Russia mulls plan to build $2.6bn Arctic rail link to the Barents Sea

Russia is planning a port on the Indiga River to relieve pressure on Murmansk (Martin Lie/Public Domain)
Russian president Vladimir Putin has floated the idea of a rail link to the coast of the Barents Sea as part of a plan to develop Russia’s Arctic regions, which are becoming ice-free for longer periods in the year as global temperatures rise. 

The Kremlin instructed the Russian government to submit proposals for the link on Friday. This called for “proposals for the creation of a railway route to the Barents Sea in the area of the bay of the Indiga River”. The deadline for a response was given as 10 May.

The Barents Observer notes that plans for a line between the Arctic and the existing Archangel-to-Solaminsk link were proposed several years ago, but no action has been taken to move them forwards. The spur for action now is a strategic decision to exploit the Arctic’s natural resources and establish facilities for the Northern Sea Route between the Pacific and Europe. In 2018, the Kremlin set a target of 80 million tons cargo on the route by 2024.

When complete, the line will provide a direct route to the north trade route for the industrial regions of the south Urals, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

A more specific driver is a plan to develop an all-year port in Indiga, in the Arctic region of Nenets. This scheme is being put forward by Russian billionaire Roman Trotsenko, the owner of the Aeon Corporation, who has set a start date set in 2024.

The port is intended to relieve pressure on Murmansk, the only ice-free port in the Arctic, which is at maximum capacity.

The cost of the line was estimated in 2020 to be about $2.6bn. The Barents observes that the link is not included in Russia’s long-term investment plans.

The development of the Northern Sea Route is closely linked to Russia’s Arctic push and Moscow has channelled large sums into a fleet of icebreakers and ice-class tankers.

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