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History of Russian rail lines

History of Russian rail lines

West Siberian Railways was built as one of the sections of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The governmental decision on the need to build the Trans-Siberian was made officially on 6 June 1887. The construction of line contributed to the rapid development of the once backward regions of Siberia and Russia's Far East.

In 1887 three expeditions were sent to carry out surveys of the future route under three outstanding engineers: N.N. Mezheninov, O.P. Vyazemsky and A. I. Ursati. A few years later, in May 1893, a committee for the construction of the Siberian railway was set up. The survey team on the territory from the Urals to Baikal was led by the railway engineer Nikolai Mezheninov. The surveys determined the final direction of the West Siberian railway's route, which was to run from Chelyabinsk to the River Ob. After the Zlatoust-Chelyabinsk line was completed in September 1892, the labour force became available and the opportunity arose to build a line further to the East using experienced professionals.

In 1892 the Perm Gubernatorial and the Yekaterinburg City Dumas sent a petition to the Minister of Communications on the construction of the Siberian railway not from Chelyabinsk, as originally proposed in the initial draft, but from Tyumen. The industrialists of the region feared that the Ural mining and metals line would lose its importance as a transit route. In selecting the same direction from Tyumen and further eastwards across the Ishim, the line was to pass through the most developed industrial areas.

Sergei Witte, the new Minister of Railways, supported building the line from Chelyabinsk rather than from Tyumen. According to Witte, the route via Miass - Yekaterinburg - Kainsk (Kuibyshev) was 367 versts longer than the Chelyabinsk - Omsk - Kainsk line and would pass through economically less advanced areas. A verst is a Russian unit of distance equal to 1.067 kilometres or 0.6629 miles.

After a series of discussions, the Committee of Ministers decided to opt for a track to the south of Tomsk, which reduced the length of the main line by 86 versts. It was proposed to build a special branch line to Tomsk. The approved version of the West Siberian line passed through Chelyabinsk - Kurgan - Omsk - Kainsk and it was planned to build a bridge across the River Ob. The line was to be laid close to the rich merchant city of Kolyvan.

At the end of 1891 the governor of Tomsk and the community in Kolyvan applied for the construction of a line near the town and the construction of a bridge across the River Ob 8 versts from Kolyvan. However, the the Ob's broad width, spring floods and the nature of the river banks forced the builders to search for a cheaper and more convenient alternative. The region sent out a survey team under the direction of N. G. Garin-Mikhailovsky, which found the required crossing point across the Ob near the village of Krivoshchekovo, where the river was squeezed into rocky banks and its bed covered with granite.

On 5 May 1892 the Committee of Siberian Railway Lines considered the proposal put forward by N. G. Garin-Mikhailovsky's team. At another meeting of the Committee of Siberian Railway Lines on 27 February 1893, the Minister of Communications Witte presented reasoned evidence that the construction of ferries across the rivers Irtysh and Ob would limit the capacity of the line and render it unprofitable. It was therefore decided to build a permanent bridge across the Irtysh and Ob.

On 30 April 1893 when navigation to the mouth of the river Kamenka could resume after the winter, the first group of builders of the future railway bridge over the Ob arrived at the construction site. The bridge was designed by Professor N. A. Belelyubsky in collaboration with the engineer N. B. Boguslavsky. The bridge was to have a length of 1,328 Russian fathoms - one Russian fathom is equal to 2.13 m - and was one of the first cantilever bridges in Russia whose spans were built using cantilever-beam type metal structures. The bridge supports were made of local granite and laid on the rocky river bed using large rafts. The engineer G. M. Budagov supervised the construction work.

More than 300 workers were employed on building the bridge: metal workers, masons, bricklayers and carpenters. Italian masters were invited to come and face the bridge foundations. Wrought iron for the bridge spans were smelted by special order at the Votkinsk Metallurgical Plant in the Urals. The bridge's structural elements were made in workshops on the banks of the rivers Belaya and Ob.

On 28 March 1897 a Commission of the Ministry of Communications chaired by Professor N.A. Belelyubsky conducted tests on the bridge. Four engines weighing 51.5 tons each were placed on the bridge at the same time. On 5 April 1897, the railway bridge, which had been built in record time, was opened to trains.

In May 1892 the Committee of Ministers gave the go-ahead to begin working on the first section from Chelyabinsk to Omsk. The engineer K.Y. Mikhailovsky, who had already built the Samara-Zlatoust and Alexander Bridge across the Volga, was appointed to supervise the work.

For the most part, the line ran long flat terrain, crossing the Ishim and Barabinsk steppes. Only in the region of the watershed between the Ishim and Irtysh rivers was the area hilly, with numerous lakes, small rivers and mixed forests. From Chelyabinsk to Omsk the line ran along most populous Black Earth regions with developed agriculture. In the eastern part of the route, the line crossed the sparsely populated swampy Baraba steppe, where settlement began only after the line had been built. The West Siberian line was built to the lower technical standards that had been approved earlier in 1877 at a session of the Council of Ministers. These standards were based on the "principle of good and durable construction, so that the expected future increase in the capacity of the Siberian line would be achieved by the line's completion, rather than by a major reconstruction."

The subgrade did not exceed 2.35 fathoms on the plains and 2.2 fathoms in the mountains, instead of the usual 2.6 fathoms. Steeper ascents and descents were permitted, as was the construction of bridges on curves and on slopes. The of the ballast stratum was reduced to 15 cm in thickness instead of the usual 25 cm. Buildings and installations were built without foundations out of lightweight wooden structures.

According to the draft plan, the length of the line was 1,322 versts (1,410 km), with a branch line of about 2.5 versts to the pier on the river Irtysh.

The final surveys to mark out the route revealed the need to extend the line by 6.5 versts (about 7 km) due to a change in the crossing over the River Tobol, construction detours around swampy areas and rerouting due to flattening gradients.

In June 1893 construction work on the line began. Materials and structures for the line were prepared by Ust-Katavsky, Zlatoust, Simsk and other enterprises in the Southern Urals. The demand for fuel, metal and wood increased significantly, which contributed to the faster development of metal and coal enterprises in the South Urals, as well as timber processing points.

The main labour force was drawn from peasants in the neighbouring governorates. A bad harvest in the region and the threat of famine meant the peasants willingly agreed to work on the construction, but the working conditions were harsh. In August 1891, the newspaper "Yekaterinburgskaya Pravda" wrote that the construction of the line "led to an awful decrease in wage rates and a strong rise in bread prices."

Horse-drawn approach tracks were built to bring in the building materials, as well as tracks to the distant stone and ballast quarries. Brick and lime factories were also built. During the construction of the bridge across the Irtysh, the stone was brought in by rail from the regions around Chelyabinsk or on barges along the River Irtysh. Sand and gravel ballast were also delivered from quarries 50 km and more from the line. Due to the difficulties of delivering the materials, the metal bridges with their stone foundations were built only across large rivers, such as the Tobol, Irtysh, Ishim and Ob, while the other bridges were made of wood.

Particular difficulties arose with the delivery of timber, which was supplied from Ufa, Tobolsk and Ob regions. Timber also was also delivered from Tarski county in Tobolsk Governorate to sawmills on the bank of the River Irtysh, where it was processed, floated on barges to the pier in Omsk and finally transported along the route on horses.

In 1896 the Chelyabinsk - Yekaterinburg junction line was completed, which facilitated the delivery of rails and fastenings from the steel plants in the Northern Urals.

Despite the large number of ponds and lakes along the route, it was necessary to build artesian wells at the many stations since the water was salty and unfit for domestic and industrial needs.

The railway line crossed the Ishim, Tobol, Irtysh and Ob rivers, so drainage facilities were also required. The engineer A. V. Liverovsky designed a drainage system which led the water into special pits similar to artificial ponds and lakes.

The subgrade formation along the whole length of the line consisted of low mounds almost without hollows. Due to the flat terrain, there was only a low gradient in the line, which is mostly horizontal for most of its length.

Work on the western section, from Chelyabinsk to Omsk, wwas headed by the engineer K. Y. Mikhailovsky. The flat terrain of the Ishim and Baraba steppes and the convenient delivery of materials and labour enabled the construction to proceed rapidly. It proved possible to mechanise the process of laying the subgrade formation, which also greatly accelerated the construction work.

On 30 August 1894 operations began on the segment from Chelyabinsk to Omsk. The Omsk - Ob section was completed on 19 August 1895. On 15 October 1895, the West Siberian Railway was opened to trains. Since the Omsk bridge over the Irtysh was commissioned only on 17 March 1896, a ferry had to be used for several months.

Royal permission to merge the Central Siberian and West Siberian lines into a single Siberian railway came in 1899. The Siberian railway was managed from the city of Tomsk. The initial capacity of the Siberian route was 3.5 pairs of trains per day, freight train speeds were only 12-14 of versts per hour, although at 20 versts per hour, passenger trains were rather faster.

During 1904-1908 a second line was laid. At the same time the 18-pound rails were replaced by 20-pound rails, and wooden bridges by stone. By 1 January 1915, the line's capacity had increased to 20 pairs of trains per day. In 1915, Siberian Railways was split into Omsk and Tomsk divisions.

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the following lines came into service: Isilkul-Omsk, Nazyvaevskay-Omsk, Novosibirsk-Altai-Biysk and Altai-Lokot.

In 1917 the Tatar-Slavgorod stretch was built. In the 1930s, branch lines were laid in the area of the Ob River. And in the early 1960s, construction of the main railway link between Barnaul-Karasuk-Omsk was completed.

In 1961 West Siberian Railways was created by merging Omsk and Tomsk Railways. The line was managed from Novosibirsk.

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