New route connecting (almost) to diamond capital Yakutsk faces funding and contractor crisis causing delay.
Later there are dreams of extending the line on further from Yakutsk, the world's coldest city, to Magadan, Anadyr and even Alaska. Picture: @AF1461
The 1,239 kilometre (770 mile) line is destined to become a great new adventure for intrepid rail travellers to Russia... but not just yet. It is the shortest of three great Siberian lines - the others being the world famous Trans Siberian route and the more remote Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM).
From south to north, the new line links Berkakit on the BAM route with Nizhny Bestyakh - which lies across the Lena River from Yakutsk. It is hoped to bridge the Lena and give the capital of the Sakha Republic its own railway station, although this crossing, to be built on permafrost, appears to be a victim of the current economic crisis.
From south to north, the new line links Berkakit on the BAM route with Nizhny Bestyakh - which lies across the Lena River from Yakutsk. Picture: The Siberian Times
Later there are dreams of extending the line on further from Yakutsk, the world's coldest city, to Magadan, Anadyr and even Alaska. But for now the first step - Tommot to Nizhny Bestyakh - is stalled by funding problems.
Called the Amur-Yakutian Mainline (AYAM), it was supposed to start operating in 2012 but the iconic new route - which involved complex construction challenges - has become jinxed by a litany of delays.
It opened for the first cargo train in August 2014, but the worked needed to build stations and facilities for passengers is not completed due to the bankruptcy of a contractor. In April this year, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered work on the line to be completed by 1 July in readiness for the first passenger trains.
In April this year, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered work on the line to be completed by 1 July in readiness for the first passenger trains. Pictures: Ministry of Transport and Roads of Yakutia
This deadline came and went, and now there could be a delay of some years, it is feared. Head of the government of the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) Yegor Borisov said: 'We have changed the contractor. We are looking for another one and have even appealed to Russian Railways for help. We definitely will not finish in 2016, we do not have time. I will try to speed it up, but there are many factors.'
He insisted: 'I myself really want to go in the passenger train, probably like no one else.'
With confusion over contractors, there is also a shortfall in funding, it is reported in Yakutsk. Borisov is on record as warning: 'Replacing the contractor, we need to be ready that the project will to be finished (only) in the next 3-to-4 years.'
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