Speaking today at the 1520 Business Forum in Sochi, Mr Mikhail Goncharov, advisor to RZD president Mr Vladimir Yakunin, says that the feasibility study will be carried out for 18-24 months from 2013 during which a precise alignment and terminal locations will be selected, and environmental, cost estimation and financial structure studies carried out. Draft project documentation will be developed up until 2016, with construction and the project launch likely to start in 2020.

Goncharov says that route lengths of between 390km and 430km are currently being considered, while up to €6.36bn would be required to fund construction. In terms of financing the project, he says this could come partly from the European Union, although RZD is prepared to go it alone.

"We would of course use the money if the EU gave it to us," Goncharov says. "But in case they don't, we will try to build an economic model which relies on our own funds."

Vienna is considered a logical end point for the line, that will also reach Bratislava and Kiev, because of its existing connections to Europe's north-south freight corridor as well as the road network. Austrian Federal Railways' CEO Mr Christian Kern expressed his support for the project as long as it is financially viable.

"We are in favour of the European extension of broad-gauge lines," Kern says. "However, it would have to generate sufficient volumes to have a level of credibility."

Goncharov says that pessimistic studies have shown that the line would be profitable and could support up to 24 million tonnes of freight by 2050.

He says that discussions with other governments and operators that make up the Broad Gauge Planning Organisation joint venture are likely to step up in the next few months, but that the indications are that there is strong support for the project because of the potential benefits it will bring to up to 32 countries.