The Development of the Steam Locomotive in Russia
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-
RUSSIAN steam locomotive construction began in 1833 and suddenly finished in 1956, and you would have to travel a long way in that country today to see surviving steam in any numbers. And yet as recently as 1958, over 70 per cent of all Russian rail traffic was operated by steam locomotives, of which 36,000 were still at work.
It is not always realised that the Russian railway system is the largest in the world under one administration. The distances are enormous, over six thousand miles from the Polish border to Vladivostok on the Pacific ocean. About 1,300 miles north of Moscow, the rails lead to the icy tundra above the Arctic Circle, while a like number of miles south they reach semi-
It could be imagined that the steam engines operating this vast system must have been dramatically large and powerful, bearing in mind that a rudimentary trunk road system and frozen waterways in winter ensured that 80 per cent of all the nation's traffic was carried on rail. Not so however, for chronic shortage of funds in Tsarist days, and the overriding diversion of resources to heavy industry and defence since then, have persistently held down the strength of track and size of locomotives to smaller proportions than has been the case in that other railway giant, the United States of America. Moreover, with so much of industry dependent on the railways, with the long distances and the severe climate, reliability is absolutely essential and this, combined with the relatively sparse technical background of the mass of the people, has led to extreme conservatism in motive power design, so that in all periods the Russian steam locomotive has tended to be simple, robust, and largely derivative of practice elsewhere.
There have been three overlapping phases of development, the first up to the eighteen-
Of the countries which supplied the engines in the opening phase, Britain was the first whose engines were put to commercial use, starting with Hawthorn’s 2-
The next forty years a variety of firms supplied 2-
Class O 0-
In those same years, besides imports from other countries, a modest Russian industry grew up manufacturing locomotives of very similar shapes and sizes, and an interesting sideline of the early days arose from a visit in 1870 of Count Bobrinski, a favourite of the reigning Tsar, to the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. Together they visited Portmadoc and saw Fairlie’s double-
In that period also was established an external feature which, almost more than anything else, indelibly stamped an engine as truly Russian, namely the set of railings round the outside of the running platforms. Introduced by Imperial decree in 1870, their purpose was to give protection to the engine crew from falling off the slippery surfaces when iced over, a thoughtfulness towards the workers hardly typical of Tsarist times. The railings remained on the engines to which they were fitted until the end of steam, but their application was discontinued after 1928 on the larger American-
The interruption of imports during the Russo-
new construction was henceforth intended to be confined to a very small number of types which could be built in quantity for universal use.
In a country so industrially backward as Russia was then such a radical policy was unable to be introduced all at once, and in the next 35 years, besides a few classes built in really big numbers, there appeared also some more tentative designs which failed to proliferate to the same extent. On the passenger side 4-
Class E 0-
The second standard was a two-
On the freight side, there were two designs, the Class O 0-
Another large class of almost identical dimensions to the Class E was a purely American design of 2-
to Vladivostok and became the predominant freight type on the far eastern lines. As an example of Russian conservatism, even under the Soviets, 2,100 more to the same design were delivered from the USA to the same port under Lend-
Besides these vast classes, smaller groups of 2-
Class IS 2-
Apart from the continued building of the purely Russian classes outlined above, and apart from some interesting experimental types acquired only in ones and twos, only five more new designs were produced in the period 1928 to 1956, two of them between the wars, and three more after 1945. Nevertheless, true to the policy of big numbers, Russian workshops produced over 9,000 units of these five classes before the end of steam.
In the first Five Year Plan that started in 1928, the decision was taken to upgrade railway power and important trunk routes were relaid to take a 20-
In the post-
Second in importance of the post-
Thirdly, there was Class LV, an elongated version of the Class L in the form of a 2-
Europe’s most powerful goods engine. This is the claim made for the large 4-
Space forbids description of the fascinating “one-
was the legendary 4-
The need for total reliability meant that the Russian steam locomotive was well looked after. Immaculate, the passenger engines in bright green and the freighters in gleaming black, they were frequently embellished with emblems on smokebox door and cab or tender sides, as on the old Scottish Caledonian railway, which indicated the pride of the footplate crews.
Measuring over 17 feet to the chimney top, four feet higher than the largest British engine, and with boiler centres pitched as high as 11 feet, the modern Russian engine was awe-
The small number of indigenous classes in so large a country was quite astounding. Kremlinologists have only identified 24 classes among the probable total of 36,000 locomotives running in 1958.
Unlike almost every other locomotive-