By Ruben Meloyan
Russia’s state railway is ready to take part in an international tender for the right to manage Armenia’s struggling railway network which is due to be held by the Armenian government next year, its chairman said on Thursday.
“We are ready to consider the participation of the Railways of Russia in that tender,” Vladimir Yakunin told a news conference in Yerevan. But he said a final decision will be made by the Russian government and the state-owned company’s board of directors.
Plans for the holding of such a tender were confirmed by Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian on Wednesday. He said the idea was floated by the World Bank and accepted by the Armenian government.
According to the head of the Armenian railway, Ararat Khrimian, a recent study financed by the World Bank and conducted by a U.S. consulting firm found that at least $170 million needs to be invested in the Soviet-era network over the next decade. He said the government believes that a long-term management contract with a foreign investor is the only realistic way to attract such investments.
Speaking after a two-day meeting in Yerevan of railway chiefs from the former Soviet Union, Khrimian indicated that the Russians would be in pole position to win the planned tender. “I think they will likely participate,” he said. “My personal view that it’s better to give the railway to Russia than any other country.”
The Armenian rail system has been used at a fraction of its capacity ever since the outbreak of the wars in Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia that disrupted Armenia’s rail communication with the outside world, adding to high transportation costs incurred by local importers and exporters. Armenian and foreign companies have used it only for shipping cargos to and from the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti.
Russia, Georgia and Armenia have for years been discussing the restoration of a Soviet-era rail link that connected Russia with the South Caucasus via Abkhazia until 1992. But those efforts have proved fruitless so far because of the unresolved Abkhaz conflict and smoldering tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi. The latest Russian-Georgian standoff is making renewed passenger and cargo traffic along the Abkhaz railway even less likely in the near future.