Inland water transport: falling down but looking up
Inland water transport development is not likely to be distinguished as a separate national project while year round navigation along the southern horseshoe can be considered to be unreasonable after launching of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem. Meanwhile, IWW cargo traffic over the first months of the year fell amid continued competition with the railway.
As of 1 June 2021, cargo traffic along inland water ways of Russia has decreased this navigation season by 14.9%, year-on-year, to 21.3 million tonnes, Konstantin Anisimov, Deputy Head of Rosmorrechflot (Federal Marine and River Transport Agency) said at the meeting of Rosmorrechflot Board. Cargo traffic in the European part of Russia fell by 13.1% to 18.4 million tonnes, in the Asian part – by 25.1% to 2.86 million tonnes.
The number platform passengers carried by inland water ways has dropped by 20.5% in the first half of 2021 versus the same period of the pre-pandemic year of 2019. This year it totaled 1.59 million people including 1.28 million passengers carried in the European part (-19.3%) and 315,000 passengers – in the Asian part (-25.5%).
Konstantin Anisimov attrivbutes the decrease to the cold winter and to the late beginning of the navigation season. Finally, the results are expected to improve.
As Andrey Lavrishchev, head of Rosmorrechflot, told IAA PortNews, railways continue offering discounts on the routes competing with those of waterways. “Unfortunately, that happens and we will adjust oneselves... Water transport should have firm advantages, we will continue our work towards that”, said the official.
In April 2021, Sergey Pavlov, First Deputy General Director of Russian Railways, told IAA PortNews about the agreements with the river transport companies on cargo transportation in the navigation season of 2021. “They were planned in a year and they have been confirmed by long-term agreements”, said Sergey Pavlov.
When commenting on the balance between water and railway transport, Sergey Pavlov said: “We are rivals but we are also partners. We are developing joint projects and their number is increasing ... We cannot work without each other, therefore, balance is in our coordinated work which we are focused on today. That is about electronic document flow, thorough planning of all transportation projects starting with the loading”.
Meanwhile, inland water transport development is not likely to be distinguished as a separate national project. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Andrey Lavrishchev, said Rosmorrechflot expects the approval of IWT development concept in August 2021 following its consideration and revision if necessary. The concept is to include IWT facilities and activities into the Comprehensive Plan for Modernization and Expansion of Core Infrastructure (CPMI). “I suppose there will be no national project”, said Andrey Lavrishchev.
When speaking about the idea of establishing a single IWW operator, the official said it would be probably foreseen by the concept but such operator can only commence working after completion of the Bagayevsky and Gorodetsky projects, namely after 2024. Preparatory activities can be started one year earlier.
One more project of Russian IWW, organization of year-round navigation along the so called southern horseshoe (Astrakhan – Rostov-on-Don) is an open question. When speaking at the meeting of Rosmorrechflot Board (1 July 2021), Sergey Gaidayev, head of Azov-Don Basin Administration, said its implementation would require considerable expenses for reconstruction of hydraulic engineering structures. According to him, comprehensive reconstruction of the Kechetkovsky and Nikolayevsky dams is needed. Nevertheless, specifications have been prepared for a feasibility research under a project on arranging year-round navigation on that route.
After the Bagayevsky hydrosystem is put into operation, navigation in the Azov-Don Basin will be available for 9 months without any extra expenses. So the idea of year-round navigation in the area will be probably put aside.
Thus, inland water transport segment has to restrain its ambitions: amid tough competition with other means of transport, especially railways, and amid corona crisis, considerable financial and organizational investments into IWW development are not likely to be approved by the state. The key task for today is to complete the construction of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem and the additional lock of the Gorodetsky hydrosystem as well as to reach full-scale financing of IWW maintenance.