Siberia's vastness; photograph by Burton Holmes (see Chapter 7)

Honoring the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Before the turn of the 20th century, Czarist Russia embarked upon the most unlikely public works project of that or any other era: a railroad would be built across the vast open lands of Siberia, and it would be built by men and horses, and the builders would be the Russians themselves. It was an impossible task. But it was done, with many a halt and restart, and many a failure and many a repair.

Today anyone can take the Trans-Siberian, and many do. Some are tourists, but most go on business. The endless miles of miles and kilometers of kilometers limit its appeal to us in these days of Internet Time. Yet there are things to write about. We could fill pages and pages with the history of the railroad, its statistics, its lines and its cars. We will not do that; others have already filled books with that kind of thing.

We will write about the railroad that early tourists saw, and we'll write about the weird things that had to be done to build this bizarre pathway through the swamps and forests of Siberia. We'll take a few kilobytes to show Siberia in the past, and occasionally the same Siberia in the present.

When the railroad opened it was used mainly by emigrants to Siberia; by government officials; by the military; and by tourists. Among those early tourists, in 1901 (and the railroad wasn't even quite finished yet) was a man named Burton Holmes. Holmes was soon to be famous as a world traveler and lecturer on travels; but at this stage in his career he was still new in the business, having taken over Stoddard's lecture tour only three years previously.

Here on the Hidden Knowledge websites we have material in homage to Burton Holmes and material in homage to the TSRR. Holmes' trip is a good way to start to learn about the railroad, for he had the benefit of whatever creature comforts there were to be had on the line. And, in fact, the first-class train on the TSRR had been specially ordered by the Russians from the finest coach builders in Europe, and lacked nothing. It was going to represent the future of Russia, in all its glory as it might be in the last years of the Czar.

Here's what we're going to do. We'll write about

* traveling in Siberia before the railroad existed
* construction of the railroad, with pictures and text
* what emigrants and tourists found
* the 1918-20 Intervention, and the Czech Legion
* links and background information
* some current news stories

Present-day operation of the railroad is another story, and other people are telling it. This is the story of how it got where it is.

We present an article on the planning and construction of the railroad, from SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN for August 26, 1899. Kudos to Dave Morrison of Plainview, NY, who found the article and lent it to us for scanning. More construction stories to come.

Or, imagine it's 1901; you can take a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad with Burton Holmes, extraordinary traveler. Yet to come: pages and pictures from Shoemaker's "The Great Siberian Railway" (1903) and Norman's "All the Russias" (1904). Looks like a long and interesting trip ahead.

Trans-Siberian tribute index page originally created 7 December 1999;
most recent update 6 June 2011



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