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Railroads of Russia

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Russia's Railroads

by Cathy Richey


Due to Russia's large land area and harsh conditions, transportation has always been a major problem for its people and government. In early times, waterways provided the majority of transportation for goods and passengers. Some roads were also built, but they were usable only at certain times of the year due to the weather, and were not good even then. Railroads, although experiencing a slow start, proved to be more efficient for transportation than either waterways or roads.

Railways made possible the industrial growth of Russia in the pre-Revolution era. They permitted fast transport of heavy goods throughout the year. This was not possible with the previous methods of small carts on roads and barges in the water systems. Although Russian nationals started factory railways and built locomotives previous to 1835, the real start of railways in Russia depended on foreigners.

Franz Anton von Gerstner from Austria built the first public railway in 1836, from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo. This inaugurated the age of the railroad in Russia.

The railway network of Russia is the world's second in length (86,000 kilometers) and first in the degree of electrification (over 80 per cent). The railways carry little under 50 per cent of all freight in Russia. In global terms, Russia's railways already account for more than 20 per cent of world-wide freight turnover and 15 per cent of passenger turnover.

The Trans-Siberian Railway (Transsib), which holds a special place in the country's transport structure, has recently marked its 100th anniversary. It is a unique element of the international transport infrastructure. While being the backbone of Russia's national transport system, it is also the largest connecting link for freight flows of the Eurasian continent.

Today the Transsib is a powerful electrified two-track line equipped with modern automatic devices, communications facilities and information technologies. It is here that we test the latest railway technologies, and it is here that a modern network of fiber-optics communication is operated. 

In 2004, the Trans-Siberian Railway hauled 375 million tons of freight, including 55 million tons in foreign trade goods. Of the latter, 51.1 million tons were exports, and 2.3 million tons imports. The artery still has considerable reserves for increasing freight traffic.

Railroads are a vital economic link, particularly important for hauling coal, coke, ferrous metals, ores, chemicals, fertilizers, grain, and timber products. Largely because of increasingly poor long-distance road conditions, between 1992 and 2004 the share of total freight haulage by the railroads increased from 34 percent to 43 percent, and in 2005 they carried 80 percent of Russia’s non-pipeline traffic.

Rail transport of oil to seaports increased significantly in the early 2000s. The railroads also accounted for 38 percent of passenger transport. In 2005 Russia had 87,000 kilometers of rail line, nearly all of which was broad gauge, including 46 percent electrified. An additional 30,000 kilometers of rail line served specific industries. 

Although the government has recognized the need to restructure this system to keep it competitive with the improving road system, Russia’s railroads have remained a state monopoly. The system is divided into 17 regional railroads, which have a contractual relationship with the Ministry of Railways. A restructuring plan adopted in 2001 calls for partial privatization between 2006 and 2010, with the creation of separate state enterprises for constituent services as an intermediate step. Priority projects are improved telecommunications and traffic control and modernization of rolling stock. As of 2005, the plan had made little progress.

In 2005, six cities had underground rail lines: Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Samara, and Yekaterinburg.


About the author: Cathy and her Doberman Trooper conduct research into all kinds of topics and produce articles like the one you see here. To contact Cathy, write to Get the facts from Cathy, and let the Cathy Factor give you an edge.





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