ECONOMIC and social trends in Russia are no different from other countries; more and more people are heading to its largest cities resulting in substantial upturns in urban population. As a result, demand for passenger rail services is growing which is increasing the pressure to develop and modernise existing networks as well as extend, and build, lines.
In Moscow and St Petersburg the long-term vision of transport planners is to expand the city's existing metro networks. Indeed the total passenger traffic on Russian metro services increased by 4.6% from 43.4 billion passenger-km in 2005 to 45.4 billion passenger-km in 2014 while the country's overall network size increased by 17.4% from 436km to 512km.
At the same time due to reductions in government spending, use of light rail and tram networks is falling. From 2005-2014 patronage on light rail networks fell from 13.6 to 4 billion passenger-km, while the overall length of networks in service fell from 2800 to 2500km after the number of cities with an operational network declined from 67 to 61 from 2005 to 2014.
This has corresponded with a 20.4% reduction in the overall tram fleet size, from 10,300 to 8200 vehicles by late 2013 as older vehicles have been removed from service without being replaced. Indeed 80% of the vehicles now in service are beyond their recommended service life, and only 10% of vehicles have been operational for five years or less.
The lack of a defined and supported programme of light rail network development has affected the volume of rolling stock production by domestic manufacturers. Between 2000 and 2014 Russian companies built 1834 vehicles, or 21.3% of the current fleet, which reduced the average age somewhat. But with an additional 453 Soviet-era vehicles due to be renewed in the next five years this investment is not enough.
Tram production peaked in pre-crisis 2008. Output increased again in 2013 after the previous slowdown but was followed by a 24.1% drop in 2014, which could be the result of further economic instability.
Nevertheless, results from the second half of 2014 indicate that this is an anomalous result. Policymakers are seemingly revising their view of light rail as the preferable option to serve urban populations due to lower costs and delivery times than underground metros and better environmentally-friendly credentials than buses.
With funding for new projects limited, the initial focus is on upgrading rolling stock to deliver increased network capacity. However, the volume and type of rolling stock required depends on the region where the vehicles are operating.
For example, for cities like Moscow, St Petersburg, and Kazan the most important feature is comfort for passengers. As a result these cities are more likely to invest in services such as onboard Wi-Fi, advanced passenger information, and multiple section vehicles which will enable a straightforward increase in passenger capacity. In contrast in smaller cities and regions, the priority is reducing costs in order to maximise investment, leading to the procurement of functional but cheaper vehicles that are simple to maintain.
One of the problems faced by manufacturers is fulfilling the needs of these bespoke clients which will only place small orders. Given Russia's extreme climate it is essential that each city's needs are considered individually, making it difficult to purchase off-the-shelf products. For the larger manufacturers, which have aligned their resources in the expectation of completing larger orders, it is difficult to fulfil these clients' needs. As a result smaller suppliers still have a big part to play within the Russian rolling stock supply market by delivering orders that make little economic sense for bigger players.
While the share of new rolling stock produced outside of Russia currently only stands at 1.8%, sustained demand means that international suppliers are set to increase their share of the market. For example, Pesa, Poland, in cooperation with the Russian company Uralvagonzavod supplied 120 three-section Fokstrot LRVs to Moscow in 2014-15, while Alstom is set to begin delivery of 100% low-floor Citadis LRVs to St Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don in the near future. Stadler is also planning to enter the Russian market with LRVs built at its plant in Minsk, Belarus.
However, with a policy of import substitution now active and localisation requirements sometimes stipulating that more than 70% of a product is produced domestically, as was the case for a tender for new metro trains for Moscow in 2014, international companies are more likely to succeed by establishing partnerships with Russian companies and establish manufacturing sites in Russia. Alstom's tie up with Transmashholding and Siemens with Sinara is testament to this situation.
With the current focus on renewing rolling stock fleets due to financial constraints limiting network investment, policymakers are exploring means to reinvigorate new line construction. Public-private partnership concession agreements are considered a solution to this funding shortfall and the Russian State Duma approved a law in July permitting their use for light rail projects. Specifically, the law states that the private sector will be able to build lines and supply rolling stock in exchange for operating services for a definitive period.
This ruling should encourage greater private involvement in the light rail sector and could deliver an improved level of service in cities across Russia. It is certainly a positive development given the economic floundering of recent times. And given prospective demand for urban transport services, it is unlikely that recent negative economic trends will continue. Russian cities are clearly interested in acquiring new low-floor LRVs to serve their current and future needs, which even with localisation restrictions in place, will stimulate the market in the years to come.