Test Runs of High-Speed Train 'Soon'

ST. PETERSBURG -- The first test of the high-speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg, that many doubted would ever hit the rails, will begin in a few weeks, said the project's spokesman Igor Kiselyov.

Despite financial setbacks, RAO High Speed Rail, known by its Russian acronym VSM, will begin operating the $5 billion rail link in four to six months, Kiselyov said.

The test of the six-car prototype, usually consisting of 12 cars, will kick off what has been a high-profile goal to make the trip between Russia's second largest city and Moscow in 147 minutes.

Although VSM officials had previously said that a special track would need to be laid before the high speed train could make the journey to Moscow, no details on that side of the project were forthcoming.

Neither was there any word on how the embattled VSM company had come up with the cash to do the test run.

Since its creation in 1991, the project has been criticized on both economic and environmental issues. But support from government officials helped get the project off the ground, he said.

In March, the government, which holds 85 percent of VSM's stock, moved to help pay off 435 million rubles ($19 million) of bonds issued by VSM, accepting as collateral a grab bag of condemned buildings and an uncertain share portfolio.

Provisions to back the government guarantee of the bonds issued by VSM were included in the 1998 federal budget and in the 1999 draft budget.

However, the State Duma killed the 1999 bill because of criticism that the state had more important obligations .