Russia has announced the construction of a new network of high-speed trains to criss-cross the country, in order to allay concerns of football fans about the long distances between the World Cup’s host cities.
When it was announced that Russia would host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, critics immediately voiced their concerns over the long distance travel that would be required, saying it would be expensive and tiring for supporters.
However, Russia’s government has said that all fans that can produce a ticket for games will be allowed to travel on the new high-speed trains free of charge.
Currently, the traveling time by rail between Moscow and Yekaterinburg, the furthest-flung host city which sits at the foot of the Urals, is around 26 hours. The new trains are expected to reduce that time significantly, by as much as 18 hours.
Alexander Misharin, the governor of Yekaterinburg, explained “the new high-speed trains should be able to reduce the traveling time to between 7 and 8 hours instead”.
Yekaterinburg has not yet been officially confirmed as a host city. Right now it is just one of 13 proposed venues, but if confirmed, then fans and players alike could be forced to travel over 3,000km between the eastern city and the western enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast, another proposed venue.
However, Misharin claims it is not too big a deal. “On the contrary”, he explained, “we are offering fans something unique and very, very special. They will be able to ride in comfortable overnight trains and take in some breathtaking countryside as they travel. And best of all, it will be completely free of charge”.
Insiders say that Yekaterinburg is almost certain to be confirmed as a host city, as the original plan called for the whole country to take part in the spectacle. With Yekaterinburg being the only proposed site that isn’t located in European Russia, it’s practically a given it will be chosen, according to Misharin.
“If Yekaterinburg is not chosen, it would mean excluding eastern Russia, and that is not going to happen” he explained.
There is another reason why he is so confident as well. Tourism chiefs are hoping that the tournament will help put the Urals region on the map, so to speak, as Russia seeks to expand its growing tourism industry into more, rarely traveled areas of the country.