They receive practical experience here, on the ground, after college, and can grow as professionals. I am sure they will rise to the challenge when the time comes to build more tunnels.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
What do you think about the living and working conditions and the wage? I am talking about your, and your colleagues’, current real incomes in the broadest sense of the word if you compare them with the standard of living when the BAM was being built.
Vasily Fomin: When the BAM was being built, wages were quite high, and there were marketing offers, such as special-purpose accounts for buying a car or housing at a place of permanent residence. That is how it was.
Today, wages are quite decent and depend on what is actually accomplished. Of course, productivity and the amount of construction and installation work are related to the wages that enterprises or construction companies pay.
With regard to living conditions, I would like to note that the customer – Russian Railways – always provides comfortable rotational camps for workers. They are equipped with everything you need: residential quarters, shower rooms, administrative buildings and almost round-the-clock food service. In this respect, tunnel workers have never had problems. Things have always been good thanks to our customer, Russian Railways.
Vladimir Putin: I see.
Ok, I want to thank you and your colleagues. Thank you very much.
Please, Mr Belozerov.
Oleg Belozerov: Mr President,
The tunnel’s systems are operating to specification. Please give us the order to open traffic in the tunnel.
Vladimir Putin: Permission granted.
Oleg Belozerov: Northern Baikal district dispatcher, please open traffic in the second tunnel.
(Dispatcher opens traffic.)
Mr President, the train is about to start moving, and it will pass through the tunnel in approximately 10 minutes. During this time, I will report on the implementation of your instructions in the eastern region.
This year, January’s railway traffic in general was a bit lower than our best year, 2019; freight volume was 4 percent lower, but in May with the economic growth, carloads and freight volume exceeded the highest volume of 2019 by 9 percent. If we take first six months, January-June, then the increase in cargo volume was 6 percent.
The export of goods toward the east is one of our main directions. The increase in the Eastern Operating Domain is 3.3 percent, while movements through border crossing points with our Chinese colleagues has decreased a little due to the health situation, and as a result, freight volumes at the ports have grown 6 percent.
We have implemented your instruction on exporting coal from Kuzbass during the first six months. In Yakutia, increases over these six months grew 2.5 times compared with 2020: almost 10 million tonnes. At the same time, due to the current situation in Kuzbass, we are lagging a little bit behind, but on August 1 we will begin to increase the volume of traffic and will reach 53 million tonnes a year, the figure in your instructions.
Regarding construction, the key event for the year is the completion of the first stage. We are on schedule, we have started the second stage and are a bit ahead of schedule. Under your instructions, we are reviewing the third stage with the Government and the Ministry of Transport. Soon, together with shippers, we will develop an operating model that should demonstrate the best development process for the third stage, and we will prepare a report for you.
We are working with the Government, the Ministry of Transport, and most importantly, with the Russian regions; all issues are being coordinated.
This concludes my report.
Vladimir Putin: Well, good. I hope it will go on like this.
Thank you very much.
Mr Tsydenov, you wanted to add something.
Head of the Republic of Buryatia, Chairman of the State Council Commission on Transport Alexei Tsydenov: Mr President,
First, I would like to express my gratitude for your decision back in 2012, when the beginning of the upgrade projects for the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway was announced, when a new era began for the BAM.
Now the opening of this tunnel is a continuation of that work. If these decisions had not been adopted then and there had not been a 2018 Executive Order, then, taking into account the economy’s turn to the east, Mr President, the country would have lost tens of thousands of jobs. Considering the fact that you made this decision then, in a timely manner, we did not lose these jobs but kept them and also created conditions for additional growth in the industry, both extracting and processing, so we created tens of thousands more jobs, primarily, in the regions. The increase in traffic for the first stage – 66 million tonnes – has already been reached, but it is not enough. As part of your instructions, the second stage is being reviewed, and even a BAM-3 is being discussed.
In total, the Eastern Operating Domain passes through eight Russian regions. The region’s part is to help with technical issues: land acquisition, forestry, quarries, and so on. But first, this is a social issue, staffing – both at the construction stage and at the stage of operations for the railway’s new infrastructure with its new capacities, as well as new points of economic growth due to the development of industry and the economy, in taking into account new opportunities. It is these issues that also require new solutions to social issues in villages and cities along the Eastern Operating Domain, primarily at the BAM.
We, the regions, have an agreement with Russian Railways on these issues, and many issues are being resolved. For example, four multi-family residential buildings have been built along the Buryat section of the BAM, and 72 families have moved there; healthcare and education facilities are repaired; Russian Railways bought a CT scanner for a hospital. In the Amur Region, the same issues were resolved: 25 residential buildings have been built, and seven healthcare facilities have opened. All the regions related to the project have the same story.
But in general, taking into account new points of economic growth and infrastructure development, it becomes urgent that attention should be paid to the settlements along the Eastern Operating Domain as part of the already adopted state programmes on housing construction, healthcare and education.
Mr President, I would also like to draw your attention to environmental issues. Here, in the Baikal Region, both Buryatia and the Irkutsk Region concluded an agreement with Russian Railways on environmental protection measures and environmental issues. And Russian Railways does everything with the highest environmental requirements. This is overseen by independent organisations and activists. The Environmental Action Plan contains over 100 items. All measures for the protection and preservation of Lake Baikal have been provided for in this case.
I would also like to thank you for the specially created commission for the Eastern Operating Domain, headed by Marat Khusnullin. It includes Russian regions, the Government, and federal bodies. As part of this commission, as well as under the supervision of Igor Levitin as part of the State Council Commission on Transport, we have fully worked out interaction with the regions, with shipping companies and with other transport companies to resolve the issues of coordination for implementation in full. I want to assure you that the regions will do everything that depends on us, since we ourselves are the most interested party.
Mr President, once again, I would like to thank you for the timely strategic decisions. I am aware that they are major and complex decisions, but they help us, the regions, to live and to move forward.
Thank you very much.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Mr Savelyev, do you have anything to add?
Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev: Yes, thank you, Mr President.
Mr President, colleagues, I would like to join in these heartfelt congratulations. In June, when work on the tunnel was nearing completion, we had the chance to take a ride through it. Of course, this is an excellent piece of work. I myself worked at a construction site in Siberia for seven years.
I would like to congratulate the construction workers and Russian Railways employees. Mr President, if you do not mind, the Ministry of Transport would like to ask you to reward Russian Railways employees and construction workers alike, because they have accomplished an excellent project in a very short time. This will allow us to increase BAM capacity. On top of that, projects like this are a real addition for our country.
Vladimir Putin: I agree. Submit your proposals, and we will do this with pleasure.
Vitaly Savelyev: We will.
Vladimir Putin: You are absolutely right, we should do this.
Mr Khusnullin, do you have anything to share with us?
Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin: Mr President, this is an excellent project. I do not think we should stop here. We must immediately proceed to the third phase. We have Kuznetsovsky Tunnel. It took us five and a half years to build this tunnel from conception to implementation. The Kuznetsovsky Tunnel should be built in four years, so as not to hold back the entire BAM project. So, on today's good feelings, please give us an instruction to speed up the work, and we will be ready with the third stage, including the Kuznetsovsky Tunnel, soon. This will be beneficial for the people of the BAM, the builders, tunnel contractors, so they can keep up the pace and start working on it. There is much to be done in that region.
Thank you. On your instruction, we meet weekly as a commission to address the current issues, as the saying goes, we are getting on track. Soon, we will get on track and move even faster.
Thank you, Mr President.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.
We have discussed this many times. There must be bypasses and access roads to the ports. If you believe Kuznetsovsky Tunnel can be built faster than we thought earlier, then submit your proposals. Of course, I agree with that. We will keep at it.
Oleg Belozerov: Mr President,
The train is approaching the portal. This is the key moment.
Vladimir Putin: Friends,
Once again, I congratulate you on the opening of the second Baikal tunnel. I would like to thank you for your hard work and for these great results. I wish you more achievements for the benefit of Russia.
We have just covered our plans for the near future. We should think about tactical and strategic matters. Almost everything that is related to developing the Eastern Operating Domain is of a strategic nature if we think about global economic dynamics and economic growth in Asia.
I would like to thank you once again for the result and wish you all the best. Thank you very much.
Happy holiday to all railway workers. Best wishes.
Oleg Belozerov: Thank you very much.
On behalf of all railway workers, I would like to thank you for your ongoing attention and help.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.