Within the next few years, big Russian cities will have to at least double their road network density, which currently does not exceed 10% of their area. In Europe, road density is twice as high, and in the U.S. it is 3.5 times as high. But the current situation will not improve overnight, admits Konstantin Trofimenko in his report Using Railroad Corridors to Develop Urban Transportation Systems.
Most Russian cities are products of Soviet-era urban planning which relied heavily on public transportation and a rate of vehicle ownership that stood at 70 cars per 1,000 people. Now this rate has increased to reach 300-350 cars per 1,000 people and counting.
Urban road density should be increased but by building new roads, not by trying to improve old ones, experts say. Widening existing roads will not help redistribute traffic flows but instead may slow down city traffic. In Moscow, almost no space is left for building new roads. Over the past two decades of the real estate development boom, almost all reserve areas earmarked in Soviet times for future road construction were used up for residential and commercial real estate.
Constructing highways within railroad corridors may provide a solution, some experts suggest.
Today, urban railways in Moscow disrupt rather than complement the overall transport network; by cutting the city into separate parts, they force drivers to take detours to get from one place to another. But the large unused area along the railroad tracks could be used to build automobile roads.
Parallel and flyover roads are the two main methods used worldwide for road construction in railway corridors. The attending stakeholders were invited to discuss the cost-effectivenessof using both of these methods in Russia and their potential negative impact, if any, on rail transportation.
Deputy Director of Giprostroymost Company Alexander Vasylkov is the main proponent of building highways over or parallel to railroad tracks. His company has assessed the investment potential of constructing a flyover highway along the Yaroslavsky and Kazansky railways. «The project is not at the design stage yet, but we have explored all possible construction options,» Vasilkov explains.
The project may turn out to be quite expensive – building a highway with two lanes in each direction, extending 41 to 42 km outside Moscow along the Yaroslavsky and Kazansky railways, would cost 219 billion and 207 billion rubles, respectively. The state would have to invest about 84% of those funds, with private investors expected to contribute the remaining 16%. Assuming a yield of 18%, the project will pay back in 34 years, says Vasilkov.
Drivers will have to pay a toll of a maximum of 200 rubles (approx. $6) to drive on this part of the highway, but the average speed may reach some 150 km per hour.
While technical solutions for building transportation corridors over railroads are available, another problem exists that has yet to be resolved, says Dmitry Simarev, Chair of the Board of ARKS Group of Companies – namely that the project will have to be negotiated with the military, since it is not clear yet whether the reconstructed railroads will meet the existing requirements for potential military use in wartime. Getting the military to agree will be a tough challenge, experts believe.
Solving the traffic problem by building roads in railway corridors will not work, says Fyodor Pekhterev, CEO of the Institute for Transport Economics and Development, a subsidiary of the Russian Railways Company.
Even though the proposals have not been fully costed out, says Pekhterev, they appear too expensive. A better solution is to manage traffic flows, to extend suburban rail networks so they canprovide transportation in the city, and to build overpasses to connect urban areas separated by the railroads, he argues.
«There are no alternatives to expanding the rail transport system in Moscow,» he says.
On October 24, the next expert seminarin the Infrastructure of the Future series will discussthe nuances of liberalizing the locomotive traction market.