Connecting Eurasia: mapping the myriad of high-speed rail routes
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Connecting Eurasia: mapping the myriad of high-speed rail routes

08 Jul 2015 (Last Updated November 10th, 2017 10:28)

A new era of transnational connectivity is within reach as leading Asian and European countries lay out plans for long-distance or cross-border high speed rail infrastructure. From Russia to France and India to China, Eva Grey looks into the future of high-speed across Europe and Asia.

Connecting Eurasia: mapping the myriad of high-speed rail routes

In one of the most ambitious high-speed projects to date, Russia recently unveiled plans to build the first modern high-speed railway across Europe, Russia, Alaska and the US. The Trans-Eurasian Belt Development (TERP) project would be a 12,000-mile transport route linking Europe and Asia, with key stops in London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow and New York.

The plans, which also include the construction of an adjacent motorway alongside the route, were announced on 25 March by Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin during a meeting of the Russian Academy of Science.

Referring to the continent-spanning railway as an “inter-state, inter-civilization project”, Yakunin expressed excitement at the prospect of economic growth and new job creation as a result of the project. The railway is expected to feature either a tunnel or bridge across the Bering Strait, but an exact route is still to be established. The cost of this mammoth continent-crossing project is estimated at trillions of dollars, with no precise figure in sight. Without more specifics or international agreements, the project is still very much in its theoretical stages.

Moscow-Kazan: Russia’s first high-speed railway

Russia is on track to build the first true high-speed railway line in its territory. The 15-station link will see 250mph trains run along a 480-mile route between Moscow and Kazan, connecting some of the country’s most important economic areas. Once completed in 2018, the route will slash journey times between the two cities from the current eleven hours to only three and a half hours.

The project’s total cost of just over $28bn will be 60% financed by Russian Railways, with the remaining 40% to come from foreign investment. On 1 May, the rail operator announced that a Russian-Chinese consortium won the first $360m contract to undertake planning, design and surveying works towards the project between 2015 and 2016.



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The high-speed line, which is one of the biggest infrastructure schemes in Russia, will serve a total population of over 25 million dispersed through seven regions. During its first year in operation, 10.5 million passengers are expected to board its trains.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad: India’s hopes for high-speed

India has been entertaining the idea of developing high-speed rail infrastructure for years, with only modest progress made so far. One of the country’s most tangible projects is the 330-mile rail link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The project is part of the government-proposed 400-mile Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail corridor and, if completed, it would mark the country’s first high-speed railway.

Despite financial problems that stopped the project in its infancy in 2014, the Indian Government is now hurrying to kick-start production of high-speed rail infrastructure.

The Japan Internal Cooperation Agency (JICA) is currently undertaking a feasibility study for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad passage. JICA will announce in June this year whether the route can support trains travelling at speeds of over 200mph, as well as potential funding options and the viability of the overall structure.

If approved, the railway’s construction is expected to cost anywhere between $10bn and $13bn and take around ten years to complete. According to current plans, the final result would feature an elevated track between the two cities, cutting the journey from the present eight hours to just two and a half.

In March, a Japanese consortium led by East Japan Railway Company expressed interest in taking up the building contract for the railway.

China-Europe: revival of the Silk Road

China’s enthusiasm for high-speed trains has known few boundaries so far and now it has set its ambitions on a new grandiose scheme: reviving the ancient Silk Road route via a state-of-the-art high-speed rail network for both passengers and freight.

“China’s enthusiasm for high-speed trains has known few boundaries so far.”

The $150bn railway would start in Xinjiang and snake its way across 3,700 miles through 40 Asian and European countries which hold a total population of three billion people. Although this gargantuan project might seem like wishful thinking, Chinese media reported a rather short prospective timeline: an initial finish date is envisioned for 2020, followed by the start of operational services by 2030. Despite China’s confidence, there are a host of obstacles that could prove insurmountable to the project as a whole, let alone the high-speed timetable that has been reported.

The project’s biggest hurdles are geopolitical discrepancies between the countries, which is why China’s President Xi Jinping gathered over 100 European leaders and representatives to Beijing in July 2014 to pitch and debate the idea. Even with the countries’ consent, differences in line track gauge between the European standard of 1,524 mm and China’s 1,435 mm would impose the necessity of changing wheels at the border.

The rail structure falls within China’s One Road One Belt economic plan of diversifying and constructing new land and sea routes into Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

Beijing-Moscow: the Eurasian transport corridor

China and Russia are strengthening their ties via a direct line between Moscow and Beijing that is set to become the longest high-speed railway in the world on completion.

Despite a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two countries’ leaders in October 2014, the project was initially met with incredulity due to a number of practical hurdles. However, details emerging in January and March 2015 are starting to give the project a clearer shape.

The 250mph bullet trains will race across a total of 4,800 miles, traversing China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia. Much of the distance will run in parallel with the Trans-Siberian Railway, but compared to a six-day journey on the famous line, the new bullet train will reach its destination in just 33 hours.

While the project has been estimated to take between five and ten years to complete, works have already begun on the first leg of the journey between Moscow and Kazan.



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Possible routes of the $242bn line are currently being considered, including options to cross through either Kazakhstan or the Altai region, with a detour of 180 miles.

Rail Baltica: the eco-friendly high speed rail

The EU is laying the foundations for a north-south railway route to serve as a link between Scandinavia and Western Europe. Rail Baltica is one of the top priority projects under the Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) package of transport infrastructure projects within the EU.

The 430-mile route will link Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with an extension reaching down into Germany. The future electric railway could cost €3.68bn to construct, but it is expected to be 85% financed by the European Union, including a €124m contribution granted under the TEN-T programme.

There are two route options available: one that requires modernising existing tracks at a cost of €1.5bn and a second option that involves building new infrastructure at a cost of €2.4bn.

The scheme aims to reconnect the three Baltic countries to the rest of Europe, to great mutual economic gain. The connection envisions that after it becomes operational in 2025, fast trade, tourism and jobs will boom in all the states involved. At present, one of the first objectives of the project is to get “as much built as possible” by 2022.

Paris-Bratislava-Budapest: the “Magistrale for Europe”

One of the top priority projects under The Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) agreement is an east-west high-speed axis through central Europe that would join France, Germany, Austria and Hungary via one direct line. Sections between key cities alongside the railway’s final route have been operational as far back as 2007; however the complete route is expected to be finalised sometime after 2020, with deadlines varying for each section.

“The EU is laying the foundations for a north-south railway route to serve as a link between Scandinavia and Western Europe.”

The project has received a total input of $495m since plans were first drawn out in 2007. The final 980-mile track will ultimately stretch from Paris to Budapest in only ten and a half hours, stopping in Strasbourg, Munchen, Salzburg and Vienna along the way.

High Speed 2: bridging UK’s North-South divide

The hotly-debated HS2 line, one of Britain’s biggest infrastructure projects to date, is designed as a long-term financial investment into the country’s future and a way to “heal” the north-south economic divide.

Planned in two phases, the massive project will see 250mph trains connect 18 cities, including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, in order to spur productivity and re-balance economic growth. A quicker transfer between the country’s key cities will mean journey times are slashed to up to an hour between most destinations.

The first leg of the track between London and Birmingham will start being built in 2017 and is expected to be operational by 2026, followed by the Y-shaped phase touching Manchester and Leeds, which is due for completion around 2033.

The cost of the project has been subject to numerous evaluations, with current estimates standing at £50bn in total. Once operational, the government believes it could be used by as many as 85 million passengers per year by 2043.

Tours-Bordeaux: continuing France’s high-speed legacy

With the early introduction of the TGV lines, France has established itself as a leader in high-speed train infrastructure in Europe. Since then, it has been persistent in further developing and growing its high-speed network. Now, another expansion project is currently underway: the South Europe Atlantic high-speed rail, connecting Tours to Bordeaux, is set for completion in 2017.

In 2012, construction began for the €7.8bn project’s 190 mile-long high-speed link between the two cities, with a further 23 miles in links to existing tracks along the corridor.

Once in operation, electrically-powered trains will travel at 200mph, offering yet another convenient link between the northern and southern parts of Europe through the heart of France.