Russian Railways will sell stakes in 18 units this year and the next as the world’s top infrastructure firm presses ahead with the final stage of reforms to spur competition and fund modernization.

The company with the world’s longest rail network, which stretches from Finland to the Pacific, said it had approved a plan to partly or fully privatise the units as part of a broader program to sell 30 divisions.

Russian Railways president Vladimir Yakunin said in February that the company expects to raise 100 billion roubles ($3.43 billion) from the sale of stakes in 30 units by 2012.

This will herald years of reforms at the former state monopoly, which was spun off earlier this decade from the ministry of transport and turned into a stock holding company fully controlled by the state for now.

Russian Railways, which requires billions of dollars of investment to modernize ageing equipment, is also considering a share float at a later stage.

In the biggest deal approved so far, up to 35 percent of its TransContainer cargo unit could be sold via a share offering to Russian and foreign investors which “is planned before the end of 2010, depending on market dynamics”.

The board of directors has also approved the sale of its full stakes in 13 companies—including several wagon building factories and refrigerated food transporter Refservis—via open auction, it said.

In addition, four more units are down for private placements of 50 percent minus two shares.

Russian companies have flooded the international capital markets this year, seeking to bolster coffers emptied by the country’s first recession in a decade and the global credit crunch.

Separately, Russian Railways turned more upbeat on its own performance, with vice president Vadim Morozov saying this year’s investment programme may be increased by 24 billion roubles to 294.5 billion.

The forecast for freight growth—a key indicator for broader economic health—may be raised to 5 percent from 3.7 percent, he added. (Reuters)