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Engineering News - Vol. XLV, No. 13 - March 28, 1901

A Historical Account of the Trans Siberian Railway, 1901

    In "Le Genie Civil," for Dec. 15, Mr. G. de Krivochapkine gives an interesting historical account of the Trans-Siberian Railway and of the influences which brought it into existence and controlled its construction. An abstract of this article follows:

    Siberia has formed a part of the Russian Empire practically since the end of the sixteenth century; when a handful of Cossacks, in 1581, crossed the Ural Mountains and attacked the armed bands of the Tartar Khan Koutchoum. The Russians pushed on, and later reached the waters of the Amoor River to the east and the borders of the Frozen Sea on the north, until the Pekin treaty of 1860 recognized Russia's definite possession of the whole Amoor River region and also opened a port upon the Sea of Japan. About 1860 the abolition of serfdom in Russia caused a strong emigration towards Siberia; and the resulting increase in population induced the Emperor Alexander II to study various schemes for giving greater value to his immense Asiatic possessions.

    The greatest of these was the building of the Trans-Siberian railway; commenced in 1891, at Vladivostock on the Pacific, and in 1892, at Tcheliabinsk, near the European frontier. This line was at first divided into six grand divisions, as follows: A Historical Account of the Trans Siberian Railway, 1901

    The Circum-Baikal line has not yet been constructed, and the Amoor River division has been abandoned; but all the other divisions are now in actual operation. The change in the eastern terminus was brought about by the fact that the Amoor River line was difficult of construction and costly; and especially because the treaty of 1806 negotiated between the Chinese government and the Russian-Chinese Bank, opened up to Russia a much more advantageous route to Vladivostock. This Manchurian line is 1,536 km. long, from Nagadene, where it leaves the Russian railway, to Vladlvostock, and not including the South Manchurian branch leading to Port Arthur. By this route the total distance from the European frontier, at Tcheliabinsk, to Vladivostock, has been reduced to 6,388 km.; or 6,833 km. to Port Arthur; or about 3,961 miles and 4,238 miles respectively. Of this total 4,300 km., or 2,666 miles are now actually in operation, and the short branch to Strietensk, opened last May, has a purely local interest in shortening to one day the trip down the Amoor River. If we add to the Trans-Siberian railway proper its two Chinese lines, now under construction, the aggregate length of the system is 7,595 km., or about 4,710 miles. including over 2,300 structures in stone or iron.

    At the present time it requires about 25 days to travel from Paris to Vladivostock, during the navigable period; this service being assured by the use of a transfer-steamer across Lake Baikal. The rails now used weigh only about 40.8 lbs. per lin. yd., and the roadbed conditions will not permit a speed exceeding 16.5 miles per hour. It is expected that by 1905 this roadbed will be so improved that the time of travel now required can be reduced by one-half.

    As to the nature of the country traversed, the western terminus, Tcheliabinsk, is about on the same latitude as Newcastle, in England, though the climate is much more severe. Over the larger part of the Western Siberian Division the cultivation of cereals is greatly developed, especially in the rich districts about Tobolsk; and the raising of cattle is conducted on an enormous scale. The country itself presents a succession of great plains broken by scattered clumps of young trees, with birch trees predominating. There are also many lakes of brackish or sulphurous water; and it is interesting to note that by some geological phenomenon still unexplained, the water in these lakes - though they are often close together, assumes different levels; and some lakes disappear suddenly to reappear again after the lapse of several years.

    While the soil of this region is rich, the subsoil, made up entirely of deposits of a recent formation, is devoid of all interest from a mineralogical point of view, at least in the vicinity of the railway line. For all masonry the necessary cut-stone and cement had to be brought from a distance. But in the Altai mountains, gold, iron ore, argentiferous lead, copper and coal are abundant; especially, in the mining district of Semipalatinsk, where the output already demands the construction of a branch railway.

    The country is so flat that the grades are very light, and the maximum earthwork amounts to about 23,300 cu. yds. per mile, executed at an average cost of about 10 cts. per cu. yd. Upon this Western Siberian Division there are 274 bridges; the most important of which are the four iron bridges crossing the Tobol, Ichime, Irtich and Obi rivers. The first has a total length of 426.71 m., made up of four spans of 100.68 m. each, of semi-parabolic trusses; the Ichime bridge has a length of 213.80 m., made up of two similar spans; the Irtich bridge is 640 m. long, with six spans; and the Obi bridge is 794.75 m. long, with seven spans, three of which are 148.28 m. long each. These bridges were all built from the plans of Prof. N. A. Belelubsky.

    As the lake water is usually brackish and unfit for boiler use, seven artesion well-stations have been established, and the water thus obtained is chemically purified. Along with the railway work, extensive drainage operations were inaugurated, which are eventually to affect an area of nearly 11,000,000 acres. This drainage gives value to the marshy lands near Kainsk; and on Jan. 1, 1900, about 875,000 acres were thus reclaimed, by constructing nearly 430 miles of canals and sinking more than 1,000 wells.

    In 1898, the Western Siberian Railway carried to the commercial centers of Russia and Europe 393,120 m. tons of merchandise, 280,407 m. tons of grain, and 112,713 m. tons of food products and raw materials. Between 1896 and 1898 over 280,000 emigrants settled upon lands sold to them by the State. Each male emigrant receives 40 acres, and he is released from all import duties for three years, and he can delay payment for the land for three years after his return from military duty. Upon their arrival these emigrants are received in roomy government barracks, supplied with restaurants and hospitals, and under the control of the Department of Emigration; medical care is gratuitous. In this manner, in 1893-99, nearly 13,750,000 acres of good state lands have been distributed to emigrants; principally in the governments of Tomsk, Tobols and in Akmolinsk, where the climate nearly approaches that of central Russia.

    The Central Siberian Division of the Trans-Siberian Railway traverses a region which is largely mountainous and wooded; and as a consequence 982 bridges of various types were necessary, including structures of Wood, masonry and iron. The largest bridge, that over the Yen issei, is 853.42 m. long, and is made up of six semi-parabolic spans, each 144.43 m. long. Owing to the rigor of the climate, the larger part of the masonry in the piers and abutments of these bridges was executed in the winter, inside of shelter-barracks which could be heated. The foundations were also sunk in the winter, by freezing the soil to a slight depth, and then thawing out a lesser depth before excavation, the frozen soil answering as a curbing.

    But the greatest difficulty met with by the builders of the line was the "taiga," or almost impracticable virgin forest. This forest rested upon a marshy bed, about 2.3 ft. thick, covered with a strong grass. Here, a wooden railway was first laid down; and then the soil had to be drained by digging a series of ditches. Work in these humid forests was very wearing upon the personnel; especially, as they sometimes extended in an unbroken length for from 27 to 46 miles. Upon this division the grades are heavy in places, and the earthwork averaged about 32,200 cu. yds. per mile, executed at an average cost of 16.5 cts. per cu. yd.

    This division traverses an excellent mining country. The high mountains, capped by eternal snow, are thickly covered with virgin forests of great pines and other trees; and the valleys are more or less adapted to the cultivation of cereals, which are largely shipped to Eastern Siberia. In this region the Altai Mountains, called by the Chinese the Mountains of Gold, rise to a mean height of 5,000 ft. above sea-level, with the culminating peak of Bieloukha, attaining a height of nearly 12,000 ft. The Tomsk region has been exploited for its mineral wealth since 1726, and is one of the most important mineral centers of the Russian Empire. The last oflicial report gives the annual gold product at 7,530 lbs; and in the 124 placer-workings of the Altai region, the value of the sand ranges from 0.54 to 0.80 grammes in gold per metric ton. Silver, lead and copper are found in 800 mines in the Altai district. Iron ore is abundant in different Parts of Tomsk, and jaspar, porphyry, agate, marble and breccia are mined in the Busk district. The coal basin of Kousnetsk has a total length of more than 248 miles and a width of about 62 miles, and is remarkable for the thickness of its seams. The coal deposits of Sondjensk are equally worthy of attention for the mass of coal and the excellence of its quality, which is said to approach that of Donetz coal. Chlorate of sodium and Glauber salts are also extracted in great quantities frorn the lakes in the Barnaoulsk region.


This article has been reproduced as originally published.