Third Time’s the Charm: Celebrating the Trans-Siberian Railway’s 3rd 100-year Anniversary

Third Time’s the Charm: Celebrating the Trans-Siberian Railway’s 3rd 100-year Anniversary

One of the world’s greatest train routes, Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway covers 5,771 miles of track on its way east from Moscow to Vladivostok. Begun in 1891, it took 25 years to complete. In 1916, as the last rivet was pounded into place on the Amur River Bridge in Khabarovsk, the line reached its full length, running exclusively through Russian territory. The 100-year anniversary of the Trans-Siberian Railway was in 2016.

Yet the centennial anniversary of its construction had been celebrated twice before: in 2001 and 2005. Why? It’s explained by the fact that the Trans-Siberian was built in stages.

This museum diorama shows boring through mountains to build train tunnels on the Circumbaikal Route Photo credit: Helen Holter

This diorama at the East-Siberian Railway Museum in Port Baikal shows how engineers bored through mountains to build train tunnels on the Circumbaikal Route 
Photo Credit: Helen Holter

Baikal BluesTo begin with, a major challenge facing the Russian railroad builders was what to do about Lake Baikal, sitting squarely across Siberia’s midsection. The government decided that it would be too costly and time-consuming to build a rail line around the lake. Officials gave the problem a temporary  fix, using ferries to transport the train cars and their passengers across the lake to meet up with the next leg of the Trans-Siberian. In the long run this proved problematic, because even the icebreaker ferries could not always manage the trip during the winter, and passengers and freight had to be hauled across on sledges, a long, chilly and terribly inefficient trip. But construction continued on other sections.

The old dock at Port Baikal, here used to ferry passengers across the lake Photo credit: Helen Holter, at Baikal Railway Museum

The old dock at Port Baikal, where passengers boarded the ferry to cross the lake 
Photo Credit: Helen Holter

First 100-year Anniversary: The Manchurian RailwayThe Baikal problem solved for the moment, engineers plotting the route initially wanted to build the far eastern leg along the Amur River, but, like a route around Baikal, it was deemed too expensive and difficult. So the line took a shortcut across Manchuria in northeast China to link Chita to Vladivostok via the Chinese city of Harbin. Called the Manchurian Railway, this part of the rail line was completed in 1901, and traffic from one side of Russia to the other commenced – hence a 100-year anniversary was celebrated in 2001.

Harbin's St. Sophia Cathedral, built after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway.<br>Photo Credit: Devin Connolly

Orthodox St. Sophia Cathedral, built in Harbin, China after the completion of the Trans-Manchurian line
Photo Credit: Devin Connolly

Security PrecautionsAll went fairly well for several years, but big problems emerged before long. The Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, and as the war progressed, two things became clear. The first was that the icebreaker ferries across Baikal, even when they had no trouble plowing through the ice, created a terrible bottleneck for war supplies. The second was that the Trans-Manchurian line was vulnerable to attack from Japan.

Second 100-year Anniversary: The Circumbaikal RailwayThe difficult Circumbaikal Railway around the southern tip of Lake Baikal was already in progress by 1904, and after the war began, its construction was accelerated. Nicholas II hired Italian and Armenian master stonemasons and ordered 10,000 conscripted laborers to the site, where they eventually dug 33 tunnels through the rock, and built more than 200 bridges. Opening in 1905, it is still one of the most complicated rail systems in the world. Its 100-year anniversary was celebrated in 2005.

Last LinkAfter Russia lost its war with Japan in 1905, the Trans-Siberian engineers went back to the drawing board and drew up plans for the Amur Railway, the line that had been pronounced too costly and challenging to build. Construction began in 1908 amid the same difficulties that had plagued the earlier work – a critical lack of laborers to brave the virgin taiga, rivers, swamps, wild animals, permafrost, and hordes of huge mosquitoes. The last link in the Amur Railway, the 8,500-foot Amur River Bridge at the city of Khabarovsk, was delayed when a German cruiser in the Indian Ocean sank the ship carrying the last two of its metal spans.

The train goes with the flow of the Khabarovsk River in Siberia. <br>Photo Credit: Martin Klimenta

The train goes with the flow of the Khabarovsk River toward the Amur Bridge, last link in the Trans-Siberian Railway
Photo Credit: Martin Klimenta

End of the LineFinally, on October 5, 1916, the bridge was officially opened and the Trans-Siberian ran from Moscow to Vladivostok – exclusively on Russian soil. And so, in October 2016, Russia celebrated the end of the long story of the huge and heroic undertaking that was the building of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway.

Some things may have changed, but today's travelers can still experience what it was like to ride the Trans-Siberian rails a century ago.<br>Photo Credit: Jamshid Fayzullaev

Some things may have changed, but today’s travelers can still ride the Trans-Siberian rails from one side of Russia to the other
Photo Credit: Jamshid Fayzullaev

Travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway with MIRMIR is celebrating 30 years of experience organizing travel along the Trans-Siberian Railway, with tours to take you beyond the massive country of Russia into the heart of Mongolia and China. Check out our extensive list of Trans-Siberian offerings

To celebrate the Trans-Siberian Railway’s historic centennial, we’ve added two new one-time rail journeys by private train to our roster of Trans-Siberian expeditions. Both branch off from the mainline and stop in little Siberian towns that travelers rarely see.

For a limited time, there are 3 ways to save big for those who want to travel solo.

Top Photo: A steam locomotive on one of the most beautiful stretches of the Circumbaikal Railway.

PUBLISHED: December 2, 2015

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