Photo: Russian Railways

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) – a key Russian rail artery across Siberia – is unusable, after heavy rainfall caused the Kholodnaya River to overflow and destroy a dam.

The flooding destroyed some 200 metres of track and support poles, prompting a ‘state of emergency’ declaration in the Severo-Baikal region.

According to local authorities, the line could be out of action for at least a week, causing “damage to the country’s economy from idle cargo… plus the cost of restoring the railroad”. This could amount to “billions of roubles” – tens of millions of dollars – according to Alexei Tsydenov, head of the republic of Buryatia, in a post to his Telegram channel.

Russian Railways told state news agency TASS, that some 120 people, and 24 vehicles were involved in the attempt to repair the line.

“We are already laying a new track near the damaged line on the BAM washout area at the Nizhneangarsk-Kholodnaya haul.” It said. “We started drying soil and forming an embankment without waiting until the water completely recedes.”

The BAM is a component of the Trans-Siberian Railway, running parallel at an average distance of 700 km. It plays a crucial role in transporting fish netted in the Pacific, including salmon and pollock, to Russia’s more densely-populated west. Russia has attempted to use nuclear-powered cargo ships for this, along the Northern Sea Route, but the costs became unmanageable.

BAM is also part of a rail network between Russia and China in Manchuria. After a long hiatus, the two countries recently reconnected their rail networks via a bridge, inaugurated in November, over the currently-flooding Amur River.

Although the bridge has mainly been used by Russian trains travelling south, it saw its first Chinese cargo train go north into Russia last month.

Trade between the two countries increased by 40.7% in the first five months of 2023, including a 75% increase in northbound China-Russia shipments, worth $43bn.

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