The Trans-Siberian Railway is a network of railways connecting Moscow with the Russian Far East and the Sea of Japan. It is the world’s longest railway line. There are connecting branch lines into Mongolia, China and North Korea. It has connected Moscow with Vladivostok since 1916 and is still being expanded.
Full-time construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway began in 1891 and was put into execution and overseen by Sergei Witte, who was then finance minister.
Similar to the First Transcontinental Railroad in the US, Russian engineers started construction at both ends and worked towards the centre. From Vladivostok the railway was laid north along the right bank of the Ussuri River to Khabarovsk at the Amur River, becoming the Ussuri Railway.
In 1890, a bridge across the Ural River was built and the new railway entered Asia. The bridge across the Ob River was built in 1898 and the small city of Novonikolaevsk, founded in 1883, grew into the large Siberian city of Novosibirsk. In 1898 the first train reached Irkutsk and the shores of Lake Baikal about 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of the city. The railway ran on to the east, across the Shilka and Amur rivers and soon reached Khabarovsk. The Vladivostok to Khabarovsk section was built slightly earlier, in 1897.
Russian soldiers, as well as convict labourers from Sakhalin and other places were used for building the railway.
Lake Baikal is more than 640 kilometres (400 miles) long and more than 1,600 metres (5,200 feet) deep. Until the Circum-Baikal Railway was built the line ended on either side of the lake. The ice-breaking train ferry SS Baikal built in 1897 and smaller ferry SS Angara built in about 1900, made the four-hour crossing to link the two railheads. The Russian admiral and explorer Stepan Makarov (1849–1904) designed Baikal and Angara but they were built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, by Armstrong Whitworth. They were “knock down” vessels; that is, each ship was bolted together in England, every part of the ship was marked with a number, the ship was disassembled into many hundreds of parts and transported in kit form to Listvyanka where a shipyard was built especially to reassemble them. Their boilers, engines and some other components were built in Saint Petersburg and transported to Listvyanka to be installed. Baikal had 15 boilers, four funnels, and was 64 metres (210 ft) long. She could carry 24 railway coaches and one locomotive on her middle deck. Angara was smaller, with two funnels.
Completion of the Circum-Baikal Railway in 1904 bypassed the ferries, but from time to time the Circum-Baikal Railway suffered from derailments or rockfalls so both ships were held in reserve until 1916. Baikal was burnt out and destroyed in the Russian Civil War but Angara survives. She has been restored and is permanently moored at Irkutsk where she serves as an office and a museum.
In winter, sleighs were used to move passengers and cargo from one side of the lake to the other until the completion of the Lake Baikal spur along the southern edge of the lake.
With the Amur River Line north of the Chinese border being completed in 1916, there was a continuous railway from Petrograd to Vladivostok that remains to this day the world’s longest railway line. Electrification of the line, begun in 1929 and completed in 2002, allowed a doubling of train weights to 6,000 tonnes. The longest train journey without changing is the twice monthly through-coach Moscow – Pyongyang via Khasan, Tumangan = 10,175 km in 210 h 20 min.