From Europe to the Far East by the World’s Most Cosmopolitan Train
BITTER COLD AND TROPICAL HEAT are met with on the Trans-
OPINIONS differ about the “Trans-
Before the war there were two Trans-
A previous chapter described how the “Orient Express” connected Western Europe with the Near East. Russia is not Western Europe, but it is still European, and from it the Trans-
Time could then be saved by travelling southward from Karimskaya through Harbin on the Chinese Eastern Railway (sold in 1935 by Russia to Manchukuo), rejoining Soviet territory just before reaching Vladivostok. The Chinese Eastern, however, besides being a bone of contention for a number of years between Russia and Japan, was rather afflicted by train bandits and wreckers. If a traveller wanted to feel safe, he went all the way round by Khabarovsk. If he wanted a more interesting journey, he risked the Chinese Eastern. Now the CER connexion is for China only. This Chinese Eastern Railway was built by the Russians, and was maintained by them for years. It is constructed to their own broad gauge (five feet), and the locomotives and rolling stock are of typically Russian design.
Russian locomotives look most unusual to British eyes. Not only is the rail-
The modern express engines, however, when the traveller becomes accustomed to their tall, spread-
The quickest way to join the “Trans-
THROUGH SOVIET RUSSIA and the land of the Tartars, across the Steppes and on to China and Japan, the Trans-
On the platform surges a cosmopolitan crowd. Bearded, woolly-
The train consists not of first-
If, however, the traveller dislikes crowding, noise, smells and insects, he will be advised to travel “soft”, less interesting as it may be. There he will find tourists, specialists, and what has been called the “portfolio class”. For in Russia, “class” is a forbidden word, and young men travelling in cushioned ease are nervous and offended if asked why they are not travelling “hard” with their fellow-
A SOVIET LOCOMOTIVE. One of the most striking features about Russian engines is their unusual height. They are 17 ft from rail to chimney top. The biggest British engines are 13 ft 6 in high. This photograph shows a standard 2-
Before the train moves off at 5.45 pm on a Monday evening, a glance at the locomotive is worth while. At the head of the train she stands, a rather long-
If the train is in good condition, the traveller will find the “soft” compartment very comfortable. It contains two berths, the lower one of which is placed transversely, as in Great Britain, and the upper, on the side away from the corridor, long-
One peculiarity of Russian travel, however, is apt to be embarrassing, for the traveller never knows who may be sharing the compartment for days and nights. The writer heard of an Englishman who had to travel half-
Strange Travelling Companions
He may share a table with a Chinee, a mining engineer bound for the Lena Basin, and someone whose activities are devoted to the extermination of wolves. If he passes one of the “hard” cars, he will have another surprise. A gangway runs down the side, like a corridor, but not divided from the rest of the car. Each division has six transverse berths, three on each side. Into such a division may be seen a family of ten crowded with their bundles and cooking utensils. In the side gangway, passengers may be squatting, drinking tea, eating or sleeping. Also, it is not unlikely that the entire car may be lighted by candles, stuck on to shelves or mouldings by their own wax. In recent years, however, electric lighting has made considerable strides on the Russian railways, though before the war candles were the standard lighting on all but the very best cars.
ASIATIC RAILWAY WORKERS examining the points on a stretch of track in Manchuria.
After dinner the traveller returns to his compartment and, sooner or later, turns in while the train rumbles into the valley of the Volga. The river is crossed about two-
The first stretch from Moscow has, perhaps, been a rather dreary progress over endless, plate-
At Sverdlovsk, 1,300 miles from Leningrad, there is a long wait, and the exploring passenger has a chance of examining life in the first Siberian city. Since it lost its old name it is apt to be forgotten that this is Ekaterinburg, where Nicholas, Tsar of All the Russias, and his family were killed in a cellar on July 16, 1918.
Leningrad brings a welcome change from the restaurant-
From Sverdlovsk the old main line strikes southwards to the city of Cheliabinsk, but nowadays the Trans-
The place owes most of its development to people banished to Siberia in Tsarist days, for they included many who were allowed their freedom on condition that they never returned over the Urals.
Mere banishment to Siberia was not such a terrible thing as condemnation to a convict life in the salt mines. Those banished were so treated usually because they held opinions of which the Government disapproved.
It is at Omsk that we finally rejoin the old main line across the Urals, which has come through Cheliabinsk and Petropavlovsk.
Hereafter comes a dull stretch across the seemingly endless Steppes. The Irtish River is crossed, and the train plods away over the great, flat lands until at six minutes past four in the afternoon, just over twelve hours after having left Omsk, it rolls into the Steppe town of Novosibirsk.
The Turksib was opened throughout in 1929, to the accompaniment of considerable enthusiasm; but, as a matter of fact, a good part of it, including that which runs into Novosibirsk, is quite old.
If the Turksib train is in the station the traveller will probably see a line of crammed but otherwise undistinguished coaches, headed by an antiquated 4-
As the Trans-
This is not a praiseworthy place, but it is, for all that, an important centre, and there is a good deal of interchange traffic with the river steamers which paddle down the mighty Yenisei into the desolate tundra country of the far north.
In the Heart of Siberia
All day and all the next night the Trans-
Irkutsk is worth exploring, even in the forty minutes during which the train waits. It is, perhaps, the finest city in Siberia, and has something definitely metropolitan about it, with a magnificent cathedral and streets and an opera house which have been described as “worthy of Paris”. As with Omsk and many of the cities of Siberia, Irkutsk owes its being to the enterprise of those who, in former years, were banished from Holy Russia on account of their opinions. The city has a population of about 822,000, it is a district Soviet headquarters, and is the finest Russian town in Asia. It is also the headquarters of the Middle-
The country here has undergone a change; and a welcome change it is, too, after the interminable Steppes. For after following the River Angara out of Irkutsk, the train reaches that inland sea known as Lake Baikal, over which the trains used to be ferried in the old days before the avoiding line was built.
In winter, rails were at one time laid on the frozen surface of the lake. Now the line is carried through a magnificent series of rock cuttings and tunnels round the southern corner of the lake. It is called a lake, although it is 300 miles in length, from north to south. The country is grandly mountainous, with wild, shaggy forests of cone-
THE STEPPES are vast grassy plains, and seem an almost endless part of the Trans-
The train twists and turns along the shores of the lake, passing on its journey through no fewer than forty-
The line is running roughly parallel to the Chinese frontier on the southern side, and Yablonoi Mountains on the north, when, at a quarter-
At Karimskaya, sixty miles farther on, we are at the junction for the Chinese Eastern Railway, and down it, twice a week, the Trans-
THE SOUTH MANCHURIAN EXPRESS passing under the Nippon Bridge. This famous train connects with the Trans-
The train takes just two days to reach Harbin, so long as there are no rail-
Back in Soviet territory, the “Trans-
ONE OF THE MANY BRIDGES which are a feature of the Trans-
Years before, the Tsar said of it: “The fulfilment of this essential peaceful work, entrusted to me by my beloved father, is my sacred duty and my sincere desire”. In the early days of the line it was anything but an “essential peaceful work”. The line was completed as far as Irkutsk in the winter of 1897-
Construction and operation of railway lines in Soviet Turkestan has always been hampered by drifting sand, and returning to the Far East we find that the same thing happens in the great Gobi Desert.
One would not think of the Trans-
IN THE GOBI DESERT. A group of gangers who are compelled to wear goggles to protect their eyes against the constant sandstorms which blow across the desert.
You can read more on the Trans-
THE FIRST STATION-
A DRIVER with a good record in Soviet Russia is sometimes rewarded by having his engine named after him. This photograph shows a typical Russian engine-