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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Payment to Railways Puts Mail Back on Track

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night, they say, shall stay the postal carrier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. But a payments crisis of mammoth proportions stopped much of Russia's mail service dead in its tracks this week when the Railways Ministry refused to allow the Postal Service to load the mail onto its trains.

Alexander Artemyev, head of the postal delivery department in the Communications Ministry, said Tuesday that some 500,000 mailbags weighing 5 to 10 kilograms each sat in storage at Russia's railway stations after Deputy Railways Minister Ivan Besedin issued a decree, which came into force at midnight Sunday, forbidding the coupling of mail cars to all passenger and freight trains.

Postal workers did not begin loading mail until Tuesday evening, after the postal service made an initial payment of 24.8 billion rubles ($5.2 million) to the Railways Ministry, and agreed to pay off its total debt of 325 billion rubles by May 16.

"We have 13 mail cars from Moscow and elsewhere stacked up here from Monday and Tuesday," said Yury Zharinov, shift foreman of the postal delivery service at Yaroslavsky Station. "Most of the cars scheduled to go on the 25th got off, but since then we've just been waiting," he said.

Workers at Belorussky Station began moving the mail at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, after receiving a telephone call from their supervisor. Eight mail cars stood empty on the station's sidings awaiting their cargo, and another dozen from other stations waited alongside.

"The telegram was sent today, so the evening trains should run on schedule," Artemyev said. "But the mail cars that were held up on the 25th and 26th will wait their turn. If only one mail car is slotted for a passenger train, they will not take a second." The whole mess should be sorted out within three days, Artemyev added.

In all, no less than half of Russia's mail is shipped by train.

The reason for the postal crisis was familiar: non-payment of debts, this time by the postal service.

"The cost of shipping letters and periodicals by train has risen 25,000 times in the last five years ( from 8 kopeks to 2,000 rubles to ship one carload one kilometer)," said Boris Tsybulsky, first deputy director of the postal service, in an interview published in Tuesday's Izvestia. "We cannot increase our postal rates fast enough to keep up. We can only hope for state subsidies, but the Finance Ministry has given us nothing for three months."

Deputy Railways Minister Oleg Moshenko told Itar-Tass on Tuesday that the railways will accrue a projected total debt of more than 3 trillion rubles in the first quarter of 1996. Deadbeat customers have been the primary cause, he said, and the postal service could not be allowed to continue running up its tab.

"One thing can be said for sure," Izvestia opined. "As a result of the Railways Ministry's actions it is not the postal service or the railways who are suffering. Once again we are suffering, the people of Russia."

Artemyev said the postal service had found 50 billion rubles ($10.4 million) to pay the Railways Ministry, and said it was "realistic" to expect that the remaining money could be found.

The 50 billion rubles came from three sources, he added: 22 billion from the federal government, which would be transferred directly to the Railways Ministry; 10 billion in interbank credits; and the remainder from postal service funds. "Let's just say we had this money at our disposal," Artemyev said.

If the postal service fails to meet its obligations, Moshenko said, it might once more be banned from the rails.