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A direct route from Hokkaido to the continent would make it possible for Japan to distribute goods to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway or the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railway.

Russia is currently doing restoration work of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the BAM railway to establish a commercial artery linking Asia and Europe. The new railway is part of that plan.

"There used to be no assured communicating paths, which has hampered the economic development of Sakhalin Oblast," Ishayev said. "Construction of the bridge will allow us to access ice-free ports (in Sakhalin) from the continent."

More than 60 years ago, Josef Stalin planned to build a 10-km undersea tunnel in the seabed of the Mamiya Strait. Construction started in 1950, but the project was abandoned after Stalin died in 1953.

Moscow has aggressively proposed construction of a railroad that links Sakhalin and Hokkaido.

"It is also possible to connect (our railways) directly with Japan by a tunnel," Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the end of 2011. "It is a grand project that will drastically improve our efficiency of physical distribution."

Russia plans to build a railroad that links Eurasia with Sakhalin Island and may eventually reach Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

Russian Far East railway project may extend to Hokkaido

By Daisuke Nishimura.   June 4, 2013, the Asahi Shimbun

The Sakhalin Oblast government has already held a meeting with Japan's land ministry about the project, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

The Ministry for Development of Russian Far East said June 3 that construction will start in 2016 on the 580-kilometer railroad that will connect Selikhino in the Khabarovsk region and Nysh in Sakhalin. A bridge will be built over the 7.3-km narrowest part of the Mamiya Strait, which is also known as the Tatar Strait.

The total cost of the project is estimated at more than 1 trillion yen ($10 billion).

"The construction of the bridge that links the island with the continent is an important point for the development of Sakhalin Oblast," local media quoted Viktor Ishayev, minister of Far East development, as saying in late May. "There is a possibility that (Sakhalin) will be connected with Japan in the future."

Ishayev made the comments during a visit to the Sakhalin Oblast capital of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Connecting the railway to Hokkaido would require an undersea tunnel or another bridge.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs his name on a gas pipe in Russky Island off Vladivostok.
(Asahi Shimbun File Photo)