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Travel the Historic Circum-Baikal Railway

Running along the shoreline of Lake Baikal from the town of Slyudyanka to the Baikal urban settlement on the left bank of the Angara, the Circum-Baikal Railway is considered to be a significant engineering accomplishment, particularly in light of the fact that it was constructed at the turn of the 19th century. At that time it was one of the seven sections forming the Trans-Siberian Railway, stretching from Irkutsk to what is now the town of Babushkin (previously Mysovaya wharf) on Lake Baikal's southeastern shore.

When the survey work was undertaken in 1894 to determine the best route for the railway, the surveyors put forward a proposal to construct a floating pontoon bridge to allow the railway to travel down the east bank of the Angara River. Upon realizing that this would not be feasible due to the water level fluctuating with weather conditions, such as spring thaws, engineers decided to route the railway along the left bank from Irkutsk. Between 1896 and 1900 the railway was constructed along the Angara River from Irkutsk to Port Baikal, while at the same time the railway from Sretensk to Mysovaya was constructed on the east shore of Lake Baikal. A train ferry was used to link the two shores of the lake, with a smaller ferry being used for passengers and goods.

The section of the railway along the lake shore, from Baikal Station to Kultuk, presented some challenges with terrain including steep slopes and a rocky ridge that the engineers and planners had to overcome. The solutions to these challenges included tunnels, viaducts and retaining walls. The materials for construction were transported to the site over water by barge in the summer and over ice by animal-drawn carts in the winter months. Platforms had to be cut out of the rock with the help of explosives, and retaining walls were built to strengthen the sides. This grueling work was reportedly carried out primarily by the inmates of the Aleksandrovsky prison. The completed Circum-Baikal railway was used to transport both goods and passengers, and came to be known as the "golden buckle on the steel belt of Russia".

With the construction of the Irkutsk Hydroelectric Power Station and the filling of the Irkutsk reservoir, the section of the railway along the Angara River was disassembled, turning the track into a dead-end. While the railway lost its importance as an essential means of transport, it nevertheless continues to run a distance of 89 kilometers along the shore of Lake Baikal, travelling through tunnels and stone galleries, crossing bridges and viaducts. It transports provisions to the settlements and villages along the track and is a popular tourist attraction. The section between Baikal and Kultuk stations has been declared an architectural and scenic reserve and in honor of the railway’s 100th anniversary in 2005, the Baikal station was completely renovated and includes an exhibit detailing the history of the Circum-Baikal railway.

 



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