Rail is playing a vital role in these development plans. Construction of a new 46.5km single-track line from the existing coastal railway to the mountain resorts where much of the Winter Olympic events will be held is well underway. Testing of new Siemens Desiro Rus emus is also taking place on the newly-opened 2.8km airport rail link from Adler to Sochi International Airport with the first three of 38 five-car trains that will eventually serve the new railways during the Olympics already on Russian soil.

And while it looks like there is a lot still to do for the projects to be completed on time for the games in January 2014, Russian Railways (RZD) is adamant that the work is on schedule and that some of the first passengers will be Winter Olympic spectators.

The importance of Sochi to RZD was again reflected by the decision to host the company's annual 1520 business forum on the Black Sea at the end of May.

Now in its seventh incarnation, RZD presented the forum as an arena in which "we go to work." Mr Vladimir Yakunin, RZD's articulate and prominent president, declared on his numerous visits to the podium during the two-day conference that this year's event was different from past forums, pointing to the presence of some Europe's top railway brass while hammering home the message of rail's importance to provide an alternative to slower sea freight transport between Europe, Russia and the far east.

Chiselling away at the business rhetoric uttered during the press conferences and presentations proved to be a challenge for the entourage of domestic and international journalists. Certainly the observer got the impression that most of the "work" took place behind the scenes.

Yet there were some hints of things to come.

Yakunin's pronouncement that RZD would be interested in participating in any future privatisation of Polish railways certainly raised a few eyebrows (particularly with German Rail (DB) CEO Mr Rüdiger Grube sitting smiling immediately to Yakunin's left.) Yakunin's declaration that he is hopeful of completing projects in Libya, and North Korea, and exporting Russian railway expertise to other African countries and the Middle East was another intriguing insight.

As was the revelation by Mr Denis Muratov CEO of RZD subsidiary High Speed Rail Lines that the project to build a dedicated 658km high-speed line from Moscow to St Petersburg was being postponed. A tender for the project was due to be announced this summer in order to construct the line in time for the 2018 Soccer World Cup which Russia is hosting. Muratov and Yakunin both confirmed that the tender is ready to go but the decision to hold back was political with hints that it may lie at the door of Russian president Mr Vladmir Putin himself.

Yakunin's insistence that high-speed is still very much a priority for Russia given its safety and environmental credentials and ability to ease traffic congestion on the road and in the skies certainly does not mean the blue ribbon project is dead. He even hinted that the tender might still be let before the end of the year.

It remains unclear though exactly why the project is being suspended now so close to the anticipated launch of tenders. Muratov reported no issues with the four international consortia working with RZD on developing the project. However, meeting the estimated Roubles 696bn ($US 22.42bn) cost is obviously one potential sticking point. Muratov indicated last year that various funding models were being considered for the project including tapping into Russia's pension funds.

Completing the project on time for the 2018 World Cup is another major potential difficulty. An uncompleted rail project would be a source of embarrassment when the world visits Russia in six years time, particularly given the promise in the World Cup bid that spectators would be offered free rail travel during the duration of the tournament.

Of course, as already hinted, politics rather than social or economic factors might be the driving force, which is certainly the indication with the shift to the Moscow - Nizhny Novgorod - Yekaterinberg project. Politics also appears to be driving RZD's push for the new 1520mm-gauge line to Vienna.

While details about specific projects to improve infrastructure and reduce journey times on the 9289km Trans-Siberian railway remain scarce, a timeline for implementation of the 390-430km Vienna 1520 project was unveiled for the first time in Sochi.

RZD hopes that the new line will be up and running by 2024, providing a fast and direct link from the Far East to the heart of Europe. However, questions of the logic of building new infrastructure when a new terminal in Poland might suffice left more than the Polish journalists scratching their heads. Repeated assertions that the line would be used to transport goods not Russian tanks also might not be enough to appease their Ukrainian, Slovakian and Austrian colleagues.

Yakunin and RZD hope events like the business forum in Sochi can eventually overcome such concerns. He spoke continually during the two days about rail being the means to break down cultural differences and boost Europe's economy.

Certainly DB is onboard, the presence of Grube and German transport minister Mr Peter Ramsauer alone hinting at the huge financial potential that exists for DB in the Russian market.

However, it remains evident that work still needs to be done with the railways and governments that lie between western Europe and Russia to convince them that the Trans-Siberian in seven days dream is one worth signing up for. As for railways from China, Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the far east, which remain equally as important to achieving this, but were largely absent from this year's forum, Yakunin said the focus will shift to this area at an upcoming event in Kazakhstan as he continues his push to boost the viability and profitability of Russia's international freight services.