The Trans-Siberian Railway: A Brief History
Moving goods from one end of the largest country in the world to the other end is no easy feat. In fact, it wasn’t a common feat at all until 1891 when the immense project of Trans-Siberian railway started. The project would go on to connect Moscow and Vladivostok.
Luckily for the emperor of Russia who undertook the task, Alexander III, the railway was supported by the Russian people. He was trying to push Russia further in terms of progress and intra-country unity. From an economic standpoint, the railroad would be advantageous. Parts of Siberia were isolated and could not trade with the rest of the country, let alone beyond its borders. The Trans-Siberian would quickly become a source of pride for Russians.
The path to completion was troublesome from the time the project was first proposed. It took decades to even begin construction. Several delays in funding were partially to blame. Construction began in February of 1891 in Chelyabinsk and Vladivostok.
Overcoming the Terrain
Setbacks for the railroad were relentless in Russia’s climate. Siberia is known for its sub-freezing temperatures. The topography is not amenable to construction either, due to large rivers, rough terrain and concentrated mountains. As they progressed, construction workers had to solve problems in the moment. Building bridges to breach canyons and modifying the terrain as needed kept cold days interesting and full of challenges.
Recruiting and maintaining the labor supply itself was a challenge. The Trans-Siberian required thousands of workers. Allocating and distributing the corresponding compensation was an enormous task back in those days. Prison labor was even used to build parts of the railway.
After twelve years, 7,500 kilometers of tracks had been installed from Moscow to Vladivostok. The Trans-Siberian was complete! Europe was finally connected to the Pacific using the Moscow to Vladivostok train.
Improvement after Completion
The economic stimulation desired by Alexander III and the Russian people followed the completion of the railroad. Rural towns began becoming incorporated into the greater Russian economy through increased trade. However, the first major post-completion test came swiftly and with great force: The Russo-Japanese War, which took place between 1904 and 1905. The logistical capacities of the Trans-Siberian proved wanting in a time of war. Greater carrying capacities and speed were needed for both passenger and cargo movement. It was the first time an Asian country defeated a European country in modern history. The revolution of 1905 followed in Russia.
The Trans-Siberian in the Twenty-First Century
In 2001, Russia celebrated the centennial anniversary of the Trans-Siberian railway. How else would a railroad celebrate its history, continued relevance and economic influence other than sending a demonstrative shipment a great length? Goods were shipped from Japan to Vladivostok, then to Europe through Germany. Not only was the carriage completed well, but actually the elapsed time beat out the time it would have taken a cargo ship. Impressed with this demonstration, South Korea and other countries began using the Trains-Siberian Railway more.
Of course, any enterprising transportation line faces its challenges in trying to improve, and that’s especially the case with the enormous Trans-Siberian. Increasing efficiency remains a priority for the railway. Also, some Eastern shipping companies blocked the Trans-Siberian’s carriage between the two continents. Only diplomacy and multinational negotiating can tackle this one, while previous engineering successes have no bearing in this situation.
Meanwhile, travelers on the Trans-Siberian have a different issue. Crossing the international borders as a railway passenger takes some planning and coordinating. But with a proactive approach, it can be done. (For advice, read our Travel Diary – An Insider’s Guide to the Trans-Siberian.)
The Trans-Siberian: A Legacy that Continue into the Future
Alexander III foresaw the benefits of connecting Siberia with Western Russia. The massive construction and engineering undertaking that followed quickly proved worthwhile. Today, it not only serves the same economic purposes and meets the needs of Russian passengers’ travel needs, it also attracts tourism because of its history, length and the landscapes and communities it passes through. Hopefully, long before the Trans-Siberian approaches its 150th birthday, it will regain its status as one of the world’s major logistical titans. Russia certainly appreciates the Trans-Siberian. Russians take pride in the railway and hope that it will improve the future in the same way it invigorated Russian economic development and travel in the past.