History of the Beijing to Moscow Train Route
A train trip from Beijing to Moscow is an adventure passing through two fascinating countries. With an intense and complicated history, the Trans-Manchurian railroad should rank higher on the to-travel list. Created to connect the rural east with the more populated and cosmopolitan west of Russia, it also lets travelers visit fascinating towns and cities along the way. Straight through, the trip takes six days.
As China grew in power and aggressiveness, the Russian government wanted to protect the East and incorporate the citizens economically at the end of the nineteenth century. A united and financially connected Russia was a better Russia in Alexander III’s opinion. A railroad between Moscow and Vladivostok was already being built when the Minister of Finance proposed a different route. Instead of swooping around the northern part of China, Sergei Witte suggested it travel directly through Manchuria to the Russian city of Chita. His proposal was accepted, and the international branch of the Russian railroad was begun in 1897.
Passing through Beijing and Port Arthur (Dalian) in China, this shortcut was dubbed the “Chinese-Eastern Railway.” The Russian people quickly supported this railroad and looked forward to the modernization and opportunities it would bring.
As great as a plan for a shortcut might have sounded, executing it was incredibly challenging. Not only is the Russian and Chinese terrain mountainous, filled with challenging bodies of water and, of course, freezing, the supply networks could not yet support such a project in the relative wilderness. The major problem was the massive Lake Baikal. Transporting railroad supplies by boat would prove faster and easier than weaving them around the biggest freshwater lake in the world (by volume).
A center of construction would need to be selected, then the building could branch out in both directions. It was the solution to logistical issues for supplies. The Chinese town of Harbin was chosen. The construction and support of the workers nearby stimulated the area. In fact, the population of the greater area grew two-fold.
In a relatively short amount of time considering the terrain and innovativeness it required, the railroad began operating in 1903. Harbin was a center not only of construction, but also for connections of different branches of this railroad. The branches went to Port Arthur, Vladivostok and Chita. It took almost two weeks to travel between Port Arthur and Moscow. A Third-Class ticket cost 64 roubles, while a First-class Ticket could reach 272 roubles. The eastern branch is no longer served by the Trans-Manchurian.
Not long after the railway was completed in 1903, it brought problems. The entire railway proved too slow and with not enough capacity to meet wartime demands. The southern line was sacrificed to Japan in the war. The Soviet Union renounced parts of China it had encroached upon, including Harbin. In 1929, the Chinese grew fed up with Russian occupation of the area. They took over the railroad, arresting and expelling Russian workers. When Russia fought back, this became known as the 1929 Sino-Soviet conflict.
When the Soviet government let go of the Chinese part of the railroad in the south in 1952, the polemic period came to a close. Conflict and tension had persisted for decades. With the release of this portion, it was clear that the two states with similar governments enjoyed better relations.
Today, the tracks spanning from Beijing to Moscow are known as the “Trans-Manchurian Railway.” It’s still a source of pride for Russians, as are the other long sets of tracks. The total travel time on the Trans-Manchurian has dropped from thirteen days to a mere six. The Trans-Siberian Railway is more well-known and popular. This shouldn’t really be the case. With the opportunity to begin a journey in Port Arthur (today the Chinese city of Dalian) or Beijing and see an interesting mix of Chinese and Russian cultures at stops along the way to the great metropolises of the east, it’s a fascinating journey. Chinese cities like Harbin and Shenyang lie along the route. The landscapes out the window or at stops include beautiful steppes.
The train named Vostok carries passengers along this path. Vostok means “East” in Russian. Although they’re not as fresh as the Sapsan or other high-speed and luxury trains on other routes in Russia, they did receive an update a few years ago. Showers still aren’t available, so stopping in an interesting town or city is still a good idea on long trips. In Beijing, they leave from the main station. Vostok trains leave from Yaroslavsky station in the nation’s capital, Moscow.