Wednesday July 21, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Trans-Siberian Railroad
On this Day:
In 1904, after 13 years, the 4,607-mile Trans-Siberian railway was completed.
The Trans–Siberian Railway (TSR) is a network of railways connecting Western Russia to the Russian Far East. It is the longest railway line in the world, with a length of over 9,289 kilometres (5,772 miles), starting from the capital Moscow, the largest city in Europe, and ending at Vladivostok, on the Pacific Ocean.
Russian Empire government ministers, personally appointed by the Emperor Alexander III of Russia and by his son, the Tsarevich Nicholas (later Emperor Nicholas II from 1894), supervised the building of the railway between 1891 and 1916. Even before its completion, the line attracted travelers who wrote of their adventures. The Trans-Siberian Railway has directly connected Moscow with Vladivostok since 1916. Expansion of the railway system continues as of 2021, with connecting rails going into Asia, namely Mongolia, China and North Korea. There are also plans to connect Tokyo, the capital of Japan, to the railway.
The railway is often associated with the main transcontinental Russian line that connects hundreds of large and small cities of the European and Asian parts of Russia. At a Moscow–Vladivostok track length of 9,289 kilometres (5,772 miles), it spans a record eight time zones. Taking eight days to complete the journey, it is the third-longest single continuous service in the world, after the Moscow–Pyongyang 10,267 kilometres (6,380 mi) and the Kyiv–Vladivostok 11,085 kilometres (6,888 mi) services, both of which also follow the Trans-Siberian for much of their routes.
The main route of the Trans-Siberian Railway begins in Moscow at Yaroslavsky Vokzal, runs through Yaroslavl or Chelyabinsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, and Khabarovsk to Vladivostok via southern Siberia. A second primary route is the Trans-Manchurian, which coincides with the Trans-Siberian east of Chita as far as Tarskaya (a stop 12 km (7 mi) east of Karymskoye, in Chita Oblast), about 1,000 km (621 mi) east of Lake Baikal. From Tarskaya the Trans-Manchurian heads southeast, via Harbin and Mudanjiang in China’s Northeastern Provinces (from where a connection to Beijing is used by one of the Moscow–Beijing trains), joining with the main route in Ussuriysk just north of Vladivostok. This is the shortest and the oldest railway route to Vladivostok. While there are currently no traverse passenger services (enter China from one side and then exit China and return to Russia on the other side) on this branch, it is still used by several international passenger services between Russia and China.
The third primary route is the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which coincides with the Trans-Siberian as far as Ulan-Ude on Lake Baikal’s eastern shore. From Ulan-Ude the Trans-Mongolian heads south to Ulaan-Baatar before making its way southeast to Beijing. In 1991, a fourth route running further to the north was finally completed, after more than five decades of sporadic work. Known as the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM), this recent extension departs from the Trans-Siberian line at Taishet several hundred miles west of Lake Baikal and passes the lake at its northernmost extremity. It crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure (north of Khabarovsk), and reaches the Tatar Strait at Sovetskaya Gavan.
In the late 19th century, the development of Siberia was hampered by poor transport links within the region, as well as with the rest of the country. Aside from the Great Siberian Route, good roads suitable for wheeled transport were rare. For about five months of the year, rivers were the main means of transport. During the cold half of the year, cargo and passengers travelled by horse-drawn sledges over the winter roads, many of which were the same rivers, but ice-covered.
The first steamboat on the River Ob, Nikita Myasnikov’s Osnova, was launched in 1844. But early beginnings were difficult, and it was not until 1857 that steamboat shipping started developing on the Ob system in a serious way. Steamboats started operating on the Yenisei in 1863, and on the Lena and Amur in the 1870s. While the comparative flatness of Western Siberia was at least fairly well served by the gigantic Ob–Irtysh–Tobol–Chulym river system, the mighty rivers of Eastern Siberia—the Yenisei, the upper course of the Angara River (the Angara below Bratsk was not easily navigable because of the rapids), and the Lena—were mostly navigable only in the north-south direction. An attempt to partially remedy the situation by building the Ob-Yenisei Canal was not particularly successful. Only a railway could be a real solution to the region’s transport problems.
The first railway projects in Siberia emerged after the completion of the Saint Petersburg–Moscow Railway in 1851. One of the first was the Irkutsk–Chita project, proposed by the American entrepreneur Perry Collins and supported by Transport Minister Constantine Possiet with a view toward connecting Moscow to the Amur River, and consequently, to the Pacific Ocean. Siberia’s governor, Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, was anxious to advance the colonisation of the Russian Far East, but his plans could not materialise as long as the colonists had to import grain and other food from China and Korea. It was on Muravyov’s initiative that surveys for a railway in the Khabarovsk region were conducted.
Before 1880, the central government had virtually ignored these projects, because of the weakness of Siberian enterprises, a clumsy bureaucracy, and fear of financial risk. By 1880, there were a large number of rejected and upcoming applications for permission to construct railways to connect Siberia with the Pacific, but not Eastern Russia. This worried the government and made connecting Siberia with Central Russia a pressing concern. The design process lasted 10 years. Along with the route actually constructed, alternative projects were proposed:
Southern route: via Kazakhstan, Barnaul, Abakan and Mongolia.
Northern route: via Tyumen, Tobolsk, Tomsk, Yeniseysk and the modern Baikal Amur Mainline or even through Yakutsk.
The line was divided into seven sections, on all or most of which work proceeded simultaneously using the labour of 62,000 men. With financial support provided by leading European financier, Baron Henri Hottinguer of the Parisian Hottinguer family of bankers, the total cost estimated at £35 million was raised with the first section (Chelyabinsk to the River Ob) was finished at a cost £900,000 less than the estimate. Railwaymen fought against suggestions to save funds, for example, by installing ferryboats instead of bridges over the rivers until traffic increased. The designers insisted and secured the decision to construct an uninterrupted railway.
Unlike the rejected private projects that intended to connect the existing cities demanding transport, the Trans-Siberian did not have such a priority. Thus, to save money and avoid clashes with land owners, it was decided to lay the railway outside the existing cities. Tomsk was the largest city, and the most unfortunate, because the swampy banks of the Ob River near it were considered inappropriate for a bridge. The railway was laid 70 km (43 mi) to the south (instead crossing the Ob at Novonikolaevsk, later renamed Novosibirsk); just a dead-end branch line connected with Tomsk, depriving the city of the prospective transit railway traffic and trade.
Siberian agriculture began to send cheap grain westwards beginning around 1869. Agriculture in Central Russia was still under economic pressure after the end of serfdom, which was formally abolished in 1861. To defend the central territory and prevent possible social destabilisation, the Tsarist government introduced the Chelyabinsk tariff-break in 1896, a tariff barrier for grain passing through Chelyabinsk, and a similar barrier in Manchuria. This measure changed the nature of export: mills emerged to produce bread from grain in Altai Krai, Novosibirsk and Tomsk, and many farms switched to corn (maize) production.
The railway immediately filled to capacity with local traffic, mostly wheat. From 1896 until 1913 Siberia exported on average 501,932 tonnes (30,643,000 pood) of grain and flour annually. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, military traffic to the east disrupted the flow of civil freight.
The Trans-Siberian Railway brought with it millions of peasant-migrants from the Western regions of Russia and Ukraine. Between 1906 and 1914, the peak migration years, about 4 million peasants arrived in Siberia. Despite the low speed and low possible weights of trains, the railway fulfilled its promised role as a transit route between Europe and East Asia.
In the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the strategic importance and limitations of the Trans-Siberian Railway contributed to Russia’s defeat in the war. As the line was single track, transit was slower as trains had to wait in crossing sidings for opposing trains to cross. This limited the capacity of the line and increased transit times. A troop train or a train carrying injured personnel travelling from east to west would delay the arrival of troops or supplies and ammunition in a train travelling from west to east. The supply difficulties meant the Russian forces had limited troops and supplies while Japanese forces with shorter lines of communication were able to attack and advance.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the railway served as the vital line of communication for the Czechoslovak Legion and the allied armies that landed troops at Vladivostok during the Siberian Intervention of the Russian Civil War. These forces supported the White Russian government of Admiral Alexander Kolchak, based in Omsk, and White Russian soldiers fighting the Bolsheviks on the Ural front. The intervention was weakened, and ultimately defeated, by partisan fighters who blew up bridges and sections of track, particularly in the volatile region between Krasnoyarsk and Chita.
The Trans-Siberian Railway also played a very direct role during parts of Russia’s history, with the Czechoslovak Legion using heavily armed and armoured trains to control large amounts of the railway (and of Russia itself) during the Russian Civil War at the end of World War I. As one of the few organised fighting forces left in the aftermath of the imperial collapse, and before the Red Army took control, the Czechs and Slovaks were able to use their organisation and the resources of the railway to establish a temporary zone of control before eventually continuing onwards towards Vladivostok, from where they emigrated back to Czechoslovakia.
During World War II, the Trans-Siberian Railway played an important role in the supply of the powers fighting in Europe. In 1939, the USSR signed a nonaggression pact with Germany. While Germany’s merchant shipping was interdicted by the Western allies, the Trans-Siberian Railway (along with its Trans-Manchurian branch) served as the essential link between Germany and Japan. One commodity particularly essential for the German war effort was natural rubber, which Japan was able to source from South-East Asia (in particular, French Indochina).
As of March 1941, 300 tonnes of this material would, on average, traverse the Trans-Siberian Railway every day on its way to Germany. According to one analysis of the natural rubber supply chain, as of 22 March 1941, 5,800 tonnes of this essential material were transiting on the Soviet railway network between the borders of Manchukuo and Germany, 2,000 tonnes were transiting Manchukuo, 4,000 tonnes were sitting in Dairen, 3,800 tonnes were in Japan, and 5,700 tonnes, on the way from South-East Asia to Japan.
At this time, a number of Jews and anti-Nazis used the Trans-Siberian Railway to escape Europe, including the mathematician Kurt Gödel and Betty Ehrlich Löwenstein, mother of British actor, director and producer Heinz Bernard. Several thousand Jewish refugees were able to make this trip thanks to the Japanese visas issued by the Japanese consul, Chiune Sugihara, in Kaunas, Lithuania. Typically, they took the TSR to Vladivostok, then by ship to the USA. Until June 1941, pro-Nazi ethnic Germans from the Americas used the TSR to go to Germany.
The situation reversed after 22 June 1941. By invading the Soviet Union, Germany cut off its only reliable trade route to Japan. Instead, it had to use fast merchant ships and later large oceanic submarines to evade the Allied blockade. On the other hand, the USSR received Lend-Lease supplies from the US. Even after Japan went to war with the US, despite German complaints, Japan usually allowed Soviet ships to sail between the US and Vladivostok unmolested. As a result, the Pacific Route – via northern Pacific Ocean and the TSR – became the safest connection between the US and the USSR.
Accordingly, it accounted for as much freight as the North Atlantic–Arctic and Iranian routes combined, though cargoes were limited to raw materials and non-military goods. From 1941–42 the TSR also played an important role in relocating Soviet industries from European Russia to Siberia in the face of the German invasion.
The TSR transported Soviet troops west from the Far East to take part in the Soviet counter-offensive in December 1941, and later east from Germany to the Japanese front in preparation for the Soviet–Japanese War of August 1945. Although the Japanese estimated that an attack was not likely before Spring 1946, Stavka had planned for a mid-August 1945 offensive, and had concealed the buildup of a force of 90 divisions; many had crossed Siberia in their vehicles to avoid straining the rail link.
The Trans-Siberian line remains the most important transport link within Russia; around 30% of Russian exports travel on the line. While it attracts many foreign tourists, it gets most of its use from domestic passengers.
Today the Trans-Siberian Railway carries about 200,000 containers per year to Europe. Russian Railways intends to at least double the volume of container traffic on the Trans-Siberian and is developing a fleet of specialised cars and increasing terminal capacity at the ports by a factor of 3 to 4. By 2010, the volume of traffic between Russia and China could reach 60 million tons (54 million tonnes), most of which will go by the Trans-Siberian.
With perfect coordination of the participating countries’ railway authorities, a trainload of containers can be taken from Beijing to Hamburg, via the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian lines in as little as 15 days, but typical cargo transit times are usually significantly longer and typical cargo transit time from Japan to major destinations in European Russia was reported as around 25 days.
According to a 2009 report, the best travel times for cargo block trains from Russia’s Pacific ports to the western border (of Russia, or perhaps of Belarus) were around 12 days, with trains making around 900 km (559 mi) per day, at a maximum operating speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). However, in early 2009, Russian Railways announced an ambitious “Trans-Siberian in Seven Days” programme; according to this plan, $11 billion will be invested over the next five years to make it possible for goods traffic to cover the same 9,000 km (5,592 mi) distance in just seven days. The plan will involve increasing the cargo trains’ speed to 90 km/h (56 mph) in 2010–12, and, at least on some sections, to 100 km/h (62 mph) by 2015. At these speeds, goods trains will be able to cover 1,500 km (932 mi) per day (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
What is the top internet streaming service in Russia? Nyet flix
Second, a Song:
Today is a ‘two-fer”:
Jean-Francois Belanger of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (the “CBC”) looks at the “other side of Russia.” In this installment in the series he travels on the Trans Siberian Railway.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (French: Société Radio-Canada), branded as CBC/Radio-Canada, is a Canadian public broadcaster for both radio and television. It is a federal Crown corporation funded by the government. The English- and French-language service units of the corporation are commonly known as CBC and Radio-Canada, respectively.
Although some local stations in Canada predate the CBC’s founding, CBC is the oldest existing broadcasting network in Canada. The CBC was established on November 2, 1936. The CBC operates four terrestrial radio networks: The English-language CBC Radio One and CBC Music, and the French-language Ici Radio-Canada Première and Ici Musique. (International radio service Radio Canada International historically transmitted via shortwave radio, but since 2012 its content is only available as podcasts on its website.) The CBC also operates two terrestrial television networks, the English-language CBC Television and the French-language Ici Radio-Canada Télé, along with the satellite/cable networks CBC News Network, Ici RDI, Ici Explora, Documentary Channel (partial ownership), and Ici ARTV. The CBC operates services for the Canadian Arctic under the names CBC North and Radio-Canada Nord. The CBC also operates digital services including CBC.ca/Ici.Radio-Canada.ca, CBC Radio 3, CBC Music/ICI.mu and Ici.TOU.TV, and owns 20.2% of satellite radio broadcaster Sirius XM Canada, which carries several CBC-produced audio channels.
CBC/Radio-Canada offers programming in English, French and eight aboriginal languages on its domestic radio service, and in five languages on its web-based international radio service, Radio Canada International (RCI). However, budget cuts in the early 2010s have contributed to the corporation reducing its service via the airwaves, discontinuing RCI’s shortwave broadcasts as well as terrestrial television broadcasts in all communities served by network-owned rebroadcast transmitters, including communities not subject to Canada’s over-the-air digital television transition.
The CBC’s federal funding is supplemented by revenue from commercial advertising on its television broadcasts. The radio service employed commercials from its inception to 1974, but since its primary radio networks have been commercial-free. In 2013, CBC’s secondary radio networks, CBC Music and Ici Musique, introduced limited advertising of up to four minutes an hour, but this was discontinued in 2016.
Here is the CBC’s “Travelling the Trans Siberian Railway”. I hope you enjoy this!
The N. P. Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra is a Russian folk music orchestra. It was founded in 1919 by the balalaika player B. C. Troyanovski.
The orchestra was renamed after Nikolai Petrovich Osipov who led the orchestra from 1940. He was succeeded by his brother Dmitri Osipov from his death in 1945 to his brother’s death in 1954.
Succeeding Nikolai Kalinin in the 21st century as leaders of The Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra have been Vladimir Ponkin (2005-2009), and Vladimir Andropov (2009-present). Playing only upon traditional Russian instruments, the orchestra presents ethnic Russian music in a style more similar to classical music.
Here is the Balalaika Osipov Russian Folk Orchestra 2016 playing “Woollen Boots”. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“In Russia we only had two TV channels. Channel One was propaganda. Channel Two consisted of a KGB officer telling you: Turn back at once to Channel One.” – Yakov Smirnoff
Further to the Light Bulb Smile, Jerry and Tien Sandberg of Thailand wrote:
“The piece on Edison brightened my day. Many thanks”
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky