On March 29, 1891, Russian Tsar Alexander III signed a document initiating the construction of the Trans Siberian Railway (formerly known as the Great Siberian Railway). Today it connects European Russia with Siberia and the Far Eastern provinces and stretches over 9882 kilometers, making it the longest railway in the world.
Alexander III praised the beginning of the construction works and understood the importance of the railway from the very beginning, especially in connecting the centre of Russia with the major port city of Vladivostok in the Far East. It was designed to help strengthen local agriculture production, increase gold mining and expand trade agreements. He wrote the following in his rescript to the heir of the Russian throne: “I order that the building of the continuous railway across all Siberia shall begin; I want it to connect Siberian regions, rich in natural resources, with the rest of the Russian railway infrastructure. I want you to declare this as my will after my return from the countries of the East. I also want you to start building the Great Siberian Railway in Vladivostok using the funds from the Russian treasury.” His son Nicholas took the throne three years later and continued his father’s work.
Trans-Siberian Railway Route
The harsh Siberian climate and areas of thick forest made the construction process difficult. The majority of builders were convicts, soldiers or peasants; at times more than 89000 workers were involved in the construction of different sections of the railway. Most of the railroad was built by hand. At that time, precision measuring instruments and modern construction technology were not available and the main tools were hammers, axes and shovels. Engineers and workers relied on the accuracy of their own eyesight when laying down railway lines.
But despite the primitive tools, construction continued at a remarkable rate. 413 kilometers of road had already been built by 1893. In 1894 the number rose to 891 kilometers and a year later it was more than 1340. The most difficult stretch was around Lake Baikal, where the railway winds through the mountainous slopes surrounding the legendary lake, coming so close to the shore that its clear waters can be seen from the windows of the train.
The route was completed in 1905, but work to increase its traffic capacity, which proved to be insufficient during the Russo-Japanese war continued. Reconstruction was also undertaken at damaged stations and sections of track, which suffered during the First World War and caused the service to be temporarily interrupted. In 1925 the railway was again fully functional, proving its efficiency and importance to the economy, just as Alexander III had predicted.