The Russian train experience – Trans-Siberian Railway (1891-1916)
Since the dawn of modern age, the transportation of manufactured goods and raw materials was paramount in its value – entire villages and towns depended on a variety of products to function properly, especially in large countries, the likes of the Tsarist Russia.
Russia was at the time of the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway a huge empire, spanning from the Urals to the Far East, and this distance is symbolically represented by Moscow in the West and Vladivostok in the Far East. To say that the Trans-Siberian Railway was built to satiate all Russian economic needs is no exaggeration, but there is also an element of national pride in all of it – Tsar Alexander III wanted to make this railway a symbol of the Russian people, made by Russian hands and materials. Tsar rejected numerous proposals from foreign companies, wanting to eliminate all outside influence in this grand project and decided to fund the project from the royal treasury. It was a huge step to take: expenditures were huge, the land on which the railway is supposed to be built was a mélange of inhospitable lakes, rivers, taigas and even desolate lands, the transportation of workers, tools and material was also tedious and the climate kept changing from bad to worse. To tackle this project, three expeditions were sent into Siberia in 1887. to explore the land and estimate the costs and effort. This project demanded enormous amounts of manpower and money, but in the end it was pulled off.
The construction began after the church service on May 31st, 1891. The construction lasted 12 years, with approximately 600 km of railway being laid every year. This undertaking amazed the world, exactly how the Tsar wanted, but there were appalling problems during this nation-wide mission: transportation of both manpower and materials, steamships were produced to traverse lakes and trekking of numerous barren and unpopulated lands required a lot of effort to surpass. Numerous mountains were blown up to construct railway tunnels and bridges were also built in surprising amounts. The Labor force consisted of common workers, soldiers and exiled prisoners that worked day and night to finish every meter of the railway.
The nascent Trans-Siberian railway still needed to mature, since the first capacity numbered only 13 trains. Despite this, the railway affected the global transportation of products and goods and this problem was addressed in the years after the Russo-Japanese war.
The entire Trans-Siberian railway stretches from the Yaroslavsky station in Moscow, all the way to Vladivostok, spanning the entire 5.776 miles of mixed land types and has three routes:
- Trans-Mongolian Line – (1940-1956) starts from Ulan-Ude at Lake Baikal’s East shore and ends with the Chinese capital Beijing, via Moscow.
- Trans-Manchurian Line – Stretches from Moscow to Beijing, being a direct line between these two countries.
- Trans-Siberian Line – this represents a line between Moscow and Vladivostok. This line leads straight to the Pacific, connecting a coven of important cities on its way.
This project did more than strengthening the trade and transportation network – it tightened the capital’s hold over the distant regions, provided political prestige and a huge amount of power points on the global scale. The Trans-Siberian Railway made the Russian presence in Manchuria evidently more powerful and relations with the Chinese government were now increasingly becoming more amiable. The solidifying of power in the Far East did not fare well with some countries like Japan, that considered this as direct infringement on the Asian territory and a serious threat to the people there. This eventually prompted the war with Japan, but it didn’t solve anything in reality when the Trans-Siberian Railway is concerned. During the war, the shortcomings became evident, despite the growth of commerce that the Trans-Siberian Railway stipulated. All traffic was weak because the railway hadn’t been able to handle both civilian and military transports and the decision to stop the civilian one due war was made. The steamboats on the lake Baikal were also under heavy pressure, because they could only transport about 20 loaded train cars. Of course, this hurt the economy considerably, but the unneeded war had to come first.
The most important things about the railway after the war are the reforms that a special committee was tasked with and they ranged from slight modifications to complete overhauls. The most important changes were the building of concrete and metal bridges instead of the wooden ones, heavier rails with metal plates were introduced, double tracks and the number of cars and locomotives had been increased. However, all of these modifications proved to be short-lived, since the WWI brought additional destruction in bridges, railway network, locomotives and cars. In 1925. the traffic was opened again and normalized, never to be stopped again.
The importance of this railway is evident – besides the economic value, tourism and industrial production owe a particular percentage of their rise to it, especially during the early stages. The Trans-Siberian Railway managed to unite the whole land both politically and economically, plus provided a critical impetus to the development of the domestic production. Overall, the Trans-Siberian Railway proved to be a national symbol that endured numerous destructions brought both by man and nature.
Peace out everyone.