Russia plans reserve fleet of railway wagons for 'state tasks'

A passenger train moves along an illuminated bridge across the Yenisei River in Krasnoyarsk

(Reuters) - Russia plans to establish a reserve fleet of railway wagons for "state tasks", according to a letter seen by Reuters, as state needs expand because of its military operation in Ukraine.

Valentina Matviyenko, chair of the upper house of parliament and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said this week that, as Russia now had a "mobilisation economy", private rail firms should support state interests and allow Russian Railways to use their wagons.

The letter, dated March 22, says the reserve railcars would enable "transportation of socially significant cargoes" and asks Russian Railways, the federal anti-monopoly service, the ministry of transport and the main industry association to respond by April 10. None of these responded to a Reuters request for comment.

State monopoly Russian Railways controls tracks and infrastructure, but the more than 1.1 million rail wagons in Russia are majority-owned by private firms including Freight One, Globaltrans, Transcontainer and the Russian Railways subsidiary, Federal Freight.

Matviyenko said she planned to ask the Security Council - which is chaired by Putin and advises him on policy including the use of Russian military forces abroad - to look into private rail operators.

The head of Russian Railways, Oleg Belozerov, told Security Council members on Tuesday that the state operator should be given about 10% of the existing fleet to use.

Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a special operation to degrade its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Nick Macfie)