The objective is to improve transport infrastructure in the Far East of the country, provide a year-round link to Sakhalin island, and to enable greater use to be made of the island's ports of Korsakov and Holms, thereby reducing the pressure on Vladivostok. The project has been included in Russia's 2012-15 federal transport plan.

The new line would start at Komsomolsk-na-Amur on the Baikal Amur Magistral (BAM) and run for 540-580km northeast to Cape Lazarev. Here a bridge and tunnel with a combined length of 5.7km would be constructed across the Strait of Nevel. A further 100km or so of new railway would then be needed to connect the new railway with the existing network on Sakhalin island.

Almost half of the 805km Sakhalin network has dual-gauge (1067mm and 1520mm) track, and Russian Railways plans to convert the rest of the 1067mm-gauge network to dual gauge by 2017. The new line is expected to carry about 100 million tonnes of freight a year.

"The project is part of a nationwide transit route providing access for European countries to the Asia Pacific region," says Mr Victor Miracles, first deputy chairman for modernisation and industrial policy with the government of Khabarovsk Krai. "Today, the Trans-Siberian railway is already close to the limit, while the value of BAM will increase year by year. Our task is to provide the infrastructure for the new transport corridors."