The state-owned Russia Railways (RZD) is pushing the construction of a new bridge over the Amur River that will cut some 2,000 km off an overland rail link connecting Beijing and Moscow as Russia continues to seek new unsanctionable trade routes with Asia.
Despite a border that is several thousand kilometres long, until last year, Russia’s only rail access to the Chinese market by rail was on the Far Eastern coast, south of Vladivostok. The new bridge will cut thousands of kilometres off the route by allowing Russian trains to cross the border much sooner, in Russia’s Amur Region .
RZD Logistics has also recently launched a new service linking Moscow, India and the UAE using the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which runs through Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Iran, The Loadstar reported on March 24. A key part of the route is a mooted China-Russia bridge in the Amur Region, which has been approved and will save 2,000 km on certain routes.
According to RZD Logistics CEO Dmitriy Murev, the INSTC corridor has proved to be a reliable and effective platform for enhancing exports from Moscow and for boosting agricultural exports to China and other Asian countries. This year, Agrohub, which is already responsible for exporting over 200,000 tonnes of goods, is expected to serve an even larger range of countries.
The new bridge and developing rail link comes as Chinese President Xi Jinping spent three days in Moscow on a state visit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two announced $165bn in new energy and transport deals, although few details of the projects were released.
A year on from the start of the war in Ukraine, RZD Logistics has only managed to launch two new links between Russia and China, the first being between Moscow and Shandong. Overland connections have become increasingly important since the fifth package of sanctions released in April of last year introduced restrictions on EU shipping companies providing service to Russian companies. At the same time, Russia has been forced to reorient much of its trade from Europe to Asia due to sanctions and self-sanctioning by European customers, making rail links even more important.
The increased focus on China has led to infrastructural developments, such as the China-Russia bridge, which links Mohe and Dzhalinda, across the Amur River in the Amur Oblast in Russia’s Far East. The bridge is expected to increase the capacity to export goods to up to 10mn tonnes per year (tpy) and have a positive impact on the environment by reducing the need for transhipment.
The decline in Russia's rail container volumes last year has left rail operators with no choice but to turn their attention to the East, and West-East freight traffic on Russia’s internal railways has reportedly become clogged up by the greater volumes travelling the route. Fesco noted a 12% drop in imports, to 2.1mn TEU, while exports collapsed 25%, to 1.5mn TEU. Russian rail operators are hoping to find new markets to make up for the losses caused by western sanctions.
The construction of the new railway bridge between China and Russia has been approved and will provide the Sakha Republic in Yakutia with direct access to China, according to the Information Office of the Sakha Republic on March 16. Currently, the Sakha Republic can access the Chinese market only by sea through the ports in eastern Russia, such as Vladivostok. The Mohe-Dzalinda section of the rail line has been closed since 2003 due to low cargo and passenger traffic, railfreight.com reports.
The revival of the direct rail connection between Yakutia and China will also open up the exploitation of Yakutia’s significant resource of coal, natural gas, timber, and iron ore to the Chinese market.
According to TASS, the new Mohe-Dzalinda railway bridge will also be the start of a new international corridor in the Russian Far East – the Mohe-Magadan railway line – to improve trade flows between Russia’s Far East and northern China. Republic of Sakha Railway Company signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the China Industry Overseas Development Association to carry out the follow-up construction of the new international corridor in the Russian Far East. The railway line will pass through Mohe, Dzhalinda, Skovorodino, Yakutsk, and finally arrive at the port of Magadan, railfreight.com reports.
Another Sino-Russian railway bridge opened in November 2022, the Tongjiang Bridge, which is 1,300 km east of Mohe. It is currently the only railway bridge connecting China and Russia. After seven years of construction, the 7,194-metre-long bridge opened on November 16 last year and shortens the journey between China’s Heilongjiang region and Moscow by 809 km, saving 10 hours of transit time compared to the journey via the Suifenhe border crossing, the Russian rail access to China on the Far East coast, near Vladivostok.