Burton Holmes on the Trans-Siberian Railroad

Chapter 1: Of Russia, and Trains

The Trans-Siberian Railway (splash page)

WESTWARD the Star of Empire has taken its way for centuries, shedding its luster upon the nations that have held the scepter of dominion. Of old it shone upon Egypt, Greece, and Rome; it flashed above the armies of Napoleon; it guided England's ships as they sailed forth to the commercial conquest of the two hemispheres. To-day it is soaring swiftly toward a new zenith, beneath which lies our own broad, rich, and splendid land, now prepared to achieve her destiny as a world-power. Already have the rays of what

 Office of the Wagon-Lits Company

is now our star been shot across the waters of the west, and touched the Philippines on the far side of the Pacific; but simultaneously the world becomes aware of a new light there in the Farthest West—which is at the same time the Farthest East—light that came not with our star from the East by sea but from the West by land, across the vastnesses of northern Asia.

What is this new light that almost unnoticed has crept from out of the Siberian forests, down the banks of the Siberian rivers and now glows with ominous incandescence at Port Arthur and Dalni, and above the splendid harbor of the city so prophetically christened "Vladivostok," for "Vladi" means "Dominion," and "Vostok" means "The East." What is this light? Whence comes it? By what route has it made its way? Those who have looked upon the resplendent golden dome of Ivan's Tower in the Kremlin, the Heart of Moscow, know whence it comes. Those who, pursuing the New Way Around the World, journey from Moscow to the eastern edge of Asia, can trace the orbit of this east-bound Star of Empire, the star of the inevitable Muscovite, who, in his turn, despite the checks and the defeats that may become his portion, is destined to play a dominant part in the great world-drama of the future.

One of the most potent instruments of world-dominion to-day is the railway. Russia wields modern weapons. The Trans-Siberian Railway is the latest acquisition in her arsenal of conquest. The Moscow terminal station, the "Koursky Voxal," a white conspicuous edifice, may be regarded not only as the gateway to Siberia, but also as the gateway to the Orient, for it will soon be possible to travel in through-trains from that station to Peking.

But all this is difficult to realize, as we go through the usual forms of ticket-purchasing at the city office of the "Company International of Wagons-Beds and of Grand Expresses Internationals," which is a literal translation

 The Kursk Station, Moscow

of the title of the continental substitute for the Pullman Company; for Wagons-Lits trains are operated on the Trans-Siberian line, alternating with the older and less comfortable Russian trains. Through trains for Irkutsk are despatched twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, at 8 p.m., and it so happens that we take the Russian Train d 'Etat and not the Train de Luxe of the Wagons-Lits company, in which we should have traveled had we started one week earlier.

 The 'Train de Luxe'

However, we made it a point to witness the departure of one of the new and more luxurious trains, which in future will be used exclusively. By chance we met on this occasion two of the American correspondents then racing eastward around the world. Their opponents, racing in the opposite direction, we shall look for later, in Siberia.

Other pages about Holmes on the TSRR

| the introduction | the contents page | the next chapter |