The military and convicts modernising a railway?
At least for the Russian Railways, deploying military and possibly convicts seems like a viable solution for the lack of foreign construction workers. The Covid-19 related restrictions led to a shortage of workforce, and consequently, the state-owned company decided to deploy the army to modernise the Baikal-Amur Mainline. However, it is still considering using convicts for the construction works, an idea that results in unpleasant comparisons with the past.
Russian Railways wants to expand the railway line connecting Siberia with the Far East part of the country. Since the end of April, the Russian military’s fifth railroad brigade undertook the reconstruction of a 340-kilometre long rail track, reported Reuters. The project will last until 2023, and it will gradually involve all ten railway brigades with a cost of up to 3 billion roubles (35 million euros).
The Russian government believes that the army has the needed capacity and technical knowledge to deliver the project under these challenging circumstances. Most importantly, involving the military forces will also mean that the project’s costs will decrease significantly.
What about convicts?
Many questions arise regarding the fact that the Russian state also wants to use prison convicts as workers. However, neither the Russian Railways nor the government made any comments on Russian media or Reuters.
It seems like a very delicate question to answer because many commentators compared the proposal to the Gulag labour system when prisoners constructed large portions of the Baikal-Amur Mainline back in the 1930s. Whether this idea will become a reality is still a question.
The Baikal-Amur Mainline is a broad gauge (1520mm) railway line that runs parallel to the trans-Siberian route. It connects the port of Sovetskaya Gavan at the Sea of Japan to Tayshet in Siberia, where it connects with the Trans-Siberian railway. In total, it covers a distance of 4,300 kilometres.
The Mainline is a very good alternative to the frequently congested Trans-Siberian route and an increasingly important route on its own. Connecting the Far East with Siberia and the rest of Russia and Europe, it is a crucial component of Eurasian transport, especially concerning maritime links.