Category Archives: transportation

EDITORIAL: Putin the Road Hog


Putin the Road Hog

Yet another international survey, yet another laughable, failing, third-world score for Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

This time, it was roads.

According to the World Economic Forum, Russia’s rank among world nations for quality of roads is a shocking #124.  The Moscow Times reports that  “data published by the World Bank suggests that Putin did not prioritize road construction during his rule, with spending on roads falling to 1.5 percent in 2009, compared with 3.5 percent spent by China, from 2.8 percent of GDP in 2000.”

This is just one more example of the absolute failure of leadership by the Putin regime.  While Putin has ignored Russia’s roads and spent money on cold-war provocation (and personal graft for his network of palaces), Russians have continued to favor him with sky-high approval ratings in polls.  As such, Russians get exactly the roads they deserve.

Continue reading

ESSEL: See Russian Train Run. Run, train, run!

See Russian Train Run. Run, train, run!

Dave Essel is currently carrying a short article about the start of a new high-speed train service between St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. This made me curious as I didn’t think Russia had any fast trains. (Not that it is that fast: it covers the 1100 kilometres in 8 hours 25 minutes, which is 129 kph or 80 mph. European high speed trains do 300 kph.)

Grani goes on to say that the train, called the Sapsan, is a joint venture between Russian Railways and Siemens under which Russia is buying 8 trains for 276 million Euro. As this sounded more like a purchase contract than a joint venture, my curiosity was sparked and I followed up on Russian Wikipedia.

Continue reading

Russia’s Collapsing Roads, Putin’s Betrayal of the Nation

Can you imagine dear reader, do you dare, what a road is like that does not meet Russian standards? Paul Goble reports on the catastrophic failure of the Putin regime to maintain Russia’s crumbling road network:

Even as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin again promises to complete a trans-Russia highway and as Moscow media report progress on several high-profile road projects near the capital, including paid highways, the country’s road system in many parts of the country is near the point of collapse, officials say.

They point to two reasons for that conclusion. On the one hand, according to a report in Irkutsk’s Argumenty I Fakty, the number of cars and trucks using the roads is growing rapidly, putting pressure on highways that were not designed to carry either the number or weight of vehicles now passing over them every day.

And on the other, officials responsible for roads say, the amount of money available for keeping the roads in good repair has been declining each year, a trend that in domino fashion means that Russia will eventually have to spend even more to bring the highway system back even to the level it was at a decade or more ago.

Continue reading

EDITORIAL: Russia is a Nation of Barbarians


Russia is a Nation of Barbarians

In our comments section below, a YouTube video is displayed.  Take care before you view it, it isn’t for the squeamish.

In it, a Russian driver in the city of Irkutsk plows into a group of pedestrians, seriously injuring them.

The driver’s airbags deploy and the driver is uninjured, while the car is heavily damaged.

The driver gets out of the car . . . and the only thing she’s interested in doing is checking out the damage to her precious vehicle.

No other drivers stop to help.

Pedestrians walk right by.  None of them stop to help either.

No criminal charges were filed against the driver.

Russia is a nation of barbarians.

EDITORIAL: Shame on Russia!

Passengers evacuating other passengers, official rescuers nowhere to be seen


Shame on Russia!

There was nothing we could do to help the injured. There was no doctor, no first-aid kit on board the train. It seems like there wasn’t anything to provide even the most basic assistance. There weren’t even any torches to look for the injured with. A lot of time valuable time was lost, time that could have been used to save people. The apparent absence of first-aid kits on such a train was simply unbelievable, especially in the light of the 2007 blast. No one even thought to have reserves of bandages.”

— Stanislav Aranovsky, Nevsky Express rail passenger, to Delovoi Petersburg

When a terrorist bomb exploded underneath a high-speed train halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg on Saturday night, once again the greatest damage to Russia was not the loss of life, horrible as it was, but the humiliating light cast on Russia’s reckless indifference to the welfare of its citizens.

Continue reading

Is Russia “driven” to Revolution?

The New York Times reports:

Every society has a breaking point. In Boston it was the tea tax; in France it was Marie Antoinette’s wigs. If you’re curious where the breaking point may lie in Russia, try slamming the door as you get out of a taxicab — even the most rickety Soviet-era Lada. What will pass across the driver’s face is an expression of such exquisite suffering that you will first apologize and then run. Russians love their cars.

Continue reading

SPECIAL EXTRA: Blood on the Russian Rails

What used to be the Nevsky Express

At 9:30 pm Moscow time on Saturday, the Nevsky Express high-speed train bound from Moscow for St. Petersburg derailed.   Three hours later, the Kremlin’s RIA Novosti newswire reported 10 passengers had been killed and 130 injured. But five hours after that, RIA was reporting that two dozen had been killed only 90 injured, and indicating that “the death toll could rise as new bodies were being taken out of the deformed railroad cars.”  32 passengers were reported missing. Nearly 700 people were on the train.  By the following afternoon, it was clear that more than three dozen had perished, triple the initial a report.

Quoting an anonymous source in “law enforcement,” RIA Novosti also reported on the cause of the derailment:  “Preliminarily, an explosion occurred under the ninth car,” it stated. “There was a clap. The last two cars almost fell apart. I’ve seen such things only in movies,” a passenger named Alexander told the newswire.

Once again, Russia rescue efforts were pathetic and infuriating.

Continue reading

Annals of Russia’s Unfriendly Skies

Paul Goble reports:

Russia’s domestic air transportation system – hitherto the only reliable year-round link for many places in that enormous country which lack railways or all-season roads – continues to decline, despite past promises by Vladimir Putin and more recent ones by President Dmitry Medvedev that Moscow will subsidize some routes and build new airports.

In an article posted online today, journalist Natalya Malinina reports that the number of airports in the Russian Federation fell from 1302 in 1991 to 451 in 2002 to 351 in 2007, with 45 more closing I the last year alone and more likely to be forced to close in the coming months because of infrastructure problems.

This decline in the number of domestic airports has been paralleled by an equally precipitous fall in the number of domestic carriers, from a high of 393 in 1994 to 299 in 2000 to 41 today, a fall-off that reflects the failure of many of the spinoffs from the state airline, sometimes known as “baby Aeroflots,” to make a profit. And in addition, the number of Russian airports handling international flights has fallen sharply as well. In the 1990s, many of the country’s regional airports handled flights to neighboring countries both within the former Soviet space and more broadly, but the number doing so now has fallen to 69 and the government plans to reduce that figure to eight.

In addition to the obvious centralizing and isolating consequences of this trend, one far more extreme than was the case in the last years of Soviet power, this post-1991 collapse in domestic air transportation makes it far more difficult for the regions to attract investment from other regions or abroad or thus to retain workers and their families. But a major reason for this collapse lies precisely in a Soviet-era arrangement that the Russian government has not changed. Unlike some forms of transportation infrastructure, airports remain federal property, and consequently, even those regional leaders who would like to spend money to build up these hubs are not able to without Moscow’s permission.

At various points during his presidency, Vladimir Putin promised to do something about domestic air transport. He even made it the subject of a section of his 2004 message to the Duma, but despite his words and those of his subordinates, Moscow did little or nothing even to slow the decline in this sector. With the coming to office of Dmitry Medvedev, some aviation and regional officials have expressed the hope that things may change. On the one hand, they point to Transportation Minister Igor Levitin’s promise in Sochi on May 24th that Moscow will begin to subsidize some regional air routes in order to prevent a further contraction. And on the other, these same officials cite the Kremlin press service report on June 3rd that Medvedev is concerned about the terrible state of the country’s airports, where conditions are now so bad that often “airplanes do not fly” even within a single federation subject let alone among them. But in reporting these hopes, Malinina suggests that Russians should be asking themselves whether those who destroyed the country’s air network can be trusted to rebuild it, whether the subsidies will actually support flying or be corruptly siphoned off, and whether the big plans Moscow has announced for a few places are either possible or safe?

Russia’s Deadly Roads

BusinessWeek magazine reports:

The statistics are terrifying: 10 times as many auto-related fatalities as in the U.S. Decrepit highways and drunk and careless drivers are blamed

On May 9, Russia celebrated the anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The next day — the Saturday of a long holiday weekend — the toll of auto accidents reached 601. Three accidents alone claimed 18 lives.

Two days later a bus collided with a truck on the Moscow to St. Petersburg road, killing eight more people.

“The motorway linking Moscow and St. Petersburg is the road of death. It’s scary to drive there with heavy trucks rushing along in the oncoming lane,” said Aleksandr Latyshev, a journalist for the Izvestiya newspaper who often uses the road.

The highway between Russia’s two largest cities is one lane in each direction. About 1,500 people die on it every year, most in head-on collisions. Vehicles also kill scores of pedestrians in towns along the highway.

“The speed limit in towns is 60 kilometers per hour. But no one goes the speed limit because when you’re tired and the road is good, you want to get home as soon as possible,” Latyshev said.

In this vast country, a deadly combination of careless driving, rampant corruption, aging cars, and bad roads adds up to a huge risk for those who get behind the wheel and for those who get in their way.

The statistics paint a grisly picture:

• About 33,300 people died nationwide in 233,800 accidents registered in 2007. That’s almost as many auto-related fatalities as the entire European Union, which has about 3.5 times Russia’s population and six times as many vehicles.

• In 2007, about 900 deaths per 1 million vehicles were reported in Russia, 10 times as many as in Germany and 5.5 times as many as in the United States.

• About 900 people die each year on the Moscow to Rostov-on-Don highway, a major route from central Russia to Black Sea resorts, and on the road linking Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk.

• Although more Russians die of respiratory and circulatory diseases each year, in the Federal Statistics Service’s “accidents, poisonings, and injuries category” for 2006, only suicide claimed more lives than transport accidents.


Vladimir Kuzin, deputy chief of Russia’s traffic police, blamed undisciplined drivers for most fatalities. “The primary cause of high mortality on the roads [is] drivers’ lack of respect for the law, a nihilism about the rules of the road. Drivers don’t maintain speed limits, don’t yield to pedestrians on crosswalks, and don’t wear their seat belts.”

Drivers were responsible for 84 percent of fatal accidents last year, according to official statistics. This year, the government hiked fines for driving offenses. The penalty for running a red light, for instance, rose from 100 to 700 rubles (about $30), for not wearing a seatbelt from 50 to 500 rubles (about $20), for going more than 60 kph over the speed limit from 500 to 5,000 rubles (about $200) plus a license suspension for two to four months. The average monthly wage in Russia is about 13,500 rubles ($560).

Those caught driving under the influence face losing their license for two to three years.

Perhaps as a result, road accidents fell by 11 percent in the first three months of 2008 from the same period in 2007. Fatalities dropped by 10 percent and accidents involving drunk drivers plunged by 20 percent.

“Our penalties are still more lenient than in other countries, but the fine surge has had an effect,” said Vladimir Shevchenko, spokesman for the traffic police.

Vladimir Fyodorov, traffic police chief from 1990 to 2003 and currently a member of the upper parliamentary chamber, notes a slight improvement in road safety. “In 1990, every fourth accident was linked to drunken drivers, whereas now it’s only 9 percent. Although one in 10 vehicles being driven by a drunken driver is still a lot.”

But critics say the higher fines have just pushed up bribes. Many drivers pulled over by traffic police offer bribes amounting to 50 percent of a possible fine. The Moscow-based Indem think tank estimates that the total amount of annual bribes increased between fivefold and tenfold from an estimated 500 million rubles before the new penalties took effect.

In an April poll conducted by the independent Levada Center, 57 percent of drivers said they had encountered traffic police who solicited bribes by threatening to fine them for fabricated offenses.

For its part, the Interior Ministry says it fights corruption, citing 7,000 instances of bribery uncovered and 5,300 police officers sacked in 2007.

Viktor Pokhmelkin, chairman of the Russian Movement of Vehicle Drivers, predicted the fine surge will have only a short-term effect as drivers become accustomed to them. As for the traffic police, he said, “Traffic police react to offenses rather than prevent them. They have no incentives to do the latter.”

Pokhmelkin blamed old Russian-made vehicles for the high fatality rate.

“The Russian cars lack basic safety devices like air bags and anti-lock braking systems. Fewer people die in foreign-made vehicles,” he said.

Russia has the oldest vehicle fleet in Europe. The average car is 14.3 years old compared with 8 years old in EU countries. Automobiles younger than 10 years account for only 19 percent of those on the road, according to the Avtostat analysis center. The 7.7 million rear-wheel-drive Ladas on Russian roads account for 26.5 percent of the total number of vehicles in the country.

Those rickety cars drive each day along clogged, ramshackle roads.

Poor roads caused nearly 44,000 accidents and 6,700 auto-related deaths last year. Russia, the world’s biggest country, has only slightly more distance of paved roadways than Germany and less than one-eighth that of the United States.

And many of the country’s highways, about one-third, according to the Transportation Ministry, need urgent repair.

Meanwhile, new road construction cannot hope to keep pace with increasing car ownership. The number of vehicles in Russia more than tripled between 1991 and 2007, while the length of roads grew by only about one-third. Aleksandr Mirashin, deputy minister of transportation, told the State Duma in March that the government plans to build 63,000 kilometers of roads before 2015, extending the road infrastructure by 9 percent. As many as 50,000 of the 120,000 Russian towns lack paved roads.

But new or improved highways bring with them a new set of problems.

“We repair roads, fill the potholes, but accidents rise. You won’t drive fast on a bumpy road,” Vladimir Fyodorov, the former traffic police chief, said.

The Russian authorities admit that they will not be able to reduce auto-related fatalities to levels registered in other European countries within the next few years. In 2005, then-President Vladimir Putin tasked the authorities with bringing down road deaths to 23,000 before 2012, three to five times the average European level. Nevertheless, it would be a significant improvement over the early 1990s, when 35,000 to 37,000 people were killed in motor-vehicle accidents every year, even in that era of fewer cars.


It is in the big cities, where traffic slows to 10 to 20 kph during rush hours, that congestion and bad habits create the highest risk.

“In major cities, especially in Moscow, traffic is a real pain in the neck,” Viktor Kiryanov, chief of the traffic police, told reporters in March.

Pedestrians, moving off the sidewalk to get around cars parked there, are often hit.

“There are no conditions for pedestrians. They take to the road because they don’t want to wipe vehicles with their trousers and skirts,” Fyodorov said.

But at the same time, as in so much of Russian life, senior officials enjoy excellent road conditions. They may legally equip their cars with emergency lights so that other vehicles must yield to them. In 2006, the government limited the number of officials eligible to use the lights to 1,000. More than half of the permits went to the Federal Security Service, the Federal Guard Service, and the Interior Ministry. The Presidential Administration was given the right to use emergency lights on 60 vehicles and the government, 35.

Lower-ranking officials have special license plates that help them in traffic. Businesspeople who want to drive faster in congested traffic buy these plates illegally for $10,000 to $30,000.

A vehicle equipped with emergency lights or bearing a special license plate may defy the rules, such as using the oncoming lane to get around jams. Such cars are 12 times more likely to cause an accident than ordinary ones, according to police statistics.

Last fall, a vehicle escorting Supreme Court Chairman Vyacheslav Lebedev crossed into oncoming traffic and rammed into a Lada, killing its driver.

In February, a vehicle carrying the traffic police chief, using an oncoming lane to get around a Moscow traffic jam, hit a woman, who suffered a fractured leg and concussion. She was later found guilty of causing the accident by crossing the street in the wrong place and failing to yield to a police vehicle with flashing lights.

Russian Roadways by the Numbers


Total mileage of all roads in Russia, paved and unpaved


Miles of paved roads in the United States of America

The U.S. has nearly eight times more paved roads than Russia has total roads even though it has only 9 million square miles of territory while Russia has nearly twice as much land area (17 million square miles). This means that the U.S. has nearly 16 times the amount of paved roadway per square kilometer as Russia has total roadway (a good rough approximation of the difference between the two countries’ overall economies as well).

According to Russia’s own data, one in three Russian villages is not connected to the outside world by any type of road.

A corollary is that the U.S. consumes 21 million barrels of oil each day, while Russia consumes only a puny 2.5 million barrels, almost ten times less than America’s total. You don’t need much oil if you have no roads to drive your cars on (and if most people, earning an average wage of less than $4 per hour, can’t afford a car in the first place, then you have even less need of roadways). Another fact little acknowledged by Russian nationalists and Russophiles is that while Russia produces a lot of oil each year, about 3.5 billion barrels, America also produces a huge amount, around 3 billion barrels. It’s just that America uses all it produces and then some, while Russia has nothing but some extra cash to show for it fossil fuels, which do not really “fuel” its economy at all.

This is the country that is challenging America to a new cold war.

And so it goes in Russia.

China Renders Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway Obsolete

Paul Goble reports:

The expansion of China’s railroad network into the western portions of that country earlier this year means that those who want to ship goods between Europe and Asia are likely to use the quicker and cheaper Chinese route rather than Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railroad, a Vladivostok newspaper has warned. In an article published last Friday, Vladivostok said that this new Eurasian land corridor will deliver massive quantities of goods 20 days quicker than the sea route and 10 days quicker than the Trans-Siberian and that shipping costs will be significantly lower as well.

The economic consequences for Russia’s railroads and ports are both immediately obvious and potentially large, the paper warned. But the article in the Russian Far Eastern daily was especially agitated about the psychological and geopolitical impact of this latest transportation development. On the one hand, the paper said, “if earlier [Russians] with pride could call [their country] the master of virtually the only real transportation corridor between Europe and Asia, then today, this geographic monopoly is obviously coming to an end.” That is all the more a matter of concern because of the extreme sensitivity of Chinese activities affecting the Russian Far East both there and in the Russian capital. (For the latest example, see yesterday’s “Noviy region” agency report about Chinese “seizure” of land in the Urals. And on the other, China’s use of this route, bypassing Siberia and the Russian Far East, will certainly affect both relations between Moscow and many Asian and European partners as well as between European Russia, whose railroads will still carry traffic originating in China, and Asiatic Russia, whose railroads won’t.

Not surprisingly, the paper blamed officials of the Russian railroads for raising prices significantly over the last few years, especially on longer runs. That disturbed many shippers, Vladivostok said, and made them especially open to the new Chinese possibilities.
More to the point, the paper concluded, “the market is the market,” and when sellers compete in terms of price and quality of service, the winner will not be the one with historical bragging rights but rather to those who can offer the best service and the best price, something China but not Russia can now do. Price changes on the Trans-Siberian are not the only ones affecting the Russian Federation’s transportation system at present. Over the past 15 years, prices for domestic Russian air travel have trebled, and they are set to go up another 20 percent or more by next spring. That has reduced the number of Russians who are able to travel from their home regions to other parts of the country, something that has the effect of undermining a sense of community among people living in parts of the country, for whom Moscow and other cities are now even more distant than they were before.

While many Russians continue to use domestic airlines, the percentage of the population doing so has fallen dramatically since Soviet times, when virtually everyone made use of Aeroflot’s heavily subsidized but extraordinarily extensive route system to move about the country. And as a result, one news agency has suggested, “it is the rare Russian [who] flies to the middle of the country” from its edges. And in some distant areas, flights either have been cancelled altogether or occur only when at irregular intervals the number of passengers reaches a certain percentage of the seats. For people living in European Russia, that is not a major problem: train travel there is not too time consuming or expensive, especially after Moscow decided last month to up its subsidies for passenger rail traffic. But the situation in Siberia and the Far East is very different. There travel by rail is enormously time-consuming or not possible, and travel by plane is out of the question for many Sibiryaki. As they travel back and forth to the center less often, they are likely to decide to move away from the Far East – something Moscow does not want – or focus on local identities – something the center also opposes.

Thus, quite below the radar screen, changes in transportation arrangements both around Russia and inside have taken place that are likely to have a far greater impact on the economy and polity of Russia than the far more public debates in advance of the parliamentary and presidential elections.