Each month we will be exploring the top engineering achievements in the world, highlighting how #EngineersRule and have changed the face of history. This month, we will look at the famous Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest railway line in the world, and underline how engineers contributed to its success.
With a length of 5,778 miles (9,198km), the Trans-Siberian railway is a series of connecting railways that is longer than both the Great Wall of China and Route 66 in the U.S. It connects Moscow in the west to Vladivostok in the east, but has branching lines to China, North Korea, and Mongolia. The route passes 87 towns and cities, crosses 16 large rivers, spans 8 time zones, and takes a total of 8 days to complete.
The railway was a turning point in the history of Siberia, and opened up huge areas for settlement, industrialisation and exploration.
The route is still very important to Russia economically, as it is considered the shortest route between Europe and Asia. Trains carry 250,000 containers per year to Europe and 30% of Russia’s exports travel on the line. It’s also still being expanded, and it was recently reported that Russia would like Pakistan to participate by linking the line with the Gwadar Port.
The route was first surveyed in 1857 by the military engineer D. Romanov and then grew into a large group of engineers with several projects suggested, but it wasn’t until 1890 that Tsar Alexander III officially ordered construction and the line was built between 1891 and 1916 – just over 100 years ago (Google even produced a famous Doodle to commemorate it).
Russian engineers started construction at both ends and worked towards the centre. However, construction was hard due to budget restraints meaning that lighter rails were used, a reduced number of sleepers-per-mile were placed, and the foundations were narrowed. Alongside the harsh weather conditions (common in Siberia), the task was made even harder for the nearly 90,000 construction workers as they completed many tasks by hand using primitive tools such as axes, saws, shovels and wheelbarrows. If you were looking for a construction job, would you be sold?
The construction resulted in 100 million cubic meters of rock being moved and more than 12 million railway sleepers being constructed.
Building the original line cheaply became apparent in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5 when the railway couldn’t cope with the demands of the conflict, and it was not until the 1920s that the problems and damages were repaired. Electrification of the line started in 1929 but wasn’t completed until 2002.
Given the budget restraints that the original engineers had to work with, the Trans-Siberian line still quickly became a vital artery of Russia and continues to be so to this day. We think this definitely deserves a place in our best engineering achievements! #EngineersRule!
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