Doubling Severomuiski to add rail capacity in Russia 27 Jun 2019

Eugene Gerden reporting for TunnelTalk from Russia

Plans are advancing to construct a parallel tube to the existing 15.3km long single-tube, single-track, bi-directional Severomuiski railway tunnel to increase capacities on the BAM, Baikal-Amur Mainline railway in Siberia, Russia. According to recent statements by senior executives of the Russian Ministry of Transport and some Russian independent analysts in the field of tunneling, building of the new tunnel, known as Severomuiski tunnel-2, is an acute need to increase capacity of this section of the broad gauge BAM railway line from the current 16 million up to 100 million tonne of cargo per year. The investment is also part of ambitious plans by the Russian Government for the doubling of the carrying capacities of the BAM rail service to up to 30 trains per day by 2030, compared to the current 12-15 trains per day on the line.

Existing single-tube, single-track, bi-directional Severomuiski tunnel
Existing single-tube, single-track, bi-directional Severomuiski tunnel

The current Severomuiski tunnel no longer meets the needs of the State and shippers as its carrying capacities are too small to make Russia a new transit hub for the delivery of Asian Pacific cargo to the Europen Union. One of the reasons for this is the lack of a second track of the tunnel, which, according to Oleg Belozerov, head of the Russian railway monopoly RZD, makes it a bottleneck of the entire BAM. Aware of these problems, the Russian Government has given a green light for the implementation of the second tube and has included it as a priority infrastructure project.

To date, interest in contributing to the funding of the new tunnel has been expressed by both local State-owned corporations as well as private investors. Implementation of the project will be by RZD.

In regard to private business, one of the potential bidders for the project is the Sibanthracite Group, one of Russia’s largest coal producers, owned by well-known Russian millionaire Dmitry Bosov. To date, Bosov has declared his interest in the project to Russia President Vladimir Putin. Participation in the project is part of ambitious plans by Sibanthracite to increase its annual coal cargo transportations by up to 50 million tonnes on both the BAM and the Trans-Siberian railways. The company is ready to invest up to RUB 100 billion (about US$1.5 billion) in building the new tunnel.

The new tunnel will be built through the Severomuiski ridge of the mountain range in Buryatia and part of the Stanovoy Highlands, which separates the basins of the Upper Angara and Muya Rivers. At present the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM) railway traverses the southern end of the mountain range via the first Severomuiski Tunnel.

Russian millionaire Dmitry Bosov is interested in plans to build the second Severomuiski tunnel
Russian millionaire Dmitry Bosov is interested in plans to build the second Severomuiski tunnel

According to Andrei Makarov, the Deputy Director General of RZD, the company, together with the Russian Government, considers several business schemes for the implementation of the project, one of which involves the use of the PPP public private partnership model. According to calculations by RZD, the new tunnel will be built by 2026-2027 and for an investment of about RUB120 billion, or about US$2 billion. RZD has completed a feasibility study and has presented the project for consideration by the Russian Government.

According to Andrei Zverev, Deputy Head of the RZD Directorate for Complex Reconstruction, a specially created expert group, under the management of RZD, will analyze the planned location of the tunnel. There is a possibility it could be built either to the left or right side of the existing tunnel. For this purpose, assessments are currently carried out with the use of satellite imagery technologies.

RZD experts consider it a high possibility that implementation of the project may face the same difficulties and problems which occurred during the building of the first tube of the tunnel. Complex geological and geo-engineering conditions were encountered, particularly with the prevalence of thermokarst and permafrost. Construction of the first Severomuiski tunnel began in 1975 and its official commissioning took place in 2003.

According to Alexander Golyshev, a former General Director of Bamtonnelstroy, a company, which built the first Severomuiski tunnel, the reason for the long construction of the tunnel was the extremely complex geological and geodesic conditions. Experts at Bamtonnelstroy anticipate that builders of the second tunnel will have to deal with the same problems.

The Severomuiski tunnel-2 will be one of the longest railway tunnels in Russia, with the length of about 18km.

Severomuiski ridge is part of a mountain range in the Stanovoy Highlands of Buryatia
Severomuiski ridge is part of a mountain range in the Stanovoy Highlands of Buryatia

The first Severomuiski tunnel became the longest railway tunnel in Russia. Its opening allowed non-stop movement of heavy freight trains on the BAM railway. Prior to its commissioning, such trains had to be uncoupled and moved in sections on rail tracks up and over the ridge and through shorter bypass tunnels.

Implementation of the project may be complicated by high seismic activity in this area and by the watershed between Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, and the local Vitim River, which is located in close proximity to the planned construction site. Another possible problem may be associated with radiation, as the construction site of the future tunnel is characterized by high concentrations of radon. This is believed to be one of the major reasons why foreign companies were not interested in building the first Severomuiski tunnel.

In order to minimize risks on the new tunnel, there are plans to advance an exploratory/drainage gallery ahead of the main tunnel excavation. The exploratory tunnel will evaluate geological conditions, drain water ingress from the mountain range and improve ventilation during excavation. The drainage gallery will also provide access for opening additional faces for main tunnel excavation, according to RZD experts.

Excavation of the new tunnel is expected to advance from both portals and in both directions from two intermediate shafts of up to 300m deep. The type of the TBMs that might be used for the building of the tunnel is not disclosed. On the original tunnel, TBMs supplied by Robbins and Wirth were used on its pilot exploratory and drainage tunnel headings with drill+blast used to excavated the main rail tunnel.


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