Increased traffic along the Volga-Don canal means there is an urgent need for an alternative route between the Caspian and Azov-Black Sea basins. The Eurasian Development Bank is working with the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan on plans to build a new canal.
A feasibility study was commissioned in 2009 by the bank, and a draft final report has been submitted to agencies appointed by the governments of Kazakhstan and Russia. The two governments will have the final say on whether the project goes ahead.
The two seas are currently connected by the Volga-Don canal, which connects the Volga River and the Don River at their closest points. However, capacity on the canal, which was completed in 1952, has been exhausted. "It was therefore decided to assess the available options of a new waterway connection between the Caspian and the Azov-Black Sea basins," explains Vladimir Yasinsky, the EDB's director of strategy and research. "In view of its inter-governmental status, the EDB was mandated by the governments of Kazakhstan and Russia to finance the comparative study of the technical and economic parameters of the projects."
There are two potential routes being considered for the Volga Don 2: one that would run alongside the existing canal, and a southern Eurasia route. An open tender was held to select a consultant to carry out the assessment, won by an association of several design institutions headed by the Russian Gidroproyekt institute, which started work in July 2009.
Building a new connection between the two bodies of water is "no small undertaking," Yasinsky stresses. The existing Volga-Don canal took four and a half years to build. The canal is 101 kilometres long, with a minimum depth of 3.5 metres, and vessels making the full journey have to pass no less than 15 lock gates.
"The project developers were given the task to integrate the new canal options into existing infrastructure and other prospective international transport routes," Yasinsky says. "This approach is economically sound, as it will allow the economic potential of the regions concerned to be increased considerably. The new route will become part of the Black Sea international transport infrastructure and Eurasian infrastructure, new multimodal transport and logistics centres, and comprehensive regional economic development."
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