Russian minister doubts railway to Japan proposal

Russia’s transport minister has cast doubt on the idea of a direct rail link to Japan, saying the government would have to bear too much of the cost due to a lack of private investment.

In December Russia’s rail operator proposed the creation of a series of rail links that would eventually connect Japan to the Trans-Siberian railway, via Russia’s Sakhalin Island and the main Japanese island of Hokkaido.

But Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov told reporters on 14 January that such an ambitious rail link would require crossing 40km of ocean by bridge or tunnel, and that private investor reluctance would mean government footing around 75% of the bill, state news agency TASS reported.

Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov in 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Linking the Trans-Siberian to Sakhalin Island would also require the overhaul of hundreds of kilometres of existing railway lines, he said, calling the railway to Japan proposal "a project for next decade".

"As for bringing in the off-budget investment, a preview modeling of the project has shown it won’t be workable if budgetary funding covers less than 75% of the costs and even then the investments will pay back with much difficulty and there’ll be a need for support all the same," Sokolov said.

He added that it was too early yet to specify the cost of the project but private investment might cover only a quarter of it, at best.

"A number of proposals have already been made and construction of a bridge or tunnel with a length of over 40 km is possible," Sokolov said, "but first we must ensure a reliable transport link between (the Isle of) Sakhalin and mainland Russia and this will require an overhaul of several hundred kilometers of railway lines."

As further discouragement he noted that the regions of the Russian Far East were located in a zone of high seismic risks, and that tunnel construction would be prohibited.

Image: Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov in 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

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  1. If a tunnel were built to link Japan and Sakhalin, Russia, and if the tunnel would be similar in angle to Japan’s Seikan Tunnel, then the Japan-Sakhalin, Russia tunnel would only have to be 24 miles in length and not 30 or 35 miles like expected.

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