Russian trains ready for Crimea bridge
The privately owned Grand Service Express said the first train would depart from St Petersburg for Sevastopol on December 23.
Tickets start at US$55.
The first train from Moscow to Simferopol, the occupied peninsula’s capital city, departs on December 24. The 2,000km, 33-hour route is due to cost US$62 or more.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the road half of the controversial bridge connection in May 2018.
After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia looked at various options for connecting the mainland, including a tunnel.
The 19km bridge has reportedly cost US$3.7 billion to build and is Europe’s longest, overtaking the Vasco da Gama bridge in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon.
Ukraine has condemned the project for violating its sovereignty and but also for the bridge’s alleged engineering flaws and low clearance, which has blocked maritime traffic from entering the Sea of Azov, especially in stormy conditions.
Ukrainian observers doubt how long the structure will stand.
Georgy Rosnovsky, the creator of two Ukrainian Kerch Strait bridge designs, has previously said the Tuzla Spit location is the most complicated and expensive option.
He said the area’s poor geology, including deep mud volcanoes and a sludgy bottom, was unsuitable for bridge foundations.
It is also an area of high seismic activity and Ukrainian observers say the piles need to be much deeper than the ones used.
Back in 2016, Yury Medovar from Russia’s Academy of Sciences said the bridge was being built without a proper design since nobody wanted to take responsibility for the project. He also questioned how long the structure would last.
Sanctions imposed by the European Union and the US have targeted oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a Putin ally who was the president’s childhood judo partner, whose firm won construction rights for the costly project.
Rotenberg has a long history of winning state construction contracts during his friend’s presidency.
Plans were made for a Crimean bridge during the 1930s push for industrialisation under Joseph Stalin. In 1942 the Nazis got as far as beginning construction of a bridge but abandoned the project as the Soviet forces advanced. A single-track rail bridge was built by the Red Army towards the end of the Second World War but it broke apart after a few months.
Subsequent Soviet-era plans were scrapped because of the cost, the geological concerns and challenging weather.
President Vladimir Putin inspects the Kerch Bridge. Picture credit: Kremlin