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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Approves $1Bln Rail Ring Plan

City Hall on Tuesday approved a billion-dollar overhaul of the Small Ring of the Moscow Railway that will transform the 54-kilometer loop from a pure cargo carrier into a predominately passenger service and greatly ease traffic congestion throughout the city.

The Small Ring, which has been transporting cargo around the city since 1908, runs between the Garden Ring and the Moscow Ring Road and connects Luzhniki, Gagarin Square, Avtozavodskaya, Lefortovo, Vladykino, Serebryany Bor, Presnya and Kutuzovskaya while intersecting 100 access roads that service more than 180 local enterprises. This year it carried 38.6 million tons of cargo, up 40 percent from 1998.

The project will not only provide better connections for passengers within the city and alleviate traffic congestion, but also boost local infrastructure, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said Tuesday at the city government's weekly meeting, where the blueprint was presented by City Hall's architecture committee.

"It will create a vigorous city infrastructure in an area that has been neglected," Luzhkov said, characterizing the plan as "thoughtfully and skillfully" designed.

Architecture committee chief Alexander Kuzmin said the ring will cut by up to 15 minutes the commuting time for the 1.2 million people who live in the area and the 900,000 people who work there.

The reconstructed railway should in turn increase the number of people residing along the path of the loop by 200,000 people and attract another 400,000 jobs, Kuzmin said.

With work already under way, the first stage of the new railway — the western section connecting Presnya and Kanatchikovo, near Gagarin Square — is scheduled to be completed by 2002, with the remainder to be operational by 2005.

The deal includes 30 new stations, 18 of which will connect with the existing metro.

The new train service will be synchronized with the city's metro and cost about the same. With departures every five minutes during peak hours and running at a speed of 35 kilometers per hour, City Hall estimates it can carry 73,000 passengers an hour.

The project also includes the construction of 30 stations, 18 of which will be connected directly to existing metro stations, and 39 underpasses.

The city also intends to address environmental issues by constructing noise-proof shields along the loop and increase the amount of greenery by 40 percent.

With passenger volumes growing, cargo operations will be downsized to a minimum, Kuzmin said.

One of the project's great unknowns is the type of trains to be used. Foreign companies Canadian Bombardier and Siemens have already expressed great interest in the project, governmental officials said.

But Luzhkov indicated Tuesday a clear preference for domestic trains, which are on average 3 1/2 times cheaper. "I think we have to focus on domestic transport," he said.

The entire project is budgeted at 31.9 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) and will be split evenly between the Moscow city government and the federal Railways Ministry, which actually owns the railway.

Officials have no illusions as to the financial viability of the deal and consider it to be a public works project. Even though the technical blueprint has been approved and the money appears to be available, the business plan needs some polishing, First Deputy Mayor Boris Nikolsky said.

"This is a loss-making project," said Vladimir Mironov, deputy head of the Railways Ministry.

The head of the city's economic policy and development department, Deputy Mayor Yury Roslyak, estimates the annual cost of running the system at 5 billion rubles.