Staunton, January 1 – Russian Railways announced December 31 that it will end some 220 local train routes this month, effectively cutting off the residents of many rural areas from access to medical and other services available only in region capitals. But the corporation insisted that Moscow is not to blame: local governments have failed to maintain the necessary subsidies.
Such subsidies are necessary because of the increasing gap between the cost of carrying passengers and the ticket prices that the local governments insist on, the Russian Railways announcement said, noting that without more subsidies, prices must go up or routes shut down.
At the present time, Russian Railways said, the regions are covering only about half of the losses the regional rail lines are running, some 8.7 billion rubles (US $170 million) – or just over half of the amount that the Russian government is estimated to be losing in reserves each day it continue its occupation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas.
Only 10 of Russia’s federal subjects are completely making up these shortfalls, the railways continued, while 22 of 73 are paying less than half of what is needed to meet them. Among the hardest hit are Transbaikal kray, and Vologda, Tver, Tambov, Pskov and Belgorod regions, all of which are predominantly ethnically Russian.
The importance of local and regional train service in Russia is far greater than in almost any other country, given the lack of decent roads in much of the country and the availability of critical services only in the region capitals. Without train service, for example, diabetics who need insulin face enormous difficulties in getting it in a timely fashion.
Indeed, in some cases, as in Pskov region over the last two decades, the increasing difficulty rural residents face in getting to the capital – there the authorities earlier cut back bus service and then snow removal efforts – has sent mortality rates skyrocketing, reducing life expectancy among rural residents by a decade or more.
Now that Russian Railways is posed to cut back rail services elsewhere, a similar pattern is likely to obtain, and a Russian government which claims that it is acting on behalf of ethnic Russians and what it calls “the Russian world” in Ukraine will be harming ethnic Russians at home in the most serious and immediate ways.