Construction and History

The idea for the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway came up at the end of the 19th century. Then, it took 6 to 10 weeks per stagecoach to get to Siberia and the Trans-Baikal areas, the regions west of Lake Baikal. You had to cross mosquito-crowded swamps, rivers and endless forests on bumpy paths. Not only a few times there were broken axles, serious accidents, and the disappearance of complete travel groups.
The Trans-Siberian Railway was pushed from Moscow to the east in several stages. People used already available routes and extended them towards Siberia. The route of the Transsib with the most traffic nowadays is not the original one in the western parts of Russia but the impression remains the same. Serious difficulties were encountered on the part west of the Baikal since the Amur Valley constituted a natural obstacle as much as the forced drive around Lake Baikal did.

Even though it was planned for 1900, the Transsib wasn’t finished until 1904, then still being a one-rail route to Vladivostok: a route of more than 1,900 km and the longest in the world. Hundreds of forced laborers lost their lives and with some justification it is said that the railroad ties have been laid in blood.
The duration of a journey from Moscow to the Far East was supposed to shrink immensely but due to bad materials, sharp bends, and steep slopes, trains at that time were seldom running faster than 20 km/h and thus, it took 4 days for the more than 1,000 km between Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk. Before the completion of the circumvention of Lake Baikal and the Amur part via Chinese territory, a ride on the Transsib combined with segments by ship or sleigh could take up to 36 days - only 4 days less than a trip by ship from Vladivostok to Odessa at the Black Sea.

In comparison to the conditions before, the construction of the Transsib was nevertheless a big advancement and it immensely increased the Tsar's influence. The military advantages were obvious because now, many soldiers and huge amounts of materiel could be transported to the Chinese border and to far Asia within a short amount of time as soon as some necessary improvements and reconstructions would have been done. The different gauges of the tracks ensured that the advantage of the Tsarist country would not turn into a disadvantage.
After the "Great Socialist October Revolution" in 1917, much attention was given to the settlement of Siberia and the exploitation of the vast resources. For this, a capable transportation vein would be needed, and thus, the route was expanded: it became double tracked, Lake Baikal received a new shore line to circumvent it, linkages with China and Mongolia were created, the Baikal Amur Magistral (BAM) was additionally created, and nowadays, 700 trains - each one can be up to 2 km long - are running daily with a maximum speed of 100 km/h on an electrified route, which crosses rivers on gigantic bridges and transports tens of thousands of tons of coal, ore, and Japanese commodities towards Europe.
Still, freight transportation provides the main load but the Transsib is nowadays also playing an important role for tourism in Siberia.


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30 Jan 2006

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