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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Gives Nod to Sakhalin Link

The government on Thursday tentatively approved an ambitious $4 billion Railroads Ministry project to link Sakhalin Island with the Far East mainland.

The rail link -- either a bridge or a tunnel -- would take eight years to complete.

The ministry insists the link will allow Russia to reap profits from transcontinental transportation -- including shipments from Japan to Europe -- and possibly generate passenger traffic.

The final decision on the link will be made next year, said Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. He said the project will be economically viable only if a further link is built to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Interfax reported.

The project is expected to include a 450-kilometer rail link from the Far East town of Komsomolsk to Cape Lazarev, which will be connected with Cape Pogibi on Sakhalin Island by an eight kilometer single-track bridge or tunnel.

The exact route, as well as the choice between tunnel or bridge, are to be decided later, the Railroads Ministry said in a report presented to the government.

There are also plans to build a 130-kilometer railroad on Sakhalin Island.

After the bridge is built, a further 40-kilometer stretch across the ocean may be built to connect Sakhalin with Japan. Railroads Minister, Nikolai Aksyonenko, said construction would be possible only if Japan joins the project as an investor.

He also said a large part of the funds needed to connect Sakhalin with the mainland would be provided by the Railroads Ministry in anticipation of high returns in the future, Interfax reported. Tentative business plans for the project forecast revenues of tens of billions of dollars over a 40-year period.

Supplies, including fuel for power plants, are currently delivered to Sakhalin by sea, meaning high transportation costs and irregular shipments dependent on weather.

The idea of connecting Sakhalin with the mainland is at least 50 years old. An attempt to build a tunnel between the island and the continent was launched in 1950, but the project was dropped in 1953.

The stretches of railroad approaching the planned tunnel were given to local timber companies.