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Leo Tolstoy and Sophia Bers

23 September

On September 23, 1862, Count Leo Tolstoy married Sophia, the daughter of his friend Andrey Behrs. The wedding took place in the court church of the Kremlin, the groom being 34 and the bride aged 18. The union of almost fifty years produced 13 children and some of Tolstoy's best works of literature, but eventually turned bitterly unhappy.…

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Peter Carl Faberge

Peter Carl Faberge was a world famous master jeweler and head of the ‘House of Faberge’ in Imperial Russia in the waning days of the Russian Empire.

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Of Russian origin: BAM

Памятник БАМ в Таксимо Monument to BAM in Taksimo

For many in the West it may resemble the famous onomatopoeia for the sound of an explosion, sure. But for millions of Russians, these three letters associate with something much greater and, especially, longer. BAM - or the Baikal-Amur Magistral - is one of the most extended railroads in the world, stretching for over 4,300 kilometers (2,671 miles) and connecting Siberia with Russia’s Far East. Built in extreme cold and passing through impossible terrain, BAM's full construction lasted for over six decades.

Impossible to build

It was the year 1888 when the Russian Imperial Technical Society began discussing a project for a railroad to connect Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, thus helping create one giant railroad connecting Moscow and Vladivostok. Several projects were on the table, including one in which the magistral was to pass the northern shores of lake Baikal and go through a system of mountains in Siberia. But after a delegation visited parts of the proposed route, the project was officially deemed impossible to complete. So the privilege was given to another route, which later became known as the Trans-Siberian Railroad - the longest in the world.

Строительство БАМ BAM construction site

Construction on a national scale
       Perhaps it was impossible to complete for Imperial Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, but a few decades later, the Soviet Union gained enough resources and technology to get back to the project, so the east and west of the country would be linked by two major railroads. In 1932, Soviet authorities officially announced the start of BAM's construction.

A lack of workforce quickly became the main problem - with at least 25,000 workers needed, the authorities only managed to recruit 2,500. So, as it was often done in Stalin's times, thousands of prisoners were deployed. The construction was partially frozen in 1942, during the Great Patriotic War with Nazi Germany. Completed parts were dismantled to build new railways out of Stalingrad, the city known as the scene of one of the most horrific and vital battles of the Second World War. However, despite the war, by 1945 other parts of the railroad in the Far East were finished.

Почтовая марка СССР, 1975 год USSR post stamp of 1975

Construction slowed down once again until 1974, when BAM was officially deemed an all-Union project to attract young enthusiasts from across the USSR. Some villages and stations along the route were built by whole towns and even republics. Many people in their early twenties saw it as their national duty to take part in BAM's construction. Let's not forget about the money either - sponsored directly by the state, the pay was good, even though in many parts of the route there wasn't anything the cash could be spent on. Slowly, one after another, parts of the route were opened, and by 1989 a new 3,000-km-long line (1,864 miles) became operational.
One of the most difficult parts of the project was to build a 15-km (9-mile) tunnel through a mountain range in Eastern Siberia. Construction began in 1977 and finished only in 2001. Two years later, the tunnel was put into operation.

Costs and losses

It's estimated in the prices of 1991, BAM's construction cost the USSR 17.7 billion rubles, making it the most expensive infrastructure project ever completed by the Soviet Union. According to some economists, its final price tag was four times higher than initially expected.

Some parts of BAM's route are rich in natural resources, and nine huge industrial centers were planned to be built along the railway. But in reality, only one coal-producing center was created in Southern Yakutiya.

БАМ открытие BAM opening ceremony

Many analysts say without a major plan to develop many of the resource-rich areas, BAM will bring only losses. According to the deputy head of Russia's state railroad giant, in the early 2000s BAM annually absorbed around five billion rubles ($166 mln) without giving back any revenues. By the end of the decade, several major companies announced plans to develop the regions but soon cancelled due to the start of the global economic crisis.

Nowadays, the government plans to modernize parts of the route and build new lines, in order to increase BAM's capacity to transport cargo, and for trains to be able to carry more goods - aiming to breathe new life into the gigantic project.

Written by Egor Piskunov, RT