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            january 27, 2020

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Moving freight by container train is faster than by sea and cheaper than by air


Dr. Yulia (Iuliia) Savushkina is a multiple-medal awardee, researcher, scientist and executive in the rail industry. She is a Senior Professor of Innovations and Technologies, Artificial Intelligence and Global Economy at the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation. She’s worked for the United Wagon Company, the Association of Test Centers of Railway Equipment and Technology and other leading organizations of the industry where she has conducted extensive research on the life cycle of rail cars in Europe, Russia and the U.S.A. Here, she talks about her career in the rail industry.

Interviewer: Dr. Savushkina, I would like to start this interview with a simple question that our audience would like to know. What spurred your interest in the rail industry? I understand initially you started your career in banking, why the sudden change?

Dr Savushkina: Well, as a little girl, I travelled a lot by train. My childhood is marked by memories of waiting for a chuffing train, being fascinated by St. Petersburg’s stunning train stations’ architecture in Empire style, Neo Classicism or Russian medieval style, riding patiently on a short-distance train or on the endless Trans-Siberian railway, counting rail tracks or losing track of them. I didn’t know then that Russia was the worlds’ largest railway empire with the longest railway lines or the most intensive traffic.

Interviewer: How did this childhood patient observation develop later?

Dr Savushkina: I believe my truly magical train experience started when I visited the Nizhny Novgorod children’s railway which served as a day care summer camp for children during their school break. It was the oldest narrow-gauge railway in Russia and it was built in 1939 under Stalin, as a Soviet youth development project. Schoolchildren were taught to operate real rolling stock along the 3.2 km (2 miles) railway line. Now, thinking of it, it feels like we immersed ourselves in a fairy tale kingdom amid the bustle of big city life.The educational purpose of this railway was to train the future rail engineers, and that was the first awakening of my professional curiosity. However, the biggest impact on my decision was done by my husband’s outstanding achievements in rail industry. He has over 200 patents, and he often would involve me in the invention process, mainly to do the calculations. So, after some time, I simply knew that I would be a railway scientist and that trains were my destiny.

Interviewer: How do your graduate and post-graduate studies in Economics relate to your childhood or teenage railway ambition?

Dr Savushkina: It is indisputable that Russia has been the center of a vast railroad network since the late 19th century. This means that the history of the rail industry has been closely interwoven with that of the country’s economic development. One cannot be an innovator in our industry if she is not quite knowledgeable about the railway in a microeconomic or a macroeconomic scale. This is the reason why I pursued a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering afterwards.

Interviewer: What is your assessment of the current state of freight railway transport in the Russian Federation? I usually read up on the media that it is a fast-progressing sector.

Dr Savushkina: Actually, you are right; freight transportation is a basic and very important sector of the Russian economy. It is also well-known that container transportation between Asia and Europe is carried out mainly by sea, which is historically the main driving force of world trade in manufactured goods. Yet, some of the longest railway lines in the world are in Russia and freight is transported from Europe to Chinese ports through Russian international and national railways. The main range of goods traded between China and the EU consists of car components, household appliances and electronics, furniture and clothing, food and pharmaceuticals. Russia is also a member of many international Eurasian rail associations, which aim at facilitating freight transportation across continents.

Interviewer: Can you talk about one of your favorite projects?

Dr Savushkina: Maybe you already know that the world’s longest rail freight service was launched in 2016 and travels 13.261 km from Yiwu in China all the way to Madrid for 18 days. This became the subject of my study. What was a challenging management task as the longest freight-bulk transport was transiting many countries, customs issues, traffic control, locomotive changes, technical inspection stops and most important of all, reloading containers twice on the train’s journey from a narrow track gauge -1,435 mm used in China and Europe to a broader track gauge -1,520 mm used in Russia and other Soviet Union countries. What I found out was that, despite the long stops, moving freight by rail proved to be two to three times faster than by sea, and almost five times cheaper than shipping by air. In addition to speed, railways offer the additional advantage of transporting any type of goods regardless of weather conditions.

Interviewer: What was your favorite aspect of the research?

Dr Savushkina: The complicated issue of the standardization of different rail gauge links currently in use across the continent always intrigued my interest. Such standardization is indispensable as it would reduce transport costs per cargo and increase the efficiency of large freight rail transport operations between large-scale senders and large-scale receivers.

Interviewer: Was there an outcome that was never expected in any project?

Dr Savushkina: I believe the delay in the admission of South Korea as a full member of the Organization for Cooperation of Railways. This happened only in 2018. North Korea had vetoed for years its admission. I didn’t want to get into politics but this was creating a lot of unpredictable chaos in managing all freight transport in an international level. Many negotiators, including myself, mediated in the process for years and finally it was made possible for South Korean ports to have access to the Eurasian international freight transportation.

Interviewer: What excites you about your work?

Dr Savushkina: Following my study, since 2017, my research focus has been shifting towards new technologies and materials in order to adapt and improve the design of the whole railcar. Some aspects that are worth researching are reducing the railcar weight, minimizing downtime during loading and unloading operations, providing enhanced freight and environmental safety. In another level, I am excited to work with some great scientists and researchers in the railway field. My team at the Financial University and my other research team United Wagon Company are doing an amazing job in ensuring the reliability, safety and sustainability of future railcars.

Interviewer: Thank you for the interview.

Dr Yulia Savushkina’s short biography
A railway researcher, scientist and an honorary member of national and international railroad associations, Dr. Savushkina has realized her dream of perfecting the freight-bulk railway transport in the Russian Federation and beyond. In the process she has become one of the few Russian female scientists to have given testimony to the innovative power of railway technological advancement.
Dr Yulia Savushkina is currently Senior Professor and Head Research Center at the Financial University under the government of the Russian Federation. Other positions she holds are that of Head of R&D for the United Wagon Company and Director of Rail Transport Research Coordination Center for the Association of Test Centers of Railway Equipment and Technology. She earned her Master’s in Economics at Bonch- Bruevich St. Petersburg State University of Telecommunication, in 2003, and a PhD in Economics from St. Petersburg State University of Engineering and Economics, in 2007. Her PhD and Master’s thesis concept prove was based on the VTB Bank and Baltiyskiy Bank as the Head of Business Development. She holds another Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Moscow State Technical University after N. Bauman.
After completing her PhD, Dr Savushkina accepted a position as Professor of graduate and post-graduate classes Innovations and Technologies, Artificial Intelligence and Global Economy at the Financial University under the government of the Russian Federation, in Moscow, Russia. She also delivered focused workshops at international conferences and scientific events and served as a research advisor for PhD students, a scientific judge in the dissertation committee and an opponent at PhD defense. During this time she also accepted the position of a Head of Research Center on Artificial Intelligence and Innovative Technologies where she led a team of 21 researchers. The team was in charge of investigating research proposals to identify the most promising ones for implementation and researched and assessed inventions by the Academy of Science and Technology.
From 2013 to 2018, Dr Savushkina accepted a position as Head of R&D in the United Wagon Company in Moscow, Russia, a market leader in innovative railcar building in the territory of “1520”gauge. She was in charge of a team of 125 scientists and engineers who designed strategic development programs and ensured their reliability, safety and sustainability. She represented the company in local and international scientific fairs, events where she negotiated with senior officials and potential customers. While at the United Wagon Company, Yulia pursued a Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Moscow State Technical University. Her research focus was on turning rail transportation of bulk freight into the most stable and sustainable segment of the transport system between the Eurasian Economic Union countries. Then she accepted another part-time position job as a Director of Rail Transport Research Coordinator for the Association of Test Centers of Railway Equipment and Technology in charge for developing innovation strategies of the association, designing annual scientific and R&D objectives, plans, budgets and inventions.
She is an Honorary Member of Council of the Federal Service for Supervision of Transport, Council of the Association of Testing Centers for Railway Engineering, Russian Union of Railways, and Russian Academy of Engineering.
Dr Savushkina has over 20 refereed railway related scientific publications. Her research focus have always been the best practices in the development and effective use of Hopper cars and Silo cars in the global and Russian market and the innovative future of rail industry in Europe and the U.S.A.
Due to her outstanding scientific and executive achievements, Dr Yulia Savushkina, has received many letters of gratitude by the Minister of Transport of the Russian Federation in 2018, by the Head of the Roszheldor, and by the President of JSC “Russian Railways”. She has also been a 3-time Skolkovo awardee as Innovator of the year in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and a 3-time awardee of the Railroad Union of the Russian Federation in 2016, 2017, and 2018. She has also received two medals for Strengthening International and Scientific Cooperation by the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation, in 2015 and 2016 and the Badge of Honorary Railway Worker in 2017.

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