Russian railways
The Moscow Times

RZD Plans Kursky Station's Transformation.

A jumble of red-faced men and women in tattered coats huddled around a vent blasting out hot air from the metro below. With bleary-eyed smiles, they fed a pack of faithful dogs scraps from a begged meal.

Inside the station, beneath a halo of violet light cast by one of the many fast food stalls lining Kursky Station, travelers ate fried chicken and potato chips.

The station was the starting point for Venichka, the alcoholic hero of Venedikt Yerofeyev's novella "Moskva-Petushki," who said that, for all his attempts to reach the Kremlin, he always ended up at Kursky Station.

Now, the site of Venichka's early-morning search for something to drink is set for a makeover. On Thursday, the Directorate of Railway Stations, a subsidiary of state-owned Russian Railways, or RZD, said it would launch "more than 30 pilot projects for the reconstruction and modernization of stations across Russia," including Kursky.

Mirax Group, which has designed the tender for the Kursky Station development, is also competing for it against other firms, including a number of European and American companies.

"The problems facing the Russian railway today are acute," Mirax chairman Maxim Privezentsev said in a news release last week.

"We are sure that the formation of a state-private partnership is the only way to reach a solution," he said. "Only the joint operation of business and state will make it possible to attain the best results in the development of the economy of Russia as a whole and its separate, socially significant branches."

Russian Railways vice president Mikhail Akulov set the bar high in April 2007, when the Directorate of Railway Stations was created, saying, "We need to change the very understanding of what a train station is."

The plan is to convert Moscow's main train stations from huge, dark hulks on prime real estate into glittering, European-style shopping centers.

"Historically, all of the train stations were not in the city center but in the suburbs. But ... now they are in the center and all this space is wasted," said Natalya Oreshina, the director of the retail department at Cushman & Wakefield Stiles & Riabokobylko.

"Look at all of the free space around the Leningradsky, Yaroslavsky and Kazansky stations," she said.

Kursky Station will be the first to get such a makeover, said Irina Pravdina, a spokeswoman for the directorate.

While the reconstruction is only in the tender stage, if Mirax wins, it will be responsible for the modernization of 32,000 square meters and the construction of a further 758,000 square meters, which will include office, retail and hotel space, Oreshina said.

Mirax declined to comment on its plans.

Analysts welcomed the project, saying similar efforts have been successful and that there is ample space to develop.

"Turning Kursky Station into a retail center is something I would support," said Gary Crompton, an associate director in the retail department at Jones Lang LaSalle.

"The Yevropeisky shopping center is a classic example. It derives a lot of its footfall because of the critical mass of the retail center, but also because it's a transport hub, with connections to both the metro and [Kievsky] Station," he said.

"The amount of traffic is driven a hell of a lot by people using the station and the metro," Crompton added.

"Airport terminals such as Sheremetyevo are slightly different, but the concept is the same, since you have such a captive audience," he said.

Cushman & Wakefield's Oreshina agreed. "I think that it is a good idea to upgrade the train stations all over the city," she said.

While the new, 35,000-square-meter Atrium shopping center, built by Ingeokom, already stands next to Kursky Station, Oreshina estimates that another 100,000 square meters of space could be built in the neighborhood without overbuilding.

"Right now, Atrium keeps some of the doors closed facing the station to keep the homeless out," she said.

"If you transform the station into something nicer, those people who are not actually traveling but who are using the area as a point of work, would leave, and it would absolutely change the atmosphere."

John Wendle