History of Russian rail lines
The vast territory of Siberia and the Far East, which are of course very remote from Russia's centre, were always in need of reliable roads. For a long time, the main transport in Siberia remained cartage. The river route along the Amur could not meet the region's needs, partly because the harsh climate rendered it unnavigable for up to seven months a year, and partly because of the shallow water of the Shilka and Amur rivers.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the Siberian route was built. It ran from Tyumen via Ishim, Tomsk, Mariinsk, Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk and Nizhneudinsk. From there, one road went to Kyakhta and then on to China, another went to Lake Baikal. The roads were always in poor condition and on wet days became impassable. Goods sent from Moscow to Vladivostok took about 11 months by cartage and river transport.
The Trans-Baikal Railway was built as one of the sections on the Great Siberian Route, the historical name of the Trans-Siberian route. In 1857 N.N. Muravyov-Amur, the Governor-General of Eastern Siberia, applied for the construction of a railway in Siberia. During the 1850s-70s, Russian engineers carried out surveys and drew up several track construction projects, but only in the mid-1880s did the Russian government began to discuss seriously the idea of building a railway in Siberia and the Far East.
On 6 June 1887 the government took the decision to construct the Trans-Siberian Railway. To avoid increasing foreign influence, it was decided that the line would be funded by the state, without attracting any foreign capital.
In 1887 expeditions led by the engineers O. P. Vyazemsky, N. N. Mezheninov and A. I. Ursati began carrying out surveys of the Central Siberian route, the Trans-Baikal and the South Ussuri railways. In February 1891, a decree was issued on the construction of a "continuous railway line across all of Siberia." The route was divided into 7 railway regions: West Siberian, Central Siberian, Circum-Baikal, Transbaikal, Amur, North Ussuri and South Ussuri.
At a special meeting of the Council of Ministers, the construction was divided into three stages:
- Vladivostok-Grafskaya, Chelyabinsk-Ob, Ob-Irkutsk;
- Grafskaya-Khabarovsk, Mysovaya-Sretensk;
- Irkutsk-Mysovaya, Sretensky-Khabarovsk.
Construction of the Great Siberian Route began in Vladivostok on 19 May 1891.
On 10 December 1892 the Siberian Railway Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the then Crown Prince Nicholas. The Committee's tasks included choosing the direction of the railway line, granting loan holidays for its construction and supervising the construction works and so on.
From 1892 survey and building work began on all roads except the Amur. Construction progressed rapidly and the first train arrived in Irkutsk as early as summer 1898. In 1900 the line from Irkutsk to Baikal officially began operations.
During 1893-1894, surveys were conducted on the stretch from Sretensk to Pokrovskaya station on the Amur and further to Khabarovsk. However, the builders changed the plans regarding the Trans-Siberian, and in 1897 construction of Chinese Eastern Railways (CER) began, which was commissioned in 1903. Even earlier, in 1897, the Ussuri line was commissioned - the easternmost part of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
In 1905 Blagoveshchenskaya City Council requested the Council of Ministers to approve the construction of the Amur section of the Trans-Siberian route.
Siberian merchants and industrialists advocated in particular the construction of the last segment of the Trans-Siberian. With the support of P.A. Stolypin, the Council of Ministers took the decision to build the line. On 3 April 1908, a decree was issued "On the Start of Construction of the Amur Railway by Order of the Treasury and at its Expense". The difficult terrain made the necessary excavation work very difficult, and swamps, cliffs and the impassable taiga had to be negotiated. The line was divided into three sections: western, central and eastern. In 1907-1913, work was carried out on the western segment from Quang to Uryum. First of all, the Shilka and Amur rivers were connected by a main line for the transportation of both materials and manpower.
Paid workers arrived from the central provinces to work on the construction, and by 1913, 54,000 workers laboured on the Amur railway line. On the swampiest part of the central track, a temporary line was first constructed to bring in the sub-soil. Often, entire sections of finished line just sank into the swamps. In 1914 the central section was ready for trains.
The construction of the eastern section from Malinovka to Khabarovsk in 1912 was led the talented engineer A.V. Liverkovsky. For the first time in railway construction, the engineering work was mechanised: ten excavators were used, as well as cement-mixing machines and stone crushers. Repair shops and lumber mills were built, so sleepers and timber did not have to be shipped in from other regions. The line was built as a double-track, but was supposed to be used in only one direction, while the second was for repairs. In 1914, the lines built from west to east came together at Obluchaya station and facilitated through traffic on the Amur line. Wagons were transported across the Amur by ferry in summer and were horse-drawn across the ice in winter. Construction of a bridge across the Amur began in 1913. The first surveys had already started in 1895, but building the bridge was postponed for a long time and only in 1906 was survey work resumed under the direction of V. O. Vyazemsky, the son of O. P. Vzazemsky, who had built the Ussuri railway. The plan for the Amur bridge was drawn up by the well-known engineer L.D. Proskuryakov, while G.P. Peredery designed the overhead arched crossing, which was made of reinforced concrete.
The railway engineer B.I. Khlebnikov supervised the work. Metal girders for the bridge were built by the stock company K. Rudzsky & Co in Warsaw. The unassembled spans were delivered first to Odessa, and then shipped by sea to Vladivostok, where they were reloaded onto railway platforms and transported to Khabarovsk. The 18 girders were then assembled at the bridge's construction site. Granite for the supports came from the local Korfovsky and Zabelevsky quarries, as well as from a basalt quarry on the Tunguska river. In autumn 1914, the steamship with the girders on board was blown up in the Indian Ocean and the two missing girders had to be re-ordered and delivered to Khabarovsk. The pace of work fell off, and as a result the bridge was commissioned a year later than originally planned.
In 1916 the Amur railway bridge was dedicated at an official ceremony and declared opened for regular services. It was named Alekseevsky, in honor of the heir to the throne. The bridge was a solid construction of steel and concrete measuring nearly 2,600 metres in length and 64 metres in height.
The bridge built over the river Amur soon became known as "the Amur miracle". It was the longest bridge in the eastern hemisphere until the Forth Bridge was built across the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh in Scotland.
The cost of the Amur line, which was completed on the eve of the First World War, exceeded a quarter of a billion roubles. The eastern section alone cost the treasury 73 million roubles. The commissioning of the Amur line was the final stage in the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The famous traveller and geographer F. Nansen called the Trans-Siberian Railway a "miracle of technology". Its construction contributed to the rapid development of the once backward regions of Siberia and the Far East.
Many of the workers were drawn from Russia's central governorates, but remained in the region, which gave rise to working dynasties. From 1912, settlers in the Far East were granted loans of up to 400 roubles, as well as household items, which contributed to the rapid colonisation of Siberia's land.
After the revolution, all the lines of the Trans-Siberian were nationalised and transferred to the People's Commissariat of Communications. In the 1930s, a second track on the line was laid. In 1959, the Amur and Transbaikal lines were merged into Trans-Baikal Railways.