Mak­ing Tracks

Text So­phie Ibbotson Pho­tos Annie Ling

Asian Geographic - - Science -

The

Orient Ex­press has the lit­er­ary cache, and In­dia’s Palace on Wheels has the op­u­lence, but the great­est train jour­ney on Earth is with­out doubt the Trans- Siberian Rail­way. For more than 100 years, lo­co­mo­tives – first steam trains, then diesel and elec­tric en­gines – have run the 9,289 kilo­me­tres be­tween Moscow and Vladi­vos­tok on the Sea of Japan. The world’s long­est rail­way crosses seven time zones and the jour­ney takes at least a week to com­plete.

Those yet to travel through Siberia might think of the route as bleak, but as one for­tu­nate to have rid­den the rails the full length of the line, I know it to be a place of stark nat­u­ral beauty and un­ex­pected ge­o­graph­i­cal di­ver­sity. Look­ing back on the Tran­sSiberian’s first cen­tury, its con­struc­tion re­quired vi­sion, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and a gam­ble that tech­nol­ogy would catch up fast enough to en­able the project’s com­ple­tion. It is one of the world’s great mas­ter­pieces of en­gi­neer­ing, a trib­ute to the men and women who con­ceived, de­signed, and built it.

The Ori­gins of the TRANS-SIBERIAN

The his­tory of rail­ways in Rus­sia dates back to 1837, just eight years af­ter Ge­orge Stephen­son in­vented his Rocket. The first line linked Saint Peters­burg and the im­pe­rial palace at Tsarskoye Selo, 16 kilo­me­tres away. Though it was seen as a some­thing of a toy, it was quickly fol­lowed by lines from Saint Peters­burg to Moscow, War­saw and, on a more chal­leng­ing scale, the Trans-caspian Rail­way, link­ing Rus­sia with its newly gained ter­ri­to­ries in Cen­tral Asia.

In 1860, the Treaty of Beijing granted Rus­sia land in the Far East, in­clud­ing what would be­come Vladi­vos­tok. The Rus­sians were acutely aware, how­ever, that they had no means of de­fend­ing this ter­ri­tory should the Chi­nese de­cide to re­pos­sess it. The Great High­way only reached as far as Nerchinsk and was, in any case, im­pass­able for at least five months of the year. Few of the rivers were nav­i­ga­ble, even in sum­mer­time. A rail­way was the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion. above The Khilok Sta­tion in Chita Oblast

Look­ing back on the Tran­sSiberian’s first cen­tury, its con­struc­tion re­quired vi­sion, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and a gam­ble that tech­nol­ogy would catch up fast enough

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.