Travel for the first time by train to Russia's diamond capital, the coldest city in the world!
'A lot of work has been done to design the railway so that it doesn't damage permafrost'. Picture: Ministry of Transport and Roads of Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
The brand new rail link connects the world famous Trans-Siberian route - and its northerly cousin the Baikal Amur Mainline - to the city of superlatives, Yakutsk.
Or nearly. The new 1239 kilometre (770 mile) line will reach the opposite side of the Lena River to the capital of the Sakha Republic, an historic city built on permafrost.
Our pictures show the extraordinary scale of a new venture that has been rather downplayed by Russians but which is likely to generate real excitement for travel enthusiasts from around the world. Eventually a mega 3km bridge will connect the new terminal station of Nizhny Bestyakh with Yakutsk, in a testing engineering feat on the permanently frozen soil of this region.
Project of the railway bridge across Lena river, and views from AYAM construction site. Pictures: Transmost, Ministry of Transport and Roads of Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
The new line presents a major new tourist attraction for rail explorers from around the world, and for Russians.
Called AYAM - the north-south Amur-Yakutian Mainline (BAM) - the line has links for travellers either coming from the east or west on the Trans Siberian and also the Baikal Amur Mainline. At its most southerly point, is the station of Bamovskaya station on the Trans-Siberian line, in the west of Amur region, some 32 km north-west of Skovorodino station.
From here the mainline goes north, joining the Baikal-Amur Mainline at Tynda station. It then proceeds and goes along the BAM for about 27 km, before heading northwards.
Currently passenger traffic operates from Tynda to the town of Tommot, located on the Aldan River, with population of more than 8000 people. Tommot is some 390 km (240 miles) southwest of Yakutsk and 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Aldan.
This part of the route has been in operation for passengers for a decade, and for freight since 1997, but the excitement is in the link though some of Russia's remotest territory to the outskirts of Yakutsk, diamond capital of Russia.
Beyond Tommot station, the railway crosses the Aldan River on a 350 metre bridge, the longest on the line - except for the planned bridge across Lena on the 29.8 km (18.5 mile) stretch between Nizhny Bestyakh and Yakutsk.
Trans-Siberian (red), Baikal-Amur Mainline (green) and AYAM (yellow) railways. Picture: The Siberian Times
Going north from the Aldan, the line continues to the settlement of Verkhnyaya Amga - the station simply named Amga - where it crosses the Amga River.
Dreams of such a line began even before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. In 1904, French entrepreneur Loic de Lobel with American collaborators offered Russia a plan to construct a railway from Siberia to Alaska through Yakutia - now also known as the Sakha Republic - and Chukotka. But the Russian government declined this project.
The Russian-Japanese War did not help and the plan fell out of favour - though in the last decade this idea has been revived with the possibility of an undersea tunnel linking Chukotkha and Alaska, and a railway ultimately connecting Beijing, Moscow and even London to such distant places as New York.
In fact, construction of the AYAM began under Stalin as long ago as 1930, with work on line from Bamovskaya - Tynda (then known as the village of Tyndinskiy) as part of the planned construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline.
In 1940-41 the line was actively built and rails were laid, but in 1942 it was dismantled as the USSR threw its energy into the Second World War.
Fast forward to 1972 and construction was again begun on the Bamovskaya - Tynda route, designed to serve as an initial part of AYAM and as a line connecting the Trans-Siberian Railway with BAM at the same time.
The new line presents a major new tourist attraction for rail explorers from around the world, and for Russians. Picture: Ministry of Transport and Roads of Sakha Republic (Yakutia)
Construction of the mainline Berkakit - Tommot - Yakutsk began in 1985 under Gorbachev. In 2004, it was ceremonially opened for traffic between Neryungry and Tommot.
Construction of the line from Tommot began in April 2005 and during this and the following year was conducted intensively. So, on 22 April 2006, the bridge over the Aldan was declared fully operational, with the line then carved out of the earth on the 200 km stretch north of Tommot.
On 15 November 2011 was held a ceremony laying the 'golden link' to Nizhny Bestyakh station, which was attended by then president Dmitry Medvedev.
This station itself was formally opened on 4 August 2013, but still does not operate. To be exact, the railway station is in 10 km (6 miles) from Nizhny Bestyakh village, a transportation hub of local significance, with the joining of two federal motor roads, the 'Lena' and 'Kolyma' routes.
Yakutsk is currently connected with Bestyakh by cargo-ferry operating in the summer from the end of the ice drift until the start of the winter freeze.
According to Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov, the line Berkakit - Tommot - Nizhny Bestyakh will be put into full operation in 2015.
AYAM construction site and below Nizhny Bestyakh railway station. Pictures: Yegor Borisov, Apsat
It is said that the Amur-Yakutsk Mainline has become the largest and most complex project in the field of railway construction in Russia for the last 30 years.
It can be compared in scale only with the Baikal-Amur Mainline, seen as one of the USSR's great achievements, and not surprisingly AYAM is also called the 'small BAM'.
AYAM covers long tracts of permafrost. The general director of 'Inzhtransstroy' building company, Ali Shirin-Оgly Alyshov says: 'This railroad is partly experimental; a lot of work has been done by experts to design it so that the railway doesn't damage permafrost. In the areas where permafrost is particularly close to the surface, we mounted a special installation for maintaining low temperatures at the base of the road, so that the permafrost around road constructions doesn't thaw'.
Hopes to have the railway running by now have been dashed, but after so long in the planning, a few more months or years is perhaps inevitable.
Currently the most optimistic estimate is November 2014.
The President of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) Yegor Borisov worries that it maybe later. 'Initially 'Transstroi Vostok' had to complete the work in 2012, then they moved the deadline to 2013. But now the situation is such that the work could be not finished in 2014,' he warned.
Alexander Dudnikov, the head of 'Elovskoye Transstroi' which is involved in building of mainline says that the main problem is funding.
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