The history of railways, XIX century
1891 - construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway begins
The construction of the Trans-Siberian railway began in 1891 after Tsar Alexander III signed a rescript:
"I order the commencement of building a continuous railway line across Siberia with the aim of connecting the abundant gifts of nature in the Siberian region with the network of internal rail links."
As a result, Russia got what Pyotr Stolypin succinctly expressed: "The East has woken up, gentlemen!"
A remarkable photograph went round the world in 1891: far from his native St. Petersburg, the heir to the Russian imperial throne Nikolai is pushing a wheelbarrow, with his entourage looking on quietly and even happily. The date was 19 May 1891 and the place was Vladivostok. The photo marked the symbolic beginning of the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
Before the railway line was laid across Siberia, transport along the Moscow-Siberian part was complemented, and on some parts replaced by water. Along the section between Tomsk and Irkutsk, up to 4 million poods of cargo were carried by 16,000 coachmen using up to 80,000 horses.
The route was in poor condition, however. Anton Chekhov travelled across Siberia on his journey to Sakhalin in 1891 and wrote:
"In the course of the year, the road remains impassible: in Spring there is mud, in Summer, bumps, holes and repairs, and in Winter corrugations."
The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which took ten years under the most difficult geological and climatic conditions, was a considerable feat by the Russian people. During this period, more than 7,000 kilometres of track were built. The world had never seen such construction rates.
A whole galaxy of talented Russian engineers of the time displayed their quality on the surveying expeditions and when laying tracks and building bridges. During the construction of the Trans-Siberian, explosives were used on the initiative of the future great scientist, Professor A. V. Liverovsky, to punch through the solid rock. And to this day, the bridges across the rivers along the Trans-Siberian route remain unique: the Ob, Yenisei and the Amur. Indeed, the bridge across the Amur is the longest on the Eurasian continent. The bridges were built according to designs by the talented Russian engineers N.A. Belelyubsky, L.D. Proskuryakov and G.P. Perederie.
The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway led to the very rapid development of the richest regions in Siberia and the Far East. Russia began to turn into a single economic unit. New cities sprang up along the Siberian railway and people spread out for tens or hundreds of miles on either side of the track and colonised the land. During the line's first decades, the population of Siberia almost doubled and Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Khabarovsk and Vladivostok became major industrial centres.
The Trans-Siberian Railway led to drastic changes in established notions of Russia's formidable eastern expanses. An indication of the changes of society's attitudes towards the possibilities and prospects of Siberia's development under the influence of the railway line was the abolition of Siberian exile in 1899. The change in public opinion was reflected in one of the essays at the time:
"When the steam locomotive's whistle dispersed the bleak, wild legend of the snow-covered Siberian plains, where the silence is broken only by the howling of wolves and the ringing reverberations from the chain gangs, a wonderful country revealed itself to the eyes of mankind, a country which in the near future promises to reach out to the granary of the Old World."
Today, the Trans-Siberian is the longest railway line in the world. It is fully electrified line along its whole length of 9,288.2 km.