Aeroexpress to zip Muscovites into town

By bne IntelliNews March 12, 2008

Ben Aris in Moscow -

Why does Russia get such a bad press? Arriving foreign correspondents are probably so embittered after being ripped off by the taxi mafia at the airport when they first arrive that it colours their reporting for the rest of their tenure. Certainly the dingy arrival hall at the airport is a recurring image in most of the publications that cover the Russian story.

Getting from Moscow's main international airport Sheremetyevo to the centre of town is not a trip to undertake lightly. The burly taxi drivers who prey on unsuspecting arrivals with their "official" taxi company ID cards can take an unsuspecting foreigner for a $100 ride, when a gypsy cab the other side of the car park barrier will happily take $20. On one occasion a poor driver who stopped to pick up this correspondent on the road outside the airport found himself sandwich between two "official" taxis and threatened with violence until he paid the other drivers RUB500 before setting off.

But all this is about to change. The Russian company Aeroexpress is hoping to finish construction of a swanky new international-standard train terminal that stops right outside the front doors of Sheremetyevo II this July.

The journey from Belorusskaya station at the top of Moscow's main thoroughfare Tverskaya will take a mere 35 minutes and cost only RUB225 (just under $10). The state-of-the-art trains are equipped with leather seats, TVs, air-conditioning to cope with both summer and winter temperatures, and WiFi so travellers can whip off a last few emails before getting on their plane.

"Just last year these trains were like Lego," says Stanislav Zhuravel, Aeroexpress' marketing manager. "We imported the top-quality parts of the train from places like Germany and Finland and assembled them into these ultra-modern high speed trains. There is nothing else like this in Russia."

Building the future

For Muscovites, the construction of the terminal will be the most visible part of the Kremlin's $1-trillion investment programme to fix up Russia's crumbling Soviet-era infrastructure. The company has the operating contract for all the train services being set up to ferry some 7m passengers a year to the airport - about half the number of travellers passing through all three of Moscow's main airports in 2007.

The first service between Paveletskaya station and Domodedovo, the most modern of Moscow's airports, is already running and costs a mere RUB150. Aeroexpress will take over the operation of this service, currently run by the state-owned rail monopoly Russian Railways, this summer and swap the carbolic soap-smelling trains with the new ones that the company is jointly building with its partner Transmashholding.

The Sheremetyevo service will follow shortly after and the plan is eventually to link all three airports by train services so passengers can move from one to the other. Currently, a traveller arriving in Moscow from Central Asia usually flies into Domodedovo, but then has to make the two and half hour slog (more if the traffic is bad, which it usually is) across Moscow to get to Sheremetyevo if they want to fly on to somewhere like the US.

Aeroexpress is the operating subsidiary of investment group Transgroup that is putting up the $105m of investment to build the train terminal at Sheremetyevo. Aeroexpress is owned on a parity basis by Transgroup and Russian Railways: Transgroup puts up the money and as a state-owned monopolist Russian Railway owns the physical assets.

And the train service comes just in time. The first thing that a new member of Russia's emerging middle class does is go on holiday: Aereoexpress estimates that 14.3m Russians passed through the three airports in 2007 and this number is expected to more than double by 2015 to 30m.

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Aeroexpress to zip Muscovites into town

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