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"Russian Railways - past, present and future" by David Shirres: Edinburgh meeting of Tuesday 11 October 2016

David Shirres addressed the Scottish Region on "Russian Railways - past, present and future" at the Edinburgh meeting of 11 October 2016.

In his role as a correspondent for Rail Engineer, David Shirres has become a frequent visitor to Russia, where the authorities have given him privileged access to their mighty and diverse network stretching from the Baltic to the Pacific that includes the world's most northerly station. JSC Russian Railways is a Russian vertically integrated company, both managing infrastructure and operating freight and passenger train services. In 2012 it became one of the three largest transport companies in the world.

David began his presentation looking at the background from Viking times to the first railways. The first railway in Rusia was the Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo line, opened in October 1838 and measuring 27 kilometres. This line was had a 6 foot gauge. However this was little more than a curiosity until the Petersburg to Moscow Kikolaev railway was built between 1843 and 1851 when it was opened. This 5 foot gauge line ran for 644 kilometres and required 190 bridges, with ten over 100 metres in length. Some 127 million cubic yards of earth were moved and the line runs through 165 kilometres of swamps and wetlands.

Russian railways were originally built to a gauge of 1524 mm (five foot gauge) but in 1970 adopted a gauge of 1520 mm. Interestingly Finland retained the 1524 mm gauge. There are some 227,000 kilometres of Russian gauge railways worldwide as opposed to some 720,000 kilometres of standard gauge railways. This means that trains crossing the border will require a change of gauge and David illustrated how bogies are changed at Brest on the Polish - Belarus border.

David looked at the role railways played in the Crimean War then looked at the railway boom that lasted from 1870 to 1913. He then looked a the Trans-Siberian railway, built between 1891 and 1904 covering 9,235 kilometres over 7 time zones. Initially single track, the line was double track by 1941 and electrification at 3000V DC began in the 1930's. From the 1960's the line was electrified at 25kV AC.

David then looked at the impact that the First World War had on the railways and role the railways played in the following civil war that lasted between 1918 and 1923. After the civil war ended, the railways were in a ruinous state and one of Stalin's priorities once he came to power was rapid industrialisation and the railways just had to cope. During the purges of 1936 - 1938 some 1.5 million people were arrested and some 682,000 were executed, with railway staff and military staff suffering most

The Great Patriotic War (1941 - 1945) saw some 40% of route mileage being lost due to German occupation and the remaining railways played a key role in the Russian victory. Some 2,500 factories were moved east using the railways and during the siege of Lenningrad a railway was built ver the frozen lake Ladoga. The railways played a key role in transporting tanks and troops for the Mosco counter offensive and the Battle of Kursk. David then looked at the electrification of the railways during the Soviet era and then surveyed Soviet diesel locomotives.

The Baikal Amur Mainline became operational in 1989 and is 4,324 km lin length with 4,200 bridges and 10 tunnels. The line is mainly single track and with £2.5 billion of investment in the line, by 2017 the line will be able to accommodate trains up to 7,000 tonnes, have an additional 462 km of double track and an additional 45 passing loops. The Seeveromuysky tunnel is the longest in Russia at 15.3 km and took 28 years to build.

In 2003 Rossiyskie Zheleznye Dorogi (RZD) took over management of the Russian rail network and brough in significant reforms to improve competition and attract private investment, improve quality and reduce costs. The RZD owns the infrastructure and locomotives. A rail strategy aims to see 20,000 of new lines by 2030 along with 9,200km of lines upgraded to 200 km/h running and upgrades for international freight corridors. New rolling stock is also being acquired. New high speed lines are also being developed, including a high speed line to Beijing.

Click here to view the presentation (PDF format, 2.9Mb)

Further information can be found at:

Summary by John Fender.


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