During the spring session of SGK, railway policy is adopted by the State Great Khural. Some 1100 km long railway is planned to be built with wide gauge railroad. MP R.Rash, who led the working group of the State Great Khural on railway issue and one of the most experienced MP in the field of railway transportation and railroad, because of his professional background and career, has more to share.
Q: One of the main important issues that is adopted by the State Great Khural was the State Policy on Railway. How do you see its importance?
MP R.Rash: Railway is the crucial sector and player in both domestic and foreign economy of the nation. Without railway, Tavan Tolgoi and Oyu Tolgoi project realization is absurd. Up until now, foreigner investors and partners usually commented our disadvantage of certain policy on railway. But now we have it. It is open now to cooperate in the sector of railway and its building.
Q: During the discussion, the main debate was on the railway direction and railway gauge. There was criticism on selection of wide gauge railway, commenting that Mongolia steps back and selects wide gauge and losing ₮60-100 million in each kilometer. What was the main reason selecting wide gauge?
MP R.Rash: It is not exactly we are stepping back. Former soviet states and ex-communist nations have 1520 mm wide gauge. There were many alternatives, but we decided to follow what we have before. But the policy said that the railway gauge width will be 1520 mm, and if necessary and the feasibility study outcome will be p[positive, the Government will consider it and the State Great Khural will make decision. Some of us think that it is simple to build railway, and over 1000 kms of railway would be built within 1-2 years. It is a fairy tale. Railroad building work is complicated and requires massive effort in finance and other resource. Its eartn work, flood protection channels and bridges are very important. Especially, in gobi regions there are “unpredicted and uncontrollable flood” is quite obvious. 2-3 water exhaust facilities have to built in each kilometer. Its building is also sophisticated. Actually earth dam has to be kept over a year before setting railroad on it. But within two or such year of time, it is quite unbelievable to build railroad according to the given standard. My only concern is better to build solid and capable railway for to the world class deposit.
Q: Minister Kh.Battulga said that 1100 kms railroad can be built within two years of time, thanks to up-to-date technology and know-how. It seems to us that you have quite opposite point of view. According to your estimation, how much time we need to build that long railroad?
MP R.Rash: I didn’t have intention to postpone or make delay in its implementation. I just wanted to emphasize the importance of railroad quality and safety. I believe Minister Kh.Battulga said it on the basis of research and study result. I am here to comment only to remind not too rush with much err. Safety is extremely important for railroad. In 1960s, Japan had series of railroad accident and crash. All these are because of railroad. But its exact reason wasn’t detected. As for railroad to Baganuur and Erdenet, only 70km of railroad was built in the first 3 years. If it will be built in this progress, it will take longer to complete. It is over 400km between Tavan Tolgoi – Zuunbayan, it might take three years to complete.
In Gobi region, climate is hard and railroad building favourable period is limited. It can’t be built year round. I think another four years will be required to build railroad between Sainshand – BayanTumen – a border of Mongolia. In fact railroad is built based on the probability of 100 years.
Q: Do you think policy makers were lobbied by?
MP R.Rash: I don’t know. Policymakers’ approach was multi leveled, such as political, national security and economy. Some people say that longer in Mongolia would be better. But it is all because of tariff. If we transport our coal with minimum period, we can compete with Australian coal at the Japanese market. But, as for transit transportation, longer transport will create more profitable. Therefore, transit transport feasibility study shall be made carefully. The Government was ordered to considerate through the resolution of SGK. One day we will pay the cost of railroad, built by foreigners. All in all, we have a policy document to follow.
Q: Two railroad directions from Tavan Tolgoi to the southern border were planned. Public understood that these planned railroads will have narrow gauge solution. Does the policy reflect this solution?
MP R..Rash: Their gauge is not stated in the policy. But the mainframe statement in the policy says that the Government shall determine it based on the certain R&D and study. As for me, I don’t reject narrow gauge railroad to the south. If we build wider gauge, coal cost will increase. It is the state policy. Therefore, we can’t instate that all railroads shall be 1520 mm or 1435 mm. Therefore, it can be understood that the gauge issue is still open.
Q: Who will build the railroad?
MP R.Rash: Mongolia has no company to build it. Railway has its own maintenance unit. This unit provides maintenance service to 60-70km railroad each year. Road companies can be contracted for earth work, but domestic resource can’t provide 100% of railroad building work. Investor side will select its contractors. South Korea and Russia expressed their interest to take part. If they invest in the railroad building, we would put Tavan Tolgoi deposit in its security. Its feasibility study is important. We will pay back the cost of railroad building after its completion. So the railroad has to be at the level of international standard with higher capacity of transportation. In this case we can reach profitable operation level. Right at the moment, there is no feasibility study yet. In 1980s DPRK interested in Tavan Tolgoi, they made quite numerous studies in this deposit. But they made the railroad plan through Khar Airag – Bor-Undur – BayanTumen, instead of Sainshand. We selected Sainshand, because of the development of the national industrialization.
Q: Do you agree that Mongolia made decision in favour of its two neighbours, Russia and China?
MP R.Rash: Russia, China and other countries have view from their own interest and corner. Obviously, we should consider investor’s interest while protecting our national and security interest. Therefore, it is required to complete related R&D and other necessary studies. Working group’s direction was on this also. If there will be southern railroad, it is purely for transportation, not for civilian transport. Parties shall reach agreement on transit transport and other necessary legal documents at the inter-governmental level.
Q: The policy document says that Mongolia will build own transit transportation railroad at its third pillar. When the Government will bring the proposal according to the direction?
MP R.Rash: Mongolia is a transit country, because it is located between two big economies and markets. We should expand this capability into air transport, road transport also. We should seek Kazakhstan, Japan and South Korea to give us their transit transport. But it is wrong to count today’s railroad as horizontal. There are quite many self boasters and naïve believers at the State Great Khural, because many think that they know mining industry and railroad.