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Russia plans start of Sakhalin fixed link 15 Feb 2018

Eugene Gerden for TunnelTalk

The Russian Government, with private investors, plans to begin implementation of a large-scale project for the building of an immersed tube fixed link to Sakhalin Island in the North Pacific Ocean with the mainland.

The new tunnel will be about 8km long under the Nevelskoy (Fig 1) is intended to be designed for both automobile and railway transport and construction work is expected to start in May of this year (2018). Among potential bidders for the construction contract are Mostotrest, St Petersburg Mostootryad Number 75 and Karst.

Fig 1. Proposed fix link route with Sakhalin Island on right
Fig 1. Proposed fix link route with Sakhalin Island on right

According to Sergei Ivanov, Special Envoy to the Russian President for Environmental Protection, Ecology and Transport, the tunnel will stimulate economic development of Sakhalin Island and ensure stable cargo and passenger traffic to and from the island.

Building the Sakhalin Island fixed link was a long-standing aspiration of Joseph Stalin. Implementation of the project started at the end of 1952 and was suspended after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Alexander Strelnikov, a leading engineer of the Central Research Institute of the Russian Ministry of Construction, one of Russia’s leading research institutions in the field of road and tunnel building said implementation of the project will not be associated with any complex technical difficulties for contractors.

According to calculations by the Russian Ministry of Transport, the project is expected to cost approximately RUB 400 billion (about US$7.14 billion). Private funds will account for about 10-15% of the required funding. To raise private funding, the Russian Government is currently in talks with Russian billionairies and Chinese corporations.

Preparations in 1952 for building the link
Preparations in 1952 for building the link

Taking into account design and survey works, the Sakhalin immersed tube project will take three to five years to complete.

At an estimated RUB 400 billion, the project is about twice the RUB 230 billion invested in the Kerch bridge to connect the Russian mainland to the Crimea Peninsula in the Black Sea. The bridge was selected for the minimum 4.5km long Kerch link over TBM bored tunnel alternatives.

Maxim Sokolov, a spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Transport, explained that due to difficult climatic conditions in the Sakhalin region, including severe winters and frequent storms, building a tunnel is the only option for the proposed fixed link.

“If you build a bridge, it can be destroyed by ice,” explained Sokolov. “The thickness of ice in these areas is usually 1.5-2m, while the length of ice fields may stretch up to 25km.”

Sokolov explained there is also the possibility the tunnel could be equipped with hydro generators to use marine current energy in the Strait to generate electricity. “The speed of the current, according to our data, is estimated at 4m/sec. In fact, this will work as a tidal power plant,” he said.

Potential for fixed link on to Hokkaido Japan
Potential for fixed link on to Hokkaido Japan

“According to calculations by the Moscow Research Institute Mosstroy, the project will be paid off over 40 years. If it is connected to a power plant, this period will be sharply reduced.” Sokolov has not ruled out the possibility that future energy produced by the tunnel’s tidal power generators will electrify the project’s railway service.

The Russian Government suggests that successful implementation of the Sakhalin link could be extended with another fixed link immersed tube to the Japan’s Hokkaido Island (Fig 3). This, it was admitted, will depend on the desire of Japan to participate in the project.

In recent years, representatives of the Japanese Government have announced its plans to build a tunnel to South Korea, however the majority of analysts of the Russian Ministry of Transport believe these plans are significantly less realistic, than the Russian-Japanese project. This is despite the fact that the Strait of La Perouse between Sakhalin and Hokkaido is a minimum 43km wide and has an average depth of tens of meters.

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