There are few railway enthusiasts who do not dream about a journey on the world's longest railway route from Moscow to Vladivostok. Despite the fact that Russian citizens do not think the Trans-Siberian Railway is special in any way and only associate it with an extremely long journey on a train from point A to point B, foreigners find this journey very unusual and unique. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the longest railway route in the world is a peculiar symbol of railway transport. Nearly 5,780 miles (9,300 km) travelled on rails, scores of big cities passed on the way, and several hundred bridges and viaducts with a total length of approximately 31 miles (50 km), make the expedition in that part of the world an extreme delight to railway hotheads.
The history of the railway line dates back to the mid-19th century when people started paying attention to options and recognised the need of building a route to connect two remote parts of the Russian Empire. In practice, a long period of time passed from the planning stage to the laying of the first sleeper and construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway actually started in 1891. It goes without saying that an undertaking on such a scale caused numerous problems. The major problem was of course the fact that the railway route mostly passed through areas with an exceptionally unfavourable climate. Completely uninhabited areas, no roads to enable supplies of materials, permanently frozen ground, and huge rivers and lakes crossing the railway route under construction made the undertaking an almost unfeasible project. In the period of the most intense work on the construction of the new route about 90 thousand people were employed. The workforce derived mainly from prisoners and peasants. Many of them lost their lives during the construction of one of the symbols of Russia. Despite the incredibly severe conditions, the progress of the works was impressive – the line was opened in 1903, only 12 years after the start of construction.
However, one problem – the deepest lake in the world – still remained unsolved. For obvious reasons engineers could not build a bridge over Lake Baikal, so in the first years of service of the Trans-Siberian Railway its passengers had to cross the lake by ferry. Interestingly, the builders and designers of the line made a very brave and ambitious attempt at routing the rails on the surface of the frozen lake. During heavy frost, when the ice cover on Lake Baikal was sufficiently thick, trains ran on the lake to avoid by-passing the "Siberian Sea" for hundreds of kilometres.
The Trans-Siberian Railway is composed of three main routes beginning at the Yaroslavsky Rail Terminal in Moscow. The longest of the routes – the Trans-Siberian line – is 5,772 miles (9,289 km) long and runs through Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk to Vladivostok. This is the longest railway route in the world, spanning eight time zones, and it takes one week to complete the journey. The other two routes terminate in Beijing. The Trans-Manchurian line coincides with the Trans-Siberian route as far as Tarskaya, and later heads southeast towards China. The Trans-Mongolian line branches from the main route in Ulan-Ude and makes its way to Beijing through Ulan Bator.
When describing the route of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Baikal Amur Mainline should also be mentioned. It departs from Taishet (west of Lake Baikal) and in contrast to the three previously mentioned lines, passes the huge lake at its northernmost extremity. Afterwards, it runs parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway and reaches the Pacific at Sovetskaya Gavan.
Also, the things making the Trans-Siberian Railway famous are worth mentioning. A week-long journey on the world's longest railroad offers a unique opportunity to meet interesting people, see the variety of Russian culture and admire beautiful Asian landscapes.
The general classification of carriages in the Trans-Siberian Railway is virtually identical with the traditional classification used in Russian railways. Travellers have four classes to choose from. The lowest and the cheapest of them is the so-called platskartny. It is a wagon with sleeping places arranged in a virtually open space, without a division into separate rooms. Inside, there are only partitions between the respective compartments.
Travellers appreciate such conditions for the possibility to integrate with co-passengers and the opportunity to meet one another. Kupe is equivalent to second class. The only difference is that the 4-people compartments are closed, thus offering some privacy. Another, definitely more expensive and more luxurious, is the lux class. The sound-proofed, insulated and air-conditioned carriages are composed of compartments for two people, with very comfortable beds which, if necessary, can be joined to make a large bed for a married couple. The most expensive and high-end class is VIP class, offering only eight places in a special carriage. The compartments for two people are, in addition, equipped with a TV set and a DVD player, separate toilets and showers, and a separate full-service bar.
Trans-Siberian Railway experience and the history of the route creation can be found in a bestselling, awarded with 2015 Magellan Prize reportage called „Transsyberyjska. Drogą żelazną przez Rosję i dalej” written by Piotr Milewski (Wydawnictwo Znak, Kraków 2014).
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