Russian Rail Chief Speaks on State of Railways

The crisis made us move faster. It radically influenced the usual working formats of the company and, of course, became an impetus for creating new approaches to our interaction with shippers and passengers.

The head of Russian Railways spoke about the company’s achievements and directions of its development

The holiday remains a holiday |  First persons |  General Director - Chairman of the Board of JSC "Russian Railways" Oleg Belozerov

photo: Ivan Shapovalov / Russian Railways Press Service
On the eve of Railroad Worker’s Day, Oleg Belozerov, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Russian Railways, told Gudk what events of the past year were the most important for the company’s employees, what tasks need to be worked on in the near future, and why vaccination against COVID-19 is the duty of every employee “Russian Railways”. 

– Oleg Valentinovich, we met with you in 2020, which turned the traditional understanding of work processes, long-term planning and even values ​​upside down. The current year has largely repeated last year’s trends, we continue to live in a new “covid” reality. What to rely on? What do you think is the most relevant for the company and its employees this year?

– The agenda has not changed. For us, the most important thing is still to confront the pandemic and to effectively operate Russian Railways in these conditions. At a meeting held in April, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin noted that “in general, despite the difficulties of the last year, the company coped with the tasks it faced, with the problems, went through these problems, went very well”.

The work of the company was highly appreciated by the state represented by the board of directors, giving us an “excellent” grade for 2020. We successfully passed the exam last year and must definitely cope with this one, we have everything for this. 

The key issue that we need to address on a daily basis is the protection of people’s health. Russia was the first to develop its own weapons to combat COVID-19. We especially needed these vaccines – we have a whole block of workers in direct contact with people. Their creation and a full-scale campaign to form collective immunity is a huge achievement of Russian science and, of course, the hard work of government bodies at all levels.

– As far as I know, you were the first to take root in the company last year. What about revaccination? And if it’s not a secret, what kind of vaccine? 

– Yes, I took root in the fall of last year. In July, I did a second vaccination – according to the recommendations of our doctors. I was vaccinated both then and now with the Sputnik, everything went well. I am confident that all of our vaccines are effective tools against COVID-19. I strongly believe in Russian science and evidence-based medicine. I grew up in a family of doctors, and although I myself took a different path, I can say that when it comes to domestic medicine, the systematic nature of its approaches has always aroused great confidence in me. Thanks to this, medicine in our country has always been at the forefront.

No executive needs statistics for the sake of statistics. As the head of Russian Railways, I need the team to remain safe and be able to perform the responsible work that the country needs. For the same reason, I want your relatives and friends to be healthy. Much depends on the railway. This is our responsibility to all residents of the country. By the way, I want to note that the railway workers of the Moscow region were close to the level of 60% of those vaccinated back in June. In terms of consciousness, you can take an example from the railway workers. We are responsible and disciplined, so we cope with any difficulties. 

– Last year there were many rumors about a possible revision of the Collective Agreement? Are there any redundancies and part-time workweek for railroad workers? 

– I remember last year and how everything unfolded, how the loading on the network collapsed and passenger traffic in the country froze. It was a difficult time, and the decisions were also considered difficult. Nevertheless, we have imposed a moratorium on the events you mentioned. Remember, last year I already said that everything must be done to retain qualified personnel, we must not scatter them because of the current conjuncture, demand will recover sooner or later, we must be ready for this.

Today we see that the decisions were correct. All social guarantees that we, together with the trade union, have promised our workers are strictly observed. The collective agreement has not only survived, but a new block was introduced into it last year – a bonus package. It provides for encouraging and rewarding employees for their personal contribution to improving the efficiency of the company, as well as for being involved in solving common problems and participating in significant projects. Having accumulated a certain amount of points, the employee independently exchanges them for offers that he chooses from the approved list. We are currently testing this approach, but I see great prospects in it. I am convinced that the employee should be given the opportunity to choose from what suits him best. Our team did a great job in a very difficult time,

– That is, the team coped with the unprecedented challenges of 2020? Can we say now that Russian Railways are returning to pre-pandemic indicators?

– We are trying to get as close as possible to 2019, in June we even exceeded its loading figures. I will say more, in some ways we have already approached the absolute records of 2008. May, despite the long holidays, had the highest loading volume this month in 13 years. 
I have already said this – and I will not be afraid to repeat it again. The crisis made us move faster. It radically influenced the usual working formats of the company and, of course, became an impetus for creating new approaches to our interaction with shippers and passengers.
We have implemented a number of tariff initiatives and attracted clients from small and medium-sized businesses. Why did it happen? We were able to rebuild ourselves, maximize our turn towards the client. And I want to say sincere words of gratitude to all clients. Thank you for choosing us and our services, working with us. We will do our best to justify your trust. 
Construction work did not stop for a minute, neither during the most difficult period last year, nor this one. Several significant objects were commissioned: bridges over the Kola River in the Murmansk region, across the Don in the Volgograd region, through Akhtuba in the Astrakhan region, reconstructed the Kozinsky viaduct in the Krasnoyarsk Territory. We have completed work on the most important object – the Baikal Tunnel, which will make it possible to multiply the capacity of the railway in the eastern direction.

I would also like to note the super-fast pace of recovery in passenger traffic. And last but not least, the creative approach of our passenger unit played a role here. Passengers were offered such a number of tourist routes that even some time ago it was even difficult to imagine. We open Russia not only for all our citizens, but also to some extent for ourselves, we are developing multimodal routes: Valaam, Ruskeala, Derbent, Elista, Ustyug and Kostroma, the Circum-Baikal Railway and many others … 

I am grateful to the employees of the passenger unit. You are at the forefront, through your eyes and smiles, most of our citizens perceive your conscientious attitude to the work of the Russian Railways. I see that my colleagues are changing their attitude to complaints. They are already perceived not as another reason for unsubscribing, but as a kind of hint, directions for improving the quality of work. Passengers’ requests for all components are being worked out more thoroughly, the efficiency and meaningfulness of responses are improved. This is the approach that we must adhere to in everything, our work is visible and it is necessary to carry it out with dignity, with attention and sincerity to people. 

In general, I would characterize my perception of the current year as restrained optimism, we will continue to closely monitor the situation. The fact that she is getting better is the overall result of the work of the entire team. Everyone – from a track fitter on the Daban track distance, a machinist who leads a train along a complex profile somewhere on the Shepsi – Vodopadny stretch to an IT specialist who creates a digital profile of the railway. Behind all this is the friendly work and team spirit of the Russian railways.

– You have already mentioned that the board of directors highly appreciated the results of the company’s work. How can Russian Railways achieve additional results? What are the reserves?

– It seems to me that our biggest reserve is transformation within ourselves. We have done a lot to develop client services and, as you can see for yourself, have achieved significant results. But in many processes, Russian Railways follows technology first of all – as it is convenient for railway workers, and not for customers. Therefore, the main task is to find a balance between manufacturability and what the client receives. 
Another factor worth considering is the elements of internal competition between divisions. Analyzing some situations, I come to the conclusion that if we could remove these internal contradictions, the result would be even better. 
If we change ourselves, we will also change the perception of the railway. This must be felt at all levels.

And the second big direction. It follows to some extent from the first. To keep up with the needs of our clients, we need to learn to build faster. Of course, there are objective circumstances: state procedures for organizing work, geographic and environmental features, remoteness, sparsely populated, etc. But we must be a few steps ahead – this is how the market needs it, this is how the country needs it. To do this, it is necessary to use all the possibilities – both new technologies, and material and non-material motivation for builders. I urge everyone to work in this direction.
In general, not only on construction, but also on other issues, we must respond more quickly to challenges, at every moment correlate the results with the efforts expended and maintain comfortable conditions for our consumers. 
Another area for development is digitalization and innovation. We have great potential in this matter. I am convinced that a lot of processes can be digitized on the railway. This will allow us to be more efficient and to reconsider many production points. For example, the use of “virtual coupling” will significantly increase the throughput and carrying capacity of the railway. After the introduction of this technology on the Bolshoy Lug – Slyudyanka section, the throughput here increased by 20 pairs of trains per day!

– Oleg Valentinovich, we now see a lot of news about the Eastern polygon. What is the situation there? Are we in time?

– We are obliged to keep up. Moreover, now we are already considering in detail the third stage of construction. In July, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Shakirzyanovich Khusnullin and the Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation Vitaly Gennadievich Savelyev and I drove along the BAM, to say that I am impressed – to say nothing, the concentration of forces and resources is enormous! You feel pride for the team, for the country, for the ambitious tasks that we face today. The work of the company received the highest marks from both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister. It is important for us to justify trust and fulfill everything that is planned for the year, accurately and on time, while with the highest financial discipline! Thousands of jobs have been created at BAM today, and I believe that this is a very significant support for the labor market in our country. We announced a massive recruitment in all regions, those who go to work at BAM will acquire new competencies that will be in great demand.

I would like to add that there has never been such support and such attention from the authorities to our projects. We are fully supported in all matters. In all directions, up to household. Let me give you a fresh example. We have a huge company, and far from everywhere there is the appropriate infrastructure for catering for workers, there are a lot of hard-to-reach places, on the same Eastern landfill, for example. Of course, we organize free hot meals, but the conflict is that the employee must pay personal income tax from this, as a result, many refuse such a service, putting their health at risk. In this case, it is difficult to say that food is a bonus, it is rather a vital necessity. We came up with an initiative and prepared amendments to federal legislation about free meals for railway workers at the expense of the employer. We were heard, the United Russia faction in the State Duma and the Federation Council promised to support this initiative in the autumn session. Another similar issue is related to the payment of tax on compensation for the costs of providing remote work (electricity, Internet, etc.). And here we also found support for United Russia. These are private, human questions – but I can assure you that the legislature hears us and we have a working dialogue. 

– You declared 2021 as the year of ecology for the company. Is it a fashion trend or an objective necessity?

– Russian Railways is a state corporation, not only because it is a natural monopoly or the owner of the infrastructure, but primarily because of its approach to any business. I adhere to the thesis: if we come somewhere, it should be better after us. The railway needs to be developed, it is not in vain that they say – where there is a railway, there is life. Take the same project of the Eastern test site. The economy of the country needs it, and at the same time, our duty is to build a balance between its development and adherence to environmental principles.
And we must adhere to this balance in all projects. Rail transport is considered one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport, its impact on the environment is minimal, especially when using electric traction. That is why it is chosen today in large urban agglomerations. Ecology is not a tribute to fashion, it is an investment in the future. Why do we declare this or that year a thematic year? – so that this is not the concern of only one department, so that the attention of all employees is focused on the problem. The field of activity is huge, promising and I am sure it will be permanent for us. We also once started with the Year of the Passenger, and now every year we do many good projects on a regular basis. A good start is half the battle!
And also to your comment about fashion trends. Remember, there was skepticism about quantum communication a while ago. A month ago, we successfully launched the first line between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the largest in Europe . So we do not deal with fashion trends, we implement real projects that are needed by the state and our citizens.

– Oleg Valentinovich, the elections in September are an important event in the life of the country. What would you say to the team on the eve of them? 

– You know that I am a member of the Council of the United Russia party, so my political sympathies are quite obvious. I see how the party works and what concrete steps it is taking. We interact with the faction in both chambers almost on a daily basis, we answer the requests of the deputies, and they also see our aspirations well and help us in every way. For all employees, I would like to say – I respect everyone’s right to personal choice and their opinion on political issues. The choice must be based on a personal understanding of the depth and quality of interaction with this or that political association, the usefulness and correctness of the party’s action program, based on specific actions that can be evaluated in practice. The main thing is that in the difficult conditions of the pandemic, economic stability and continuity of governance at all levels of government are preserved.

– We are meeting on the eve of Railroad Day. How will it go this year?

– This year in Moscow and a number of other regions where there are restrictions, we decided to repeat the online race, because the health of our employees is our main priority. I think that it is worth refraining from mass events here for the time being. Each participant will run his distance individually, and then fix the result using a mobile application. The collected funds will be used to help sick children through the Life Line charitable foundation and other similar funds with which the roads cooperate. I understand that people are tired of restrictions and want a holiday. Once again I want to emphasize that everything is in our hands. I urge every railroad worker to be vaccinated! Our doctors have deployed vaccination points throughout the country, vaccinations can be done practically at the workplace, all conditions for the team have been created. It depends on each of us

Nevertheless, no matter how difficult the situation is now, the holiday always remains a holiday, being a part of a huge railway family is a special state, it is honorable, it inspires. Railroad workers have always enjoyed respect in society due to the highest responsibility, sense of duty, readiness to solve any, even seemingly impossible task. I sincerely congratulate you on this holiday, dear colleagues! I sincerely wish you and your family health, prosperity and loyalty to the best traditions of Russian railways!

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