Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Trans-Siberian-Mongolian Journey Part 1

A Trans-Siberian-Mongolian Journey

A long, long Railway Journey
Trans-Siberian logo on side of carriage

Part One
Gyan C. A. Fernando


The Trans-Siberian Railway is considered the longest railway in the world. It was built between 1891 and 1916 to connect Moscow with the Far-Eastern city of Vladivostok. There are branch lines to China through Mongolia and Manchuria, with a service continuing to North Korea. All are functional railways serving the local population but there is some sort of a romance associated with it.

On the ‎8th of ‎August ‎2007, I traveled from Moscow to Irkutsk in Siberia and then on the Trans-Mongolian to Ulaanbaatar and finally to Beijing.

The Trans-Siberian proper goes from Moscow to the Pacific terminus of Vladivostok. The Trans-Mongolian goes from Moscow to Beijing, China via Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
There is also the Trans-Manchurian which travels through Siberia and Chinese Manchuria to Beijing.

Moscow’s Yaroslavskij Station.
Moscow’s Yaroslavskij Station
Moscow’s Yaroslavskij Station. Our group embarking
Moscow’s Yaroslavskij Station. Our group embarking

Start of the journey

The following account is based on my diary which I maintained throughout the journey.

With a group of fellow British travelers, we started off on the 7th of August 2007 in the evening, from Moscow’s Yaroslavskij Station. On the advice of our tour leader, we had purchased rye bread, salami, cheese and fruit. In my case I also purchased a bottle of Vodka.

There was a heavy thunderstorm that evening with localised flooding which delayed us getting to the station. We made it in time and got into our second class carriage. For this first leg from Moscow to Irkutsk I was to share a berth with three “girls”; Catherine, our leader, Christine and Maggie.

Maintaining a good speed, the train set off.

The Train

The train was the number 002, Moscow to Vladivostok The train was hauled by a single electric locomotive with overhead current collection and ran on the Russian gauge of 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 5⁄6 in).

The first stop at Vladimir was after 210Km. The train ran on Moscow Time throughout the journey whilst local time changed because of the time difference.

At intermediate stops there was sufficient time to buy food and drink, including vodka, from vendors on the platform.

At most stops the water tanks in the carriages were filled, wheels were tapped and brakes were checked. Often the locomotives (and loco crew) were changed.

Life on the Train
my compartment on the Trans-Siberian train
My compartment

After the initial excitement we relaxed. Airline style hot food was served at irregular intervals. We supplemented that with our own food.

A wood fired boiler provided water for hot drinks and for pot noodle type food.
Trans-Siberian. Platform vendor selling Vodka
Vendor selling Vodka
on the platform
at Perm
Ice cream seller at Kirov

There were drinks parties complete with music in some compartments. Eventually, we got into our own routines: Some read books, other wrote their diaries. Some walked from one end of the train to the other. The stops were most welcome and gave us a chance to stretch our legs and take photographs.
(But beware: The train can start off without warning and there are stories of passengers getting stranded. The carriage attendant will tell you how long the train stops and it is not a good idea to go too far away from the train.)

There were four bunks in each compartment the top ones being rather difficult to get into.
Trans-Siberian drinks party
Drinks party
Wood-fired boiler on Trans-Siberian train
Wood-fired boiler
There were two attendants to each carriage, a man and a woman, known as the Provodnitsas in Russian. 

Unlike the loco crew, they travel the whole length of the line taking seven days each way. Some are couples and some are husband and wife.

(Continued: Part Two-The Journey Continues)

Copyright: Gyan C. A. Fernando, 2012
Thanks to Catherine Dixon, wherever you are


The photographs all belong to the author and are copyright.

More pictures available here: Picasa

Further Reading:
  1. The Trans-Siberian Railway (Wikipedia):
  2. The Practicalities (Wikitravel):
  3. The Trans-Siberian Route:

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