T2 How Transsib was built

How Transsib was built

Historical background (1857 - 1891).

In 1857 N.N. Murav'yov-Amurskiy was a general-governor of the Eastern Siberia. He set up a question of railway construction on the Siberian outlets of Russia. This job was given to the military engineer D. Romanov. He had to make some research and create a project of building a railway that would lie from the Amur River to the De-Kastri Bay. During the second half of the XIX century Russian specialists developed several new projects of railways' building in Siberia. However, all of them found no support from the side of the Russian government. Only in the middle 80's Russian government started working on this question. There were many suggestions from foreign entrepreneurs. But Russian government was afraid of strengthening foreign influence on Siberia and the Far East of Russia by letting foreign industrial companies and capitalists build railway there. Therefore, it decided to use its own money. 

The first real impulse to start construction works on the new railway was given by the Emperor of the Russian Empire Alexander III. In 1886 he wrote a resolution on the report of general-governor from Irkutsk. In this resolution he wrote: "I have read so many reports from the Siberian governors that now I can admit with sadness that government did almost nothing to satisfy the needs of this rich, but neglected region. It is time to correct this mistake". Shortly after that he asked A.N. Korf about his opinion on importance of railway for the Far Eastern regions. He also ordered to "present ideas" on preparing for railway construction.

In 1887 three expeditions were send to find paths for Zabaikalskaya, Middle-Siberian, and South-Ussuriyskaya railways. This expeditions were led by engineers N.P. Mezheninov, O.P. Vyazemskiy, A.I. Ursati. Almost all of them completed their mission till 90's. In 1891, Siberian railway construction Committee was formed. It declared that "Siberian railway construction is a great national event; it should be built by Russian people with Russian materials". In February 1891, minister's Committee found it possible to start Great Siberian Way construction from two directions: Vladivostok and Chelyabinsk.

Railway foundation: Vladivostok, 1891.

Alexander the Third praised the beginning of construction works on the Ussiriyski distance of the Siberian railway and thought it was one of the most important events in the history of Russian Empire. That is what he wrote in his rescript to the heir of the Russian throne: "I order to start building the continuous railway across all the Siberia; I want it to connect Siberian regions rich in nature resources with the rest of the Russian railway infrastructure. I want you to declare this as my will after my return from the countries of East. I also want you to start building in Vladivostok the Ussuriysk distance of Great Siberian Rail Way using the funds from Russian treasury". Nikolai Alexandrovich followed the will of his parent. On May 19 (May 31 - new style) 1891, at 10:00 o'clock in the morning a public prayer was held in the special pavilion not far from the city was held. Cesarevitch also participated in ceremony of laying the first stone and a silver plate in the railway station construction. That's how the great and complicated railway building began. 

Great construction works (1891-1903).

Trans-Siberian railway construction was held in difficult climate conditions. Most of the road was build through low populated or not populated areas with tense forests. The road goes across many strong Siberian rivers, meets many lakes, swampy and permafrost areas on its way (from Kuenga to Bochkarevo, now Belogorsk). The most difficult for builders was the section around the Baikal (Baikal station - Mysovaya station). Here they had to blast rocks, to make tunnels, to build additional structures on the rivers that go into Baikal.

Trans-Siberian railway building required big capital expenditures. According to the Railway Construction Committee calculations estimated costs of road building were 350 millions of gold rubles. Therefore, to lower the costs and to build the road faster Committee established special simplified technical conditions base for the Ussuriysk and Western Siberia sections of the road. For example, according to the Committee's recommendation the width of the earth bed in such places as mounds and excavations was decreased, ballast layer was made thinner, lighter rails were used, the number of sleepers for 1 km was decreased, etc. Major construction works were planed only for the big bridges. Smaller bridges were built of wood. 50-verst distance between stations was allowed.

The sharpest problem was the problem of attracting labor for the building of Trans-Siberian railway. The need for qualified workers was satisfied by hiring workers in the center and by transporting them to Siberia. According to V.F. Borzunov in different years in construction of different sections of the railway were involved the following number of people. Western Siberian - from 3600 to 15000 workers form European Russia, Zabaylalskaya section - from 2500 to 4500, Middle Siberian - from 3000 to 11000. Most of the builders were convicts and soldiers. Peasants from Siberia, people from Siberian towns and also peasants and low middle class people from European part of Russia were involved in construction of Trans-Siberian railway as well. At the beginning of construction in 1891 total number of workers on Trans-Siberian railway was 9600. In 1895 - 1896 it went up to 84000 - 89000 workers. On the final stage of construction in 1904, there were only 5300 workers. In the Amurskaya section construction works in 1910 was involved about 20000 workers.

In terms of construction speed (12 years), length (7500 km), volume of work completed, and difficult building conditions Trans-Siberian railway construction was the largest in the world. All the materials for construction except for lumber had to be provided for the railway construction. That was very difficult and expensive to do since there were almost no roads. For example for the construction of the bridge across the Irtysh river and station in Omsk raw materials were brought from versts away. Builders had to transport stone 740 versts by railway from Chelyabinsk and 580 verst from the banks of the Ob River and also 900 versts by Irtysh River from the quarry. Metal constructions for the bridge across Amur river (left photo) were made in Warsaw. First, they were transported by the railway to Odessa, then to the Vladivostok by sea. Only after that they were transported to Khabarovsk by the railway. In autumn 1914, German cruiser destroyed the Belgian transport in the Indian Ocean. This transport was caring metal parts for the last two bridge fragments. As the result the bridge construction works continued for two more years. 

Almost all the works were fulfilled by hands. Instruments were very simple and primitive: an axe, a saw, a shovel, a miner's hack, and a wheelbarrow. However about 600 km of railway were built daily. This was a new record of that time. The results of construction works for the year 1903 are provided below. Earth-moving works completed - 100 million cubic meters; sleepers made and laid - more than 12 million items; rails laid - more than 1 million tons; bridges and tunnels built - up to 100 km. During the construction of Circum-Baikal line (230 km) about 50 protection galleries against landslides were built, 39 tunnels were made, 14 km of support walls were build (most of them with concrete and hydraulic mixture). The cost of all the tunnels with support walls equaled more than 10 million rubles. Total construction costs were more than one milliard of gold rubles

Many Russian talented and experienced in railway building engineers participated in the Trans-Siberian railway building.

Southern section of the Ussuriysk line was started in 1891 and finished in 1894. Three years later its northern section was completed. On October 26, 1897 temporary traffic was opened on its section from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk. Its length was 772 km. O.P. Vyazemskiy, Russian engineer, was a construction manager of the Ussuriysk line. One of the line stations were named after him (Vyazemskaya station). In 1896, West Siberian railway's section Chelyabinsk - Novosibirsk was put into operation. Its length was 1422 km. A writer and an engineer N.G.Garin-Michalovskii was the manager of expedition and construction of the section near the Ob River and of the bridge over the Ob River.

Middle Siberian railway that goes from Ob River to Irkutsk was completed in 1899. Its length is 1839 km. The manager of this railway's construction was N.P. Mezheninov, an engineer. Railway bridge across Ob river was planned by well-known Russian engineer and bridge builder N.A. Belelubskii. Later on he became a scientist in the sphere of construction mechanics and bridge building.

A big role in organizing construction works on the Circum-Baikal line was played by A.V. Liverovskiy. He took part in the construction of the eastern section of the Amur line and also in the construction of the unique bridge across Amur River. On the 12th of September 1904 the first experimental train went on this section of the railway. In 1905 regular traffic was opened. A well-known talented engineer and scientist L. D. Proskuryakov planned a bridge across Enisey river near Krasnoyarsk. Amur River bridge was also his project. In spring 1901 Zabaikalskaya section of Trans-Siberian railway was completed. 2 thousand kilometers of railway had to be built from Sretensk to Khabarovsk in order to join the European part of Russia with the pacific coast. Because of certain political reasons and difficult climate conditions Czar's government decided not to build the Amur section of the railway. It was planned to build it from Transbaikalia to Vladivostok through Mandjuria. That's how Eastern Chinese line was built. It was put into operations in 1903. It goes through Mandjuria to Harbin and to Pogranichnaya station (now Grodekovo station). In 1903 Grodekovo - Ussuriysk section was built and put into operations, too. Now Vladivostok was connected with the center of Russia. With putting Eastern Chinese line into operation Far East of Russia was joined with the rest of the country by the Great Trans-Siberian railway. Europe got an access to the Pacific Ocean.

After the Russian-Japanese war: new way again (1905-1916).

During the first period of exploitation the Trans-Siberian railway proved its efficiency and importance to the economy's development, encouraged rapid growth of goods turnover. But its traffic capacity happened to be insufficient. Traffic became especially tense during the days of the Russian-Japanese war, when the need to transport troops and freights for them appeared. Railway was capable to handle only 13 trains a day. Therefore, government ordered to decrease the number of civilian Railway services. Transferring troops was also difficult because a section of Circum-Baikal line was not completed. So in order to connect the west and east coasts of the Baikal lake ferry was used. It was an ice-breaker-ferry called "Baikal", a ship of 3470 tons displacement. It was able to carry 25 loaded cars at one time. During winter period a railway from Baikal station to Tanhoy station was laid on ice. There were days when people were able to transport 220 cars across the lake.

After Russian-Japanese war Russian government took some actions to increase the capacity of the Trans-Siberian railway. In order to look through all questions of this problem a special Committee was created. It declared that the speed of the trains had to be increased. The following actions were planned to do that: increasing the number of sleepers per 1 km, widening the earth bed, substituting light rails with heavier rails, laying rails on metal plates instead of wood, building concrete and metal bridges instead of bridges from wood, increasing a number of cars and locomotives on the line.

On July 3 1907, the Board of Ministers approved the suggestions of the Rauilway Ministry concerning building the second track on the Siberian railway and reconstructing the road in some places. Under the direct leadership of A.V. Liverovskiy the work on the Achinsk - Irkutsk and Chelyabinsk - Irkutsk sections of the railway began. The goal was to lower the gradient of the railway in some rocky regions and to build the second track. In 1909, the Siberian road on the distance of 3274 km became a two-way railway. In 1913 a second track was built to Baikal and from Baikal to Karymskaya station. During the process of increasing the railway's capacity many new brunches and new sections were built.

The results of the Russian-Japanese war showed that having the railway on the alien territory causes some problems and does not comply with the interests of the country. Therefore Czar's government was forced to build a new railway section on the territory of Russia to Vladivostok. On May 31 1908 Government's Committee decided to build an Amurskaya section of the Trans-Siberian railway. In 1908 construction works on the Kuenga - Khabarovsk distance (1998 km long) began. It was put into operation in 1915. At the same time construction works on the Minusinsk-Achinsk section began (to Abakan). 

Conclusion (1916-1925).

Direct railway connection between Chelyabinsk and the pacific coast was established only in October 1916, after putting into operation Amurskaya line and the bridge across the Amur River. In terms of administration Trans-Siberian railway was divided into four sections: Sibirskaya, Zabaykalskaya, Amurskaya, and Ussuriyskaya. Passenger service grew rapidly. In 1897 609 thousand of passengers were transported, in 1900 - 1.25 million passengers, in 1905 - 1.85 million, in 1912 - 3.2 million.

During the years of the First World War technical conditions of the Trans-Siberian railway became worse. However, during the civil war the road suffered a lot more. Many cars and locomotives were destroyed, many bridges were burnt (Irtysh and Amur bridges), and passenger stations suffered a lot. In many places, water supply systems were destroyed. But after the civil war road construction works were immediately organized. During the winter of 1924 - 1925, the damaged fragments of the Amur bridge were rebuilt. Beginning from March 1925 traffic on the railway was opened again, and was never interrupted since then.

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A.I. Ursati

A.N. Korf 

A.V. Liverovskiy. 

Alexander III. 

D. Romanov. 

L. D. Proskuryakov 

N.A. Belelubskii. 


N.N. Murav'yov-Amurskiy 

N.P. Mezheninov, 

O.P. Vyazemskiy, 

 V.F. Borzunov