The Amur–Yakutsk Mainline (Russian Амуро-Якутская магистраль, Amuro-Yakutskaya Magistral’), abbreviated to AYaM (Russian АЯM) is a partially complete railway in eastern Russia, linking the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal–Amur Mainline with the Sakha Republic.
Passenger services on the line currently extend from Tynda to the town of Tommot, roughly 450 km south of the planned terminus at Yakutsk. The section from Tommot to Yakutsk is under construction and was reportedly near completion in late 2013. In November 2011, construction of the railway reached the settlement of Nizhny Bestyakh, on the opposite bank of the Lena River from Yakutsk. The final step required to bring the railway into the city itself is a combined road and rail bridge, to be constructed upstream of Yakutsk where the river is narrower.
|Amur Yakutsk Mainline|
As in most of Siberia, construction and operation of the railway is complicated by the large temperature variations, ranging from under -50°C in winter to over +30°C in summer, as well as the challenges of building on permafrost in difficult terrain.
The line currently has an official length of 1213 km, branching from the Trans-Siberian railway at Bamovskaya station, near Skovorodino in Amur Oblast. The line continues north, joining the Baikal–Amur Mainline near Tynda and continuing along the BAM for 27 kilometers before branching northwards at Bestuzhevo. The line in this section crosses the Gilyuy River twice. Shortly after entering the Sakha Republic, the line passes through the 1,300 meter-long Nagorny tunnel under the Stanovoy Range.
In the highlands of southern Sakha Republic, the line crosses numerous further rivers, including the Iyengra and Chulman, before reaching the coal-mining area around Neryungri at around kilometer 400. The settlement of Berkakit, situated 9 km south of Neryungri, was founded in 1977 as the base for the railway's operations in the south of the Sakha Republic. Berkakit is the official starting point for the current project to construct the railway to Yakutsk (officially referred to as the Berkakit-Tommot-Yakutsk Line), and the majority of the town's workforce is employed either in management or maintenance of the railway.
To the north of Neryungri, the railway crosses the Aldan Highlands, before reaching Aldan at kilometer 686, where the main offices of the Yakutia Railways are located. The current terminus of the operating section of line is Tommot, on the right bank of the Aldan River at kilometer 767.
Beyond Tommot station, the railway crosses the Aldan on a 350 meter long bridge, the longest on the line (except for the planned bridge over the Lena). From here, the line continues to the settlement of Verkhnyaya Amga (station simply named Amga), where it crosses the Amga River. Provisional goods services began to Amga in 2006, with construction trains travelling as far as Kharbykan.
Construction reached the settlement of Kyordyom, on the Lena River opposite the town of Pokrovsk, by 2008. From here, it was planned to start construction of a 3 km-long combined road and rail bridge across the Lena in 2009, in the area of the settlement Tabaga. The line was to continue to the city of Yakutsk, with a passenger terminal to be built, and an extension to the river port.
With the expected difficulties in building a bridge across the more than 2 km-wide Lena, prone to massive flooding in spring and with moving ice during autumn, there has been much discussion of the rail head remaining on the east bank of the river, terminating in Nizhny Bestyakh, across the river from Yakutsk. This section has been built, the connection over the river to Yakutsk city being postponed. The route via Nizhny Bestyakh will now form the beginning of any further extensions towards Magadan.
As of early 2014, there were twice weekly trains from Moscow and from Khabarovsk, ending at Neryungri. The travel time from Shturm (1st station of AYM) to Neryungri (390 km) was 11 hours.
Construction of the AYaM began in the 1930s, with the construction of the spur line from Bamovskaya to Tynda (then known as Tyndinsky) as part of the planned construction of the Baikal–Amur Mainline. This section began operation in 1935, but was then dismantled in 1940-41 as the Second World War saw the BAM project cancelled and the rails were reused for other projects closer to the front.
Reconstruction of the Bamovskaya-Tynda section (known as the "Little BAM") began on 5 April 1972, almost two years before the government of the Soviet Union announced the revival of the BAM project in 1974. The start of provisional services on the Little BAM began in November 1976, with full services in October 1977. At the same time the line was extended northwards, the section Tynda-Berkakit opening in October 1979, later extending as far as Neryungri.
From 1989, construction recommenced from Neryungri towards Chulman. This extension branches a few kilometers before the previous terminus of Neryungri-Grusovaya (cargo terminal). Traffic was gradually extended to Chulman, Aldan and finally to Tommot, firstly construction and cargo traffic, followed by passenger services. The complete section to Tommot was declared open on 24 August 2004. Since this date a daily passenger service has run between Neryungri and Tommot, covering the 368 Kilometer section in around 8 hours.
The bridge crossing the Aldan River in Tommot, at 400 meters wide at this point the largest river on the planned route besides the Lena, was completed in the 1990s, although not initially used. A further section of around 60 kilometers was under construction when financial problems halted the project.
Construction resumed in 2005, with construction traffic able to operate through to Kharbykan by the start of 2007. Cargo traffic currently operates as far as Amga. In early 2009 the construction reached the dual settlements of Pokrovsk/Kyordyom, on the left and right banks of Lena respectively, some 78 km south of Yakutsk.
The first train was welcomed into Kyordyom on September 25, 2010. The line to Nizhny Bestyakh was officially completed on November 15, 2011, with officials stating that a bridge across the river to Yakutsk would be constructed in the near future.
Planning for the line almost as far as Yakutsk is complete, although there has been debate as to whether the line should end at the settlement of Nizhny Bestyakh, on the opposite bank of the Lena River from Yakutsk, or whether a bridge (or possibly tunnel) should be built. The decision for or against a river crossing depends on a number of questions regarding both costs and engineering challenges. The Lena is at this point more than 2 kilometers wide, has a number of side streams, and can flood the valley to a width of up to 10 kilometers during the snowmelt in spring.
A combined road and rail bridge is under consideration, across a narrower section of the river near Tabaga, 40 km upstream from Yakutsk. In July 2013 the federal road agency, Rosavtodor requested a tender to build a three-kilometer road-only bridge over the river, expecting a cost of $1.7 bn/56 bn RUB, and a 6 year construction period.
On July 14, 2010, in Moscow, a meeting was held to discuss construction of a tunnel under the Lena river, instead of a bridge. Construction of a tunnel would be quicker and cost less than that of a bridge, as it would not be dependent on seasonal construction hampered by the river freezing over in autumn and breaking up in spring. The flooding situation of the river also makes the tunnel more attractive. However, the annual maintenance costs for a tunnel were estimated to be more than twice that of a bridge. Construction of a tunnel in permafrost also posed engineering challenges.
There is currently no bridge of any kind across the Lena in the Sakha Republic. Air travel is currently the only mode of transport to Yakutsk available year-round; land transport to the outside world is possible via ferry in summer, or by driving across the frozen river in winter. During spring and autumn, the moving ice on the river makes crossings impossible. The dual road-rail bridge would allow year-round land access to the city for the first time.
Future plans have been proposed for the extension of the rail line further to the east, towards the Kolyma region, Magadan and even Chukotka and a Bering Strait crossing which would link Russia with the United States. The Russian government in 2011 approved the construction of a US$ 65 billion Siberia-Alaska rail link and a tunnel across the Bering Strait. There are dreams among railroad enthusiasts about high speed trains between Europe and United States through Russia, but the Amur–Yakutsk Mainline is mostly too curvy to allow any high speed. Air travel will be the main option also in long term.
- Amur – Yakutsk railway nears completion International Railway Journal, Thursday, August 15, 2013
- RUSSIAN BERKAKIT-TOMMOT-NIZHNY BESTYAKH LINE COMPLETED
- "Russia Green Lights $65 Billion Siberia-Alaska Rail and Tunnel to Bridge the Bering Strait!". 23 August 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
- Russian Berkakit-Tommot-Nizhny Bestyakh Line Completed
- After Yakutsk the Railway will go to Magadan
- News report about the construction funding and status, in Russian
- Задачи по строительству железной дороги будут выполнены — ЯСИА (Russian)
- Bridge crossing across Lena river near Yakutsk
- Lena River Bridge to Provide Hope and Fruit
- http://ysia.ru/lang-full.php?lang=1&id_news=17804 (dead link)
- http://egorborisov.ru/content/view/731/18/ in Russian (dead link)
- Railway Gazette - News in Brief