Russia Explores Re-Development Of Its Trans-Polar Railway

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Abandoned Stalin-Era Northern Latitudinal Project May Receive A New Lease Of Life

Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

The Russian Geographical Society (RGS) has been exploring the length of the Stalin proposed Trans-Polar Railroad, also known as the Northern Latitudinal Railway, and have been installing geo-thermal equipment to evaluate the potential for reviving the project.

The expedition members have registered measurements at 19 locations, where the equipment was installed in autumn. Two new locations have also been surveyed, at the northernmost (Dudinka) and southernmost (Krasnoselkup) points of the railway. The RGS explorers covered 3,800 km across snow, river ice and mountains between Snezhnogorsk and Norilsk.


“The expedition’s area is a huge triangle with vertices in Urengoi, Turukhansk and Norilsk. The shortest, southern, side is at least 500 km long,” an RGS scientist said. “The Polar Circle divides the triangle in two almost equal parts, where there are practically no roads, only ice roads that in winter connect oil and gas deposits.”

Construction of a railway line between Korotchayevo, Igarka and Norilsk began in 1949. The labor force was Soviet prisoners. After Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, the construction was abandoned.
Stalin’s intention was to develop a railroad across northern Siberia to reach the then Soviet Union’s easternmost territories. The planned route from Igarka to Salekhard measures 1,297 kilometres in length. Parts of the project did come to fulfillment. A rebuilt section of the railway between Nadym and Novy Urengoy on the east bank of the Nadym River is still in use, as is the extreme western section connecting Labytangi and Vorkuta.

The section from Salekhard to Nadym is already under reconstruction, and includes a new bridge over the River Ob, which will connect Salekhard to the rest of the Russian railway system via Labytnangi. Development of these lines is expected to be completed by 2030.

Russia is keen to develop its Arctic regions as global warming starts to open up areas previously accessible. The Northern Sea Route adds a faster transportation potential for shipping between Asia and Europe, while the Arctic Ocean has massive oil and gas energy deposits. Lands previously un-used may become arable.

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