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The Trans-Siberian Railway: Russia’s Orient Express

The Trans-Siberian Railway must be ranked as one of the 10 wonders of the modern age. Even today, just over 100 years after its completion, the railway is the main transportation method for travelers and cargo to cross the vast expanse of Russia. To put things into perspective, the Trans-Siberian Railway runs from Moscow to Vladivostok over a distance of 5,772 miles, crossing 8 time zones and arriving in an average 7 days!

The dream of a railway connecting Russia’s populated west with the wild territories of the Pacific coast is as old as the invention of the steam locomotive itself. By the mid-19th century, the central government sought to complete a trans-continental railway that would help Siberia develop economically, move wheat and other farm products to the west, and be used to send military forces east in case of war. The latter situation did indeed play out just 6 short years after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1898, when war broke out with Japan. Instead of shipping men and materiel on a months-long journey by sea from the Baltic posts to the battlefields of the Russo-Japanese War, they could arrive in about a week via the Trans-Siberian Railway.

A modern traveler on the Trans-Siberian Railway will experience a scenic tour of Russia from the window of their stateroom. The better-quality trains often have names, like “Rossiya” or “Baikal”, and a British company called GW Travel runs its own trains on the line up to 15 times each year. The luxurious accommodations provided on the GW trains don’t come cheap, however, with prices for full 14-day tours ranging up to $15,395 per person! Pricey and posh though they may be, these trips still can’t hold a candle to the early top-level trains that plied the Trans-Siberian Railway in Czarist times. These trains were rolling palaces, with marble bathrooms, dining cars featuring live music, hairdressing salons and even a gymnasium! Communism soon put a stop to such extravagances, but these days the lure of the tourist dollar and the length of the cross-country journey is helping the Trans-Siberian Railway recapture some of its past glory.

 



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