InTrans / Jun 13, 2017

Transportation Feats of the World: Journey on the Trans-Siberian

Go! Magazine

Trans-Siberian train posted on June 13, 2017

The Seven Wonders of the World has historically been a listing of seven sites known to the Ancient Greeks as the most notable locales in their known world. However, since then, many other lists have been developed, including Seven Wonders of the Modern World, Seven Natural Wonders, and a whole “new” set of Seven Wonders.

But here at GO! Magazine, we are interested in the transportation side of things. And even though many “Seven Wonders” lists include some brilliant monuments and engineering victories, we wanted to take a look at a few sites that really moved us.

For our first stop on our trip around the world to see the Seven Great Transportation Feats, we’re heading to Russia to take a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

History of the Trans-Siberian

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world, stretching over 6,000 miles through Russia and across both Europe and Asia. Although the Trans-Siberian has many different routes to choose from, the main railway line extends from Moscow to Vladivostok and takes a full week to complete!

Construction of the Trans-Siberian lasted from 1891 and 1916, spanning 25 years. When assembly ended in the early 20th century, so did “the era of great transcontinental railway building,” although the Trans-Siberian would serve the nation into the 20th and 21st centuries.

At the time, the Trans-Siberian provided a vital transportation link to Siberia and the Russian Far East from European Russia. The annual number of migrants to Siberia and the Far East doubled between 1896 and 1904, doubling again between 1905 and 1914.

From 1895 to 1916, over 2.5 million peasants came from European Russia to Siberia and the Far East on the Trans-Siberian Railway—otherwise known as the Great Siberian Migration. The Siberian economy exploded as new settlers rapidly cultivated the West.

Trans-Siberian train interior.
Trans-Siberian train interior. Photo from Marc Heiden via Wikimedia Commons.

Without the Trans-Siberian, it’s said that Siberia’s industrial revolution would have never succeeded. During the same era of history across the globe, the United States was having its own “Golden Age” of railroads, followed shortly by America’s own industrial revolution.

In different pockets of the globe, transcontinental railroads had the power to completely change ways of life in these developing countries. Today, the Trans-Siberian has connecting branch lines into Mongolia, China, and North Korea.

The long haul

So, why is the Trans-Siberian Railway so special? To answer that question, we need to think about just how long 6,000 miles really is. The United States doesn’t have a railway that comes close to the length of the Trans-Siberian, and that’s partly because the US is about half the size of Russia.

That said, the longest distance you can travel across the United States between two mainland points (within the contiguous 48 states) is about 3,000 miles between California and Maine. If there were a transcontinental railway spanning that distance, we’d have to make a round trip to travel (approximately) the same distance as covered on the Trans-Siberian.

So, imagine traveling from California to Maine and then back again to California. Sounds like a long trip, right? Right! Now imagine engineering something like that. Designing and building the Trans-Siberian, which spans almost the entire length of Russia, was a great feat of transportation engineering!

Feat of transportation

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the “greats,” not only because of its length, but for the conditions it was built in as well! The truth is that it came with a wealth of economic and structural challenges.

Economically, the Trans-Siberian took a toll on the Russian Empire. During construction, the railway was a drain on the Russian economy and its cost—the equivalent of $770 million to $1 billion 1916 U.S. dollars—accounted for one-fifth of Russia’s national debt at the time, although the railway would more than pay for itself in the century that followed.

But there were other challenges beside cost to overcome. The Trans-Siberian was riddled with rails and crossties that were too light and wooden bridges that were too flimsy. Trains frequently derailed, and considering the builders were mostly exiles and convicts, it’s possible the lines were intentionally sabotaged!

Convicts perform construction work on the Eastern Siberian Railway, 1895.
Convicts perform construction work on the Eastern Siberian Railway, 1895. Photo author William Henry Jackson via the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

Its development was also a drain on the country’s war efforts at the dawn of World War I in 1914. The Great War had a devastating impact on Russia, although the railway line was completed in 1916 and would lead to a new era of transportation across the nation despite the fall of the Russian government a year later.

Journey on the Trans-Siberian

So, would you take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway today?

Trans-Siberian train window view.
Trans-Siberian train window view. Photo from Flickr user Boccaccio1.

Check out the Lonely Planet guide or Wikitravel to read more about what kind of travel visas you would need, the best time to go, what the costs would be, and how to keep healthy while traveling abroad.

After that, you’ll have a better idea of what it might be like! And if the Trans-Siberian Railway isn’t your style, stay tuned! We have six other Great Transportation Feats of the World to explore! Ready? Let’s go!


Related links

Blog) Packing for the Trans-Siberian:

(Video) Traveling the Trans-Siberian:

By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer

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