Around the World in Northern Climes
July 11th to August 14th, 2008

Don Winter

This report documents two separate group tours that we just happened to take on the same trip away from home, with some bridging events between them. Their common factor was that both tours took place north of 50ºN Latitude (with much of the time spent north of 55ºN Latitude), and for us the result was a trip completely around the world, leaving Los Angeles in a generally (north-)westerly direction, and returning from the (north-)east. For those who may only be interested in a group tour, go directly to:

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (7/14-7/28)

Mountain Outin' 'White Wales and Prarie Tales' (8/4-8/13)

Getting to Vladivostok (7/11-7/14)

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Around 4 pm, we head south to Los Angeles, taking our usual route and parking in the lowest level of the MTA garage. We eat dinner at a Mexican Restaurant in the Plaza, and then take the FlyAway bus out to LAX with our luggage. Once there, we check in with Korean Airlines, have our baggage inspected by TSA, and go through security to the departure level, where we acquire some Russian roubles and settle down to await our late night flight.

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

We board the flight to Seoul shortly after midnight, for scheduled departure at 12:30 am. On departure, we initially head out over the Pacific Ocean (as always), and then turn north, making landfall near Point Mugu and remaining over the USA until Washington State, crossing the Gulf of Alaska, and passing over Seward into Alaskan airspace, and heading west north of Nome, passing just south of the Diomede Islands, directly from the USA to Russia and from Saturday to Sunday, about 6:45 am (Los Angeles time).

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The flight continues in Sunday, in the eastern hemisphere, heading generally southwest over the Russian mainland, the Kamchatka peninsula, the Sea of Okhotsk, and then Sakhalin Island and the Sea of Japan, before turning west across South Korea and turning east again for the landing at Inchon International Airport, around 5 am (Korean Time). We take a taxi over to the nearby hotel at which we have booked a room for Saturday and Sunday nights, get into the room by 6 am, and get to bed by 6:30 am.

We arise before 2 pm, and have lunch in the American-style cafe in the hotel. At 4:30 pm. Sung Yo comes by to visit, and after checking that it's alright with us, drives us east into Seoul for a sightseeing tour around the city, including dinner at a traditional Korean restaurant in the Insadong area of the city center. We see the fairly wide Han River through the city, with its many (14) bridges, and most of the sights of the central city. As dusk falls, Sung drives us back out to the hotel, and then heads home. We go to bed anticipating our onward travel in the morning.


Over 22 million people live in greater Seoul, located about 37° N latitude and 127° E longitude, ten million within the city itself, which is South Korea's capital and largest city. Located on the Han River, Seoul is only 50 km south of the North Korean border. The city was overrun twice during the Korean War of 1950-53, with great destruction, and so most of the major buildings post-date that time. Much of Seoul is taken up with tall apartment buildings that are the main residential stock. The tallest building is a 63-storey office building, but most of the business center of the city comprises high-rise office buildings. Some of the 14 bridges across the Han are road bridges, some rail, some both. All are illuminated at night. The center is surrounded by hills or mountains, one of which has the "Seoul Tower" built on it. There's a railroad line connecting the Inchon airport directly with Seoul's other airport at Gimpo.

Today, there are eight major subway lines stretching for more than 250 kilometers, with a ninth and tenth line being planned, and also some other miscellaneous lines. The most historically significant street in Seoul is Jongro, meaning "Bell Street," on which one can find a pavilion containing a large bell. The bell signaled the different times of the day and therefore controlled the four major gates to the city. The only time it is normally rung nowadays is at midnight on New Year's Eve, when it is rung thirty-three times.

Monday, July 14th, 2008

This morning, we arise, check-out, and check-in with Korean Airlines' desk, where we first meet one of our fellow passengers on the Trans-Siberian tour, Dr. Gene Edynek (whose wife, Marea, is still in their room), and then head over to the airport for our 10 am flight to Vladivostok, where it's already noon by flight time. (one time zone east, plus DST, which South Korea does not observe). On arrival in Vladivostok, we pass through Passport Control, Immigration (a separate step), Baggage Claim, and Customs, before reaching the International Arrivals hall. This process takes more than an hour for us, with the last people through taking almost another hour.

Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express (7/14-7/28)

Monday, July 14th, 2008 (cont.)

A guide named Olga is representing GW Travel in the Arrivals Hall, and when we check in with her, checks our name off on her list and directs us to a  bus outside. It's quite warm in the parking lot, and it's not the practice in Russia to run the bus's engine so that the air-conditioning can operate, so it's even warmer on the bus. Eventually, we have a dozen tour members arriving on this flight, all present and accounted for, and the bus heads for Vladivostok, some 42 Km to the south. We soon discover that some of the "tour members" (including the Edynaks) are part of a secondary group of Johns-Hopkins alumni, hosted by "MIR Tours", while those of us who booked directly through GW Travel (or its agents) are listed as "independents".

At the hotel, we get our room key and an introductory packet, which tells us more about where we'll be riding on the train, which of the excursion buses we'll be riding and the like. Soon afterwards, we run into Jack Swanberg, a well-known rail historian and author, who will be traveling in the next room to us on the train, and we exchange credentials and interests in short order. Jack is a member of the Western Connecticut Chapter of NRHS, but is not active in the organization. Jack had been planning on traveling with Bill Middleton, whom we already know from R&LHS Annual Meetings, but Bill was unable to travel so Jack paid the single supplement to come alone.

Later, at dinner (in another hotel, in an ornate dining room), we meet Don and Ursula Ashton, who are also in our car on the train and who live in Dubai(!), as well as Luba Diasamidze, the guide for the Johns-Hopkins group, who sits at our table, next to Jack and me. This is also where we discover that some thirty-plus of the tour members on our train comprise a group from Turkey, who will generally be segregated into their own language group, while the rest of the tour will run in English.

In the room, we have discovered that Russian ideas about room ventilation and cooling do not accord with American ideas, so we open to window to ventilate (and, eventually, cool) the room. Our room has a view of the harbor, as does the other side of the hotel.


Vladivostok, located about 43° N and 132°E, is located on a peninsula projecting south into Petra Velikoga Bay on the Sea of Japan, not far east of the North Korean and Chinese (Manchurian) borders), has a population of 650,000, and was once one of the most strategic cities in the world, and was a closed city from 1958 to 1992. As Russia's only ice-free port with access to the Pacific Ocean, it is home to Russia's pacific fleet and is the port of communication and trade with Japan as well as the east end of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

The city dates only from 1860, becoming a naval base in 1872, but didn't become crucially important until Russia lost control of Manchuria, and thus access to Port Arthur (Dalian) on the Chinese coast  west side of the Korean Peninsula, in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. This led to the building of a new segment of the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach Vladivostok without passing through Manchuria, now held by Japan. The center of the city, located on Golden Horn Bay (so named, because of its resemblance to Istanbul), has often been compared to San Francisco in both location and appearance.

An area of the city, developed in the 1960s, has many 5-storey apartment buildings (the legal upper limit for buildings without elevators). Then, there are high-rise blocks that remind me of Bratislava, on the hills. Many people have secondhand Japanese cars (imported from Japan), which are thus right-hand drive even though traffic in Russia drives on the right.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

At 7:30 am, there's thick fog outside our 7th floor window. Even at 10 am, we can't see the nearest part of the harbor (three blocks). At that time, tour members leave for the tour of Vladivostok, separating into those on Bus 1 (the Turks), those on Bus 2 (the Johns Hopkins folks, or more correctly, those who booked with MIR Travel), and those on Bus 3 (the "independents", like ourselves). This narrative will, of necessity, cover the things seen and done by the group on Bus 3, throughout the next two weeks. For the start of the day, Bus 3 has only five people on it: us, Jack and the Ashtons, along with our local guide Tatyana, a world-class entomologist.

We go to the railway station, where there's a stuffed-and-mounted steam locomotive on the platform (2-10-0 EA-3306), and then the Arseniov Museum (history and natural history), where we see exhibits covering the indigenous peoples and animals of the Russian Far East. While we're here, two more members of the "Bus 3 group" arrive—Paulo Burata, a photographer, and Riccardo Rodriguez, a writer—two journalists from Lisbon who will be producing an article on the trip for a Portuguese travel magazine. We have lunch at a Ukrainian restaurant in a shopping center, where we are joined by Anna, our Tour Manager for the next two weeks,, and then head for the Vladivostok Fortress, dating from 1911 and re-equipped in 1959-60 (and is now a museum). We reflect on how strange it is to be visiting an erstwhile cold-war military installation it what was, until the collapse of the Soviet union, a closed city. Then we go to an overlook next to the St. Cyril and St. Mephodii monument, but the fog is too thick for us to see much of Golden Horn Bay, followed by the WWII Memorial Chapel, Triumphal Arch, and a retired (stuffed-and-mounted) submarine, which we go through, walking along the waterfront here, and then heading for a different part of the waterfront, where we have to wait for the appointed time for our boat cruise. What seems like long distances on the bus are, in fact, between locations quite close to one another, as we have been driving in large circles around the quite small center of town.

Tatyana tells those who do not wish to walk that they must stay on the bus, but when we get back, we see that Jack, Paulo and Riccardo are at a waterside cafe, having a beer. They're promptly dubbed 'the bad boys'. The boat ride goes both ways out on the water, allowing us to see most of the places we have been to during the day, and we then head for the railway station to board our train, which is waiting in the platform.


Generator         018    85730
Service             023    10897
Silver Class 1    018    81044
Gold Class 2     002    80230
Gold Class 3     001    81941
Gold Class 4     002    80206
Gold Class 5     002    80222
Gold Class 6     002    80214
Gold Class 7     001    81503
Bar                   018    81036
Restaurant        018    86043
Kitchen             018    86050
Restaurant         018    86068
Silver Class 8    001    00180
Silver Class 9    001    00206
Silver Class 10   001    00198
Silver Class 11   001    00172
Heritage      12   033    12809
Heritage       13  033    12998
Heritage       14   033    12888
Staff Car             018    81010
Storage               017    51528

Arriving at the train, and finding our room, brings to a head a question that I had had since reading the preliminary materials handed out at the hotel the previous day—we booked a Heritage Class space, but have been assigned a space in a gold Class car! A little investigation shows that the same thing has happened to Jack, and to the two Portuguese journalists, while we later find that others have booked Heritage Class spaces only to be accommodated in a Silver Class room. All of the actual Heritage Class room are occupied by people in the Turkish group, so GW Travel must have made these decisions for their own convenience.

Vladivostok station has a central island platform, located below the adjacent street level with US-made (Baldwin, 1944) EA 2-10-0 3306 stuffed-and-mounted on it, plus a pair of tracks on either side with a side platform on the west side, below a retaining wall, and a second island platform on the other side, with a track beyond it. The main station building is on the more westerly island, with a second storey at street level above. There is also a footbridge connecting street level with all of the platforms, outside of the buildings (to the north). The station is located just south of the main square, on the west side of Golden Horn Bay. All tracks are electrified with overhead catenary at 25 kV AC. There is a short tunnel under the city, north of the station, a 'suburban' station less than ten minutes north, a freight yard on both sides, and another freight yard on both sides about a hour further north, after which the line speed increases.

Dinner is on the train, starting before departure. While we're at dinner, car attendants Alexei and Anna (a different person from the Tour Manager) make up the beds in the room, and we go to bed soon after returning from dinner. Others, we understand, repair to the bar car before going to bed. :-) 

The Trans-Siberian Railway

In the 1880s, Tsar Alexander II swore to defend Russia's territorial claims in the far east. In support of this,m in March 1891, the tsar proclaimed the undertaking af a Trans-Siberian railway, with the first stone laid by his son, the future Nicholas II, at Vladivostok. However, the initial line was not built  around the northern bend of the Amur, but in a 560 km territorial concession across Manchuria, with a southern Manchurian line to Port Arthur, a warm-water port.

Construction of the line began at Chelyabinsk, in the southern Urals, and ran parallel to the old post road as far as Irkutsk, with modifications to serve Perm, Yekaterinburg, and Tyumen, and then through virgin territory in the Baikal, Amur and Ussuri regions. The line was constructed in different segments, in parallel: through western Siberia from Chelyabinsk to the Ob River (present site of Novosibirsk) from 1892 to 1896; through central Siberia, from the Ob River, through Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk, from 1893 to 1898; through the Ussri region between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, from 1891 to 1897; across Lake Baikal, east of Irkutsk, between 1895 and 1900, and then around Lake Baikal's southern end, past Ulan Ude and Chita and on to Sretensk, on the Shilka River (from which a boat could be taken to Khabarovsk), between 1901 and 1904; across East China, through Harbin to Vladivostok, from 1897 to 1901, and across the Amur region, mostly after the Russo-Japanese war, from 1901 to 1916.

The line was built as single track, and doubled in the 1920s. It  was electrified after WWII, starting from the western end, with electrification completed through to the far east only in the 1970s or 1980s. On parts of the line, traction went directly from steam to electric operation.

Since 1991, the railways in Russia have been at least split up into separate companies, if not privatized, and the Trans-Siberian line is now operated by the following companies:

As time has passed since the separation into different companies, some locomotives and carriages allocated to these companies have been painted in new, often quite bright, paint schemes replacing the previous drab sameness in (mostly) overall green.

Various details of our train's distance traveled, schedule, and performance along the way are captured in the table below:








7-15-08 Vladivostok - 2027 (Moscow+7) 2038 Departure ЭП1 (EP1)
7-16-08 Vyazemskaya   0620-0630 0720-38 Crew change?  
7-16-08 Khabarovsk 476 miles 0830 0946 Arrival  
7-16-08 Khabarovsk   1145 1245 Departure ЭП1 (EP1) 168
7-16-08 Obluchye   1702-17 1814-29 Crew change?  
7-16-08 Arkhara   1808-20 (+6) 1920-22 ?  
7-16-08 Belogorsk   2127-2219   Crew change ЭП1 (EP1) 168
7-17-08 Skovorodino   0654-0729 0713-31 Crew change?  
7-17-08 Yerofey-Pavlovich   1051-1112 1050-1118 Crew change ЭП1 (EP1) 168
7-17-08 Amazar   1301-21 1302-24 Crew change?  
7-17-08 Mogocha   1450-1518 1445-1518 Crew change?  
7-17-08 Chernyshevsk   2108-33 2108-39 Loco change ЭП1 (EP1) 152
7-18-08 Khilok   0820-35 0744-0805 Crew change?  
7-18-08 Petrovski Zavod   1200 (pass) 1224-30    
7-18-08 Ulan Ude 1,792 mi. 1307-1420 (+5) 1431-1607 Reverse/loco (2)ТЭ10ч 0281
7-18-08 Naushki   1933-0029 2030-? Russian border 2M62 M026
7-19-08 Ulaan Baatar 409 miles 1000 (+4) 1006 Arrival  
7-19-08 Ulaan Baatar   2250 2250 Rev./Depart 2M62 M026
7-20-08 Sukhe Baator   0605-0730 0708-0830 Mongolian border  
7-20-08 Naushki   0915-1215 (+5) 0918-1215 Russian border (2)ТЭ10ч 0283
7-20-08 Ulan Ude 409 miles 1705 1716 Arrival  
7-20-08 Ulan Ude   2145 2217 Departure ЭП1 (EP1)
7-21-08 Slyudyanka   0340-0635   Loco change ТЭМ2А 6550
7-21-08     1010-1300 0948-1306 Barbecue  
7-21-08 Port Baikal 111 miles 1430 1501 Arrival  
7-21-08     2120 2122 Departure  
7-22-08 Slyudyanka   0240-0710   Loco change ЭП1 (EP1)
7-22-08 Irkutsk 288 miles 0915 0920 Arrival  
7-22-08 Irkutsk   2120 2135 Departure ЭП1 (EP1) 161
7-23-08 Nizhnedinsk       Loco change ЭП1 (EP1) 039
7-23-08 Krasnoyarsk   1506-1528 (+4) 1515-1535 Loco change ЭП1 (EP1)
7-23-08 Mariinsk   2149-2216 2140-2235 Loco change ЦС2 (US2)
7-24-08 Novosibirsk 1,149 mi. 0330 (+3)   Arrival  
7-24-08 Novosibirsk   1727 1811 Departure ЦС2 (US2)
7-24-08 Barabinsk   2119-30 2123-49 Loco change ЦС2 (US2)
7-25-08 Yekaterinburg 947 miles 1611 (+2) 1618 Arrival  
7-25-08 Yekaterinburg   2012 2013 Departure ЦС7 (US7)
7-25-08 Druzhnino   pass 2212 2136-2212 Loco change ВП60 (VP60)
7-26-08 Kazan 544 miles 0945 (0) 0948 Arrival  
7-26-08 Kazan   1825 1831 Departure ?
7-27-08  Moscow (Kaz.) 493 miles 1158 1143 Arrival ЦС2к (US2k) 694
Total   6,618 mi.        

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

When I awake in the morning, the train is still heading north, on the line running a few miles east of the border with China. During the night, there have been occasions on which it has seemed like our train was waiting for trains coming in the other direction, but since this is a double-track line, that could only be the case if track segments have been shut down for maintenance purposes.

South of Khabarovsk, the line, still heading north, crosses the Khor River on a multi-span through-truss bridge, with another, similar, bridge, just a few miles further along. A small wayside station is followed by a freight yard on both sides and a maintenance-of-way storage yard on the east side, a large wayside station, another small wayside station, then a freight yard on the east sidw, and then on the west, a small wayside station, a locomotive depot on the west side, and two more small wayside stations.  The line expands to four tracks, with yards on both sides, and enters Khabarovsk station, which has a main platform and depot (station buildings) on the east (or north) side, and two island platforms, with a footbridge overhead connecting the platforms.

There are two types of wayside stations along the Trans-Siberian Railway: small wayside stations have just a side platform on each side of the line, with at least a shelter on one platform, and perhaps both, up to a full depot on at least one side;  large wayside stations are located on refuge tracks, where the line is briefly four tracks wide, to permit faster trains to pass slower trains, with the side platforms located along the outer sides of the refuge tracks. Typically, large wayside stations are more likely to have a full depot on one side of the line than are the small ones.

At some places, a somewhat larger station will have, instead of two side platforms along the outside of the additional tracks, two island platforms between the additional tracks and the main tracks, permitting trains on the main tracks to stop and, potentially, interchange passengers with trains stopping on the outer tracks. Such stations will have a larger depot, on one side of the tracks or the other, and typically a footbridge connecting the depot and the platforms.

The time for breakfast on the train vary over the course of the trip, depending on when a day's excursions off the train might start, but breakfast differs from the other two meals in that it is acceptable to go to the restaurant car at any time between the hours shown on the daily schedule, whereas both lunch and dinner are fixed-sitting meals at which kitchen and serving crew efficiency requires that all passengers come to the restaurant car at the beginning of each meal. The breakfast menu provides items for both 'continental breakfast' and 'full breakfast', but Chris and I find ourselves eating everything that is on offer (only one item of each set of selections, of course), and enjoying every dish.

For the purposes of kitchen efficiency, passengers are asked, during breakfast, to check off which of the alternative items (one alternative is always vegetarian, but sometimes that may be the majority selection) shown on the menus for lunch and dinner they will choose to eat at those meals.

Not long after breakfast, the  train arrives in Khabarovsk, an hour or so late due to those stops during the night, and the passengers depart for the buses for this morning's excursions  At the close of the tour of Vladivostok, which today in a bustling, untidy, city, in which many of the younger women workers (for example) are very stylishly dressed, with high-heel shoes competing with the most stunning in the world for sheer heel height, but in which there is litter in the streets resembling that in any untidy US city, Tatyana, the local guide on bus 3, has apologized for the untidiness of her city, but suggested that this was a side effect of its vibrancy, and asked us to make a close comparison with Khabarovsk. We do so, and conclude that Khabarovsk, as a provincial capital, still bears many of the hallmarks of a communist-era governmental  center, with a much more strait-laced working population in those government facilities. It is tidier, but much less vibrant, than Vladivostok.

As we drive around town, the local guide, addressing us as "ladies and gentlemen of bus 3", using the microphone on the bus and the special walkie-talkie devices handed out to passengers each day we're off the train (only the guide's device can talk) when we're off the bus, describes the history of the "Russian Far East", disclaiming  this being any part of Siberia, and, for the first of what will be many times, explains to us the advantages of the democratic system of government adopted after the fall of the Soviet Union (and partly, during the Gorbachev era before that), with none of the guides who do this seeming to see the irony in 'selling democracy' to an audience that is largely from a country that has had democratic government for over 200 years, and all of whom, even later in the trip with an expanded ridership on bus 3, live in countries that have been fully democratic, in the liberalized sense being extolled, for much longer than Russia (or Mongolia) has!

In Khabarovsk, we pass a stuffed-and-mounted 0-6-0T and carriage, alongside the road, at the south/east end of the station (but not alongside the main line), and then pass the Railway Academy, which trains maintenance people for the Trans-Siberian and BAM railways, and the headquarters of the Trans-Siberian Railway, in downtown. We visit the WWII Memorial, the "Black Tulip", the reconstructed orthodox cathedral. Today is the 90th anniversary of the execution of Nicholas II in Yekaterinburg, and the guide points out memorial icons to the Tsar and his family. We visit the Lenin Square, the museum with the ethnography department covering the indigenous peoples, and the local natural history. We return past Lenin Square and down a street lined by Stalin-era buildings in the monumentalist style.

Back on the train, we have lunch in the restaurant car, and later, dinner in the same car. Jack shares our table for at least half the meals on the train over the next twelve days.

Leaving Khabarovsk, the number of tracks drops to four again, with a parcels depot on the east/north side, then to two, with carriage sidings to the east/north,  There is a tunnel, a station with two island platforms (Priamurskaya), and as the line turns definitively west, the 2.6 km long multi-span through truss Amur River bridge, followed by a station with two island platforms, several small wayside stations with some large wayside stations interspersed, and a freight yard, followed by a stretch of open grassland with lines of trees.

The line passes through Birobidzhan, where the station buildings are to the north and a freight yard to the south, crosses a river on two separated stone arch bridges, with mountains off to the north, passes a rail-served quarry on the north side, entering wooded hills, an industrial facility on the south side, belching smoke from tall stacks, a large intermediate station (Izvestkovaya), with depot to the south, a large wayside station, and an area with yard tracks, with both blue-colored diesel locomotive and green-colored electric locomotives, as rain falls.

There is a small yard on the north side, then an embankment built up above the surrounding meadow, a cement plant and stacks of concrete ties off to the north, a location with one tunnel on the north side, without track, and another through which the train passes, another tunnel, eight yard tracks on the south side, the station at Obluche, where the line turns generally  northwest, with the depot off to the north at a higher level, eight yard tracks on each side of the line, railway offices, and a coal depot, on the south side, and a tunnel that was the first tunnel to be built through permafrost, after which the line runs through birch forest on either side.

There are more tunnels before the line reaches Arkhara, which has its depot on the south side, with a side platform there and an island platform to the north., with yard tracks to the north of that, and Bureya, with depot to the south, side platform to the south, island platform to the north and ayrd tracks north of that, followed by a junction with a non-electrified line, a through truss bridge over a river, and then seven yard tracks on the north side, before dark.

Once we have crossed the Amur River and turned generally northwest and then west, the train will spend several days in the boreal forest , running at latitudes between 52°N and 54°N.


Khabarovsk is located on the Amur and Ussir Rivers, just beyond the northeast corer of China (Manchuria), at a little more than 48° N and right on 135°E. It has a population of 620,000, and is only 25 km from China. It dates from 1858, and was named for a 17th-century Russian explorer. The railway reached the city in 1897.

The city has wide main streets (boulevards) surrounding the city center, plus two tree-lined boulevards along the former channels of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers (now running in tunnels, below). A lower estuarial area of the rivers lies below and NE of the cathedral. As in Vladivostok, housing built in the Khrushchev era was, by law, limited to five stories in height, and is of low quality, now considered to be slums. There is a "parade" square at the center of downtown, still named Lenin Square, with one of the few statues of Lenin still left in Russia. Khabarovsk has trams and trolleybuses (like Vladivostok).

There are 96 known indigenous peoples of the Russian Far East.

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

There are no off-train activities of any variety, today. There are, however, a few scheduled activities on the train (more for the Johns-Hopkins/MIR groups than for others) to keep passengers occupied. This morning, the first of a number of classes in the Russian language introduces the Cyrillic alphabet, its pronunciation, equivalent Roman letters (generally aimed at English speakers), and usage of each character. This takes place in the bar car.

Gold Class cabins have a large bench seat on one wall, a table in front of the window, and a smaller seat on the angled opposite wall that permits a person to sit at that side of the table. The angled wall separates the sitting/sleeping space from the bathroom space, which has washbasin, toilet, and shower within it. There is also a large closet in the main room, between the bathroom door and the door out to the corridor. The wall behind the bench seat folds down to become a wide lower berth, with the upper wall folding down to become a narrower, but still substantial upper berth, accessed by a ladder. The only design failure in these rooms is that these ladders have round rungs that hurt the feet (unless one puts shoes on to use the toilet in the middle of the night), rather than flat steps like those in US Pullman cars.

Silver Class cabins have narrower lower berths (and maybe upper berths as well), and the bathroom area is smaller, with the toilet and shower occupying the same space, but they otherwise have all of the same facilities as a Gold Class cabin. Heritage Class cabins have two facing benches that convert to two lower berths, with toilet facilities at the ends of the car (and, supposedly, a shower car adjacent for use by Heritage Class passengers). There are also "New Heritage Class" rooms, but our train roster listed none of these.

In addition to the two Portuguese journalists, there is also a team of Japanese television documentary makers, who have their own translator (a stunning Russian woman from Vladivostok). The Japanese team comprises a woman producer, an older man handling a huge camera, and a younger man handling sound and view-finding for the camera. They seem to be everywhere on the train, in these two days when the train has no major stops, and when the passenger spaces (aside from the Turkish area) are still only half full.

There are, at present, fewer passengers (in the low 60s) than staff (in the higher 60s) on the train, with half of the number of passengers being in the Turkish group. Another group of passengers will be joining  the train during its visit to Mongolia, raising the number of passengers to the low 90s.

I continue documenting the infrastructure along the railroad, as we pass by it at (an estimated) 40-50 mph for long stretches. (Speeds between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk had seemed higher than this.) Our time in the cabin is punctuated by the meals in the restaurant car, and by stepping off the train when the schedule shows stops of 20 minutes or so and the car attendants open the doors. This afternoon, we watch a BBC documentary on the Amur ('Siberian') tiger, and endangered species that lives in the mountains northeast of Khabarovsk.

We notice that at every river crossing, the two tracks of the double track separate by some distance, and the rivers are crossed by pairs of bridges. Jack says this is so that bombing the bridges can only down one bridge at a time, and at first I think (absurdly) of B-52s, bombing from high altitude, but the line was doubled in the early 20th century, at the time the Japanese had occupied Manchuria (taking it away from Russia, its previous occupier), and so the perceived threat was actually from Japanese dive bombers operating across the Manchurian border, only 30-50 km away along most of this stretch of line!

Along the way, the line turns from the northwesterly and then west-northwesterly heading it has held during the night, to westerly, at around altitude 53°N, still following the Amur River (the border), 30-50 km to the south, through Skovorodino, which has eight yard tracks on the north side, south side depot and side platform, and north side island platform, where a branch heads north, a stretch of open meadows with the line on embankment through them, Bamovshaya, where there is a trailing connection with the Little Baikal-Amur line, a branch north to the main BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) line further north, refuge sidings without a wayside station, through truss bridges over a river, and Urusha, where the line turns west-southwest, there are four yard tracks to the south and the station has a large depot to the north, through truss bridges over a river, and then embankment through the surrounding forest. These rivers are all flowing south, to the Amur flowing east.

There are two extra tracks on the north side for a short while, a through truss bridge over a river, embankment and then deck girder bridges over a river, a large wayside station with a chalet-style shelter, an area with farmsteads along the track, and then forest again, and then Yerofey Pavlovich, named with the first names of the same explorer for whom Khabarovsk is named, where there is a four track locomotive service area on the north side, a locomotive maintenance depot with 6-8 tracks, a stepped series of buildings with 2-3 tracks each, a stuffed-and-mounted 0-10-0 on the north side, carriage sidings with at least eight tracks on the south side, and a station with low-level "island" platforms between the tracks and large depot to the north, as in many parts of eastern Europe, a footbridge overhead (but not connecting the platforms), and four stub-end tracks on the north side, west of the station.

Along here, we're meeting freight trains about every half hour on the other double-track line, so there's one approximately every hour. A half hour later, the line crosses through truss bridges over a river, then 45 minutes later a rail-connected industry on the north side, with its own residential "barracks". The line turns southwest and passes along a broad valley on the north side, at a somewhat lower level than the line, and then runs on embankment above the surrounding forest area. Deck girder bridges over a river lead to Amazar, which once had a large strategic reserve of steam locomotives, but now just has a large grassy space where the tracks holding them used to be, with freight tracks running to the north of that area, and then a six-track line through a station with low-level island platforms, a depot to the north, and a footbridge connecting the platforms.

While we're stopped, and people are allowed off the train, at Amazar, a train composed entirely of passenger-style stock, but without any passenger-carrying vehicles, pulls in from the west, on the adjacent track to our train (across the platform, in fact). Curious about what it is, Jack asks Luba, who is out on the platform with us, and she asks the workers on the train, who say it is a parcels train, serving the Amur Region (just to the east of where we are).

Approaching Mogocha, there's an industrial facility on the south side, then many yard tracks to the south, three station tracks with low-level platforms between them and the depot to the north at Mogocha, where heavy rain is falling, and a maintenance-of-way yard on the north side, west of the station, which the line leaves on an embankment, with six yard tracks on the north side, followed by a locomotive depot with sand fillers over four tracks on the north side.

The line then runs on a ledge on the southern hillside, above a valley to the northwest, runs on several embankment above the surrounding area, and then again runs above a broad valley below and to the northwest, and then a different, smaller, valley. There is a large wayside station, a spur to an electrical substation on the northwest side, a small wayside station, another broad valley on the northwest side, and the line is now heading south-southwest, with the river alongside running with the train, not against it as before. (The river still drains into the Amur system, however, via the Shilka.)

There is a place with freight yards that once had much large freight yards, on the northwest side, then the river channel alongside to the north, a rail-served lumber mill on the southeast side, a tunnel, through truss bridges over the river, and then again,  and once again through a broad valley on the northwest side, below the line, past a large wayside station, a small wayside station, an intermediate station with depot to the north and yard tracks to the south, with a westbound passenger train headed by EP1-306 in the platforms.

The line passes another large wayside station, and then a branch curving away northwest as our line briefly turns south approaching Chemyshevsk, where there are twelve yard tracks on the west side and the station has its depot on the east side, with low-level platforms serving three tracks. The countryside is now open grassland in a broad valley to the east, below the level of the tracks, which will turn west-southwest during the night. There is a large wayside station, a deep cutting bypassing a old tunnel on the west side of the line, and a deep rock cutting followed by a deep dirt cutting before night falls.

Siberia and the Russian Far East

Most westerners think of "Siberia" as being the whole of Russia, east of the Europe-Asia divide at the crest of the Ural Mountains, but all of our guides in the more easterly parts of this area stress that "Siberia" does not extend east of Lake Baikal, and that Vladivostok and Khabarovsk are in the "Russian Far East". This whole area is mountainous, with mineral resources, vegetation is largely birch forests, and east-flowing rivers (at least along the rail line), whereas the land west of Lake Baikal is flat, has coal mines and large agricultural areas used for wheat growing, interspersed with cities which have had heavy manufacturing facilities since the early 1940s, and has north-flowing rivers.

Friday, July 18th, 2008

There are no off-train activities of any variety, today, although there is much scope for taking walks on the platform or into the station buildings during the stop at Ulan Ude. During the night, we have crossed the Cherskogo Range, leaving behind the Amur River watershed, passed through Chita and Moqzon, and are heading west-southwest down the valley of the Khilok River. The continuation of the Russian lessons seem designed just to be able to get people to sight-read verses in the Russian language (so as to sing some songs), so neither of us attends any more of them.

Along the way, we pass five or six rail-served lumber/logging mills, at least two on each side of the line. We meet eight westbound freights between 8 and 8;40 am. Approaching Khilok, there is a railway carriage and wagon works on the south side, a locomotive depot on the south side, and 4-6 freight sidings, with depot and side platform to the north and island platform to the south, and locomotive shops on the north side. There is now a broad valley to the south, and the line descends to the valley floor and then climbs out again, still on the north side, followed by an intermediate station, and two rail-served industries on the north side. The line repeats the change from north side of the valley to valley floor and back again, twice more, passing another intermediate station.

There are several maintenance-of-way and track-laying trains on side tracks along here, another lumber/logging facility on the north side and then one one the south side, and then a small wayside station on the north side of the valley. There is a through-girder bridge over a stream, a lumber/logging mill on the south side, a track relaying train on the north side, and two more logging facilities on the north side, before passing a settlement with high-pitched roofs (like Swiss ski-area buildings), differing from the style of the typical community we've passed, a large wayside station, a rail-served logging facility on the south side and two on the north side, and a through-truss bridge over a stream.

There is a community with five-storey apartment buildings, eight yard tracks on the north side, a lumber facility beyond, two or three derelict factories on the north side, then another one with pipelines, before the line turns north, out of the Khilok River valley, over the Zaganskiy Range, and then passes a yard with many tracks and a locomotive stabling point on the east side. An intermediate station has its depot and main platforms to the west, with a footbridge overhead, with the diminishing yard continuing on the east side, and then the station at Petrovski Zavod has depot and platforms to the east. The line climbs over the Tsagan-Daban Range, passing another lumber/logging facility, and then turns west down the Uda River valley, with the line running along the south edge of a very broad valley. Another line trails in from the east.

There were once large steam locomotive strategic reserves stored along the Trans-Siberian. The one at Amazar, which we passed yesterday, appears to have been cleared away (although we could see where it likely had been), but the one on the north side at Onokhoi, about 20 miles east of Ulan Ude, is still there. The locomotives appear to be in an advanced state of decay, and it seems quite unlikely that any of them could ever be steamed again. Their location, behind rows of stock in much better condition, makes it impossible to identify any of the steam locomotives.

There are two small wayside stations, what looks like a temporary maintenance-of-way depot on the north side, signs of track construction or removal on the north side, a yard with six tracks under construction or removal on the north side, then four electrified yard tracks on the north side. A small wayside station is followed by more yard tracks on both sides, a small wayside station, a through truss bridge carrying the flying junction with the line south to Ulaan Baatar, a large wayside station with depot on the north side, a through truss bridge over a river, a derelict yard on the north side, a small wayside station, industrial spurs curving in from the north, and the line turns north, with carriage yards to the east and west as the line enters the station area at Ulan Ude, which has two stub-end tracks on the east side at the south end, a main side platform with station buildings on the east side, a footbridge connecting all platforms, and two island platforms to the west, with four through freight tracks and six freight yard tracks west of the platforms.

At Ulan Ude, I get off the train to spend some time at the north end of the platform, watching the railway operations. There is a stuffed-and-mounted 2-6-2, Су (Su) 205-91, on the north end of the easternmost platform, as well as electric and diesel locomotives entering and leaving the motive power depot on the northeast corner of the station. Since the train is reversing at this point, and heading south on a non-electrified line, our new motive power is a diesel locomotive, which attaches to the other end of the train from where I'm standing. Once we leave Ulan Ude, headed south through that flying junction, there is a documentary this afternoon on Genghis Khan, which Chris goes to watch but I don't.

The single-track, non-electrified, jointed-track line now runs up the Selenga River valley, out into the countryside on an embankment, and then, following a deck girder viaduct over derelict land, curving southwest, climbing up on a ledge on the hillside above the river to the northwest. A large wayside station is followed by a multi-span through-truss bridge over the river, after which the line runs on the west side of a broad valley, with a couple of passing sidings, at one of which we overtake a freight train. Two villages have small wayside stations, one of them with a logging facility west of the track. During dinner, we pass along the north, and then the west, side of a large lake (whose name translates as 'gooseneck lake') that extends for many miles along the line. We stop in a passing siding for ten minutes, waiting for a northbound freight train to pass.

There is a small wayside station with depot to the east, a passing siding, a logging facility on the east side, as the line passes through rolling grass-covered hills. Where are the forests for the lumbering? A passing siding has a small wayside station with depot to the east, the line runs on an embankment above a broad valley to the east, crosses a multi-span through-truss bridge over a river, passes rail-served grain silos and a (former?) lumbering facility on the east side, and reaches the station at Naushki, which has spurs to unloading tracks and freight houses on the east side, a side platform and station buildings to the east, an island platform to the west, an eight-track freight yard on the west side, and a locomotive depot on the east side, south of the station. Beyond the locomotive depot is a fortified area in which an entire train can fit, just north of the actual Mongolian border fence.

At Naushki, the Russian Passport Control people collect our passports and disappear with them. We're then allowed off the train, and I walk to the front end to see what's going on. The Russian diesel has already left, and the Mongolian one doesn't appear before dark. I notice Anna, the Tour Manager, making voluble phone calls on the platform, and it later transpires that Lindsay Ward, the train doctor from England, had received an exit stamp in her passport on entering Russia, so can't leave Russia at this point, since that would conclude the eligibility of her double-entry visa, while the Japanese videographers are carrying equipment that's too expensive to take into Mongolia without commercial permits, so Lindsay and her husband, Robert Turner,, the three Japanese, and their interpreter, Marina, all stay in Naushki.

Chris and I go to bed while the train is still stopped in Naushki, and some time later, the Russian woman returns our passports, and after that, the Mongolian border people pick them up, stamp them out in the corridor, and return them to the table. 

Russian Railways

Russia's first public railway line was opened in 1836, between St. Petersburg and the Tsar's summer residence at Tsarskoe Selo. The first trunk route was the 1850 line between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Russia's railways were built to a wider gauge than in western Europe, so that they could not easily be used by an invading army from the west. Between 1860 and 1890, responding to a 1857 decree from Tsar Alexander II, Russia built more miles of track than any other country except the USA.

Today's Russian railways are largely the legacy of the Russian Empire and its successor, the Soviet Union. Nominal ownership has been fragmented since 1991, but the facilities and rolling stock are still, largely, those inherited from the Soviet system. They differ by geography, because some lines are electrified at 25 kV AC, some at 3000 V DC, and others are operated by diesel-electric locomotives. During this trip, we saw the following classes of locomotives operating on the railways of Russia:

Electric Locomotives

ЭП1 (EP1) Co-Co Passenger, 25 kV AC
ВЛ60к (VL60k) Co-Co Freight, 25 kV AC
ВЛ80с (VL80s) 2(Bo-Bo) Freight, 25 kV AC
ВЛ85 (VL85) 2(Bo-Bo-Bo) Freight, 25 kV AC
ВЛ65 (VL65) Bo-Bo-Bo Freight, 25 kV AC
ВЛ11 (VL11) Bo-Bo Freight,  3000V DC
ЧС2 (ChS2) Co-Co Mixed, 3000 V DC
ЧС2к (ChS2k) Co-Co-Co Mixed, 3000 V DC
ЧС4 (ChS4) Co-Co Mixed, 25kV AC

Diesel Locomotives



2ТЭ10Ч (2TE10Ch) 2(Co-Co)  
2ТЭ70 (2TE70) 2(Co-Co)  
2ТЭ10В (2TE10V 2(Co-Co)  
ЧМЭ3 (ChME3) Co-Co  
2ТЭ116 (2TE116) 2(Co-Co)  
2ТЭ10М (2TE10M) 2(Co-Co)  

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

When I awake this morning, we're well along the way from the border to the Mongolian capital, Ulaan Baatar. Along the way into town, we pass through rolling grassland, with the slopes steeper in places, with some trees. The line bridges over a stream in a side valley with many birches, and then over another stream. There is a passing siding with wayside station and depot on the east side, and then another, about 45 minutes later, where the train stops for 12 minutes. There is a rail-served tank farm on the east side. The rolling hills are grazing lands for sheep and cattle. A passing siding has a small wayside station. Then factories and pipelines appear on the east side, there is a large wayside station, a container trans-loading facility on the east side, a rail-served industry to the east, a freight yard on both sides, carriage sidings to the east, with a 6-8 track depot building, 20 freight tracks to the west, and Ulaan Baatar station, which has a side platform with station buildings to the east and an unidentified number of island platforms to the west.

Overnight, we've gone back an hour, as Mongolia is an hour "further east" on the time-zones than is Ulan Ude (due to be on the same time as all of China). Due to the allocation of plenty of time for border formalities, we're just about on time arriving at Ulaan Baatar, capital of Mongolia, where we leave the train for a full day's excursion. Although we're now in Mongolia, the additional passengers haven't joined us yet, so bus 3 heads out with just its seven passengers (since the Japanese videographers aren't here), tour manager, and local guide.

Our first destination is a Buddhist monastery, that moved here in 1838, and has been restored, starting in 1990 with the end of communist rule. We're taught how to visit the interior of the temples, such as starting on the west side and walking around the room in a clockwise direction. There's a 6.5 meter high gilded statue of a female, that was completed in 1996. Riccardo, the Portuguese journalist, enlists the local guide's help in interviewing one of the child Buddhist monks. We then drive down Peace Avenue, lined with Soviet-era buildings, to the National Museum of Mongolian History, which we tour.

We then go to Sukhobaatar Square, a large parade ground with a large Genghis Khan monument, and then head to lunch, in a large yurt (the tent-like portable housing used by the Mongolian nomads), where there is a performance of Mongolian folk music. After lunch, a number of us (from both bus 2 and bus 3) go to the Natural History Museum, where there are assembled skeletons of a number of kinds of dinosaurs, and a couple of dinosaur eggs, all found in Mongolia. The bird exhibit shows that Mongolian vultures are much bigger than US vultures. Another group goes to the Art Museum, and yet another heads directly for the shopping area. All of the buses end up in the shopping area, where Chris buys a lovely camelhair jacket with Chinese buttons.

Then we head out of the city towards the east, stopping (by loud request) at a location with three stuffed-and-mounted steam locomotives: an Alco lend-lease 2-10-0, a Су (Su) 2-6-2 like the one in Ulan Ude, and a post-war P-36 streamlined 4-8-4, all from the Russian railway (although our local guide insists they are all 'Russian-made'). As we head east on the poor roads, rain falls heavily, turning the edges of the roads into quagmires. Approaching the National Park, we stop at a pile of small rocks, at which we climb out and walk around three times. In the National Park, we see a mixed herd of yaks and cattle, and visit the nomadic herders in their gers (yurts), in a beautiful mountainous area of exfoliating granite at an altitude of some 5,000 ft. Dinner is in a restaurant in this park, some 85 km east of Ulaan Baatar.

At dinner, the bus 3 local guide sits with Jack, Chris and me, and since he's much more articulate than the bus 3 local guide, I ask him what impact the transition from communism to democracy, in 1991, had had on him. He says he was too young (less than ten years old) to remember what it was like in the communist era, an answer I will remember later when the tour managers discuss life in today's Russia and life in Soviet Russia before that. I also comment to this guide how odd it seems to many of the passengers when our local guides extol the virtues of their new democratic system to passengers from long-time democratic countries (as our local guide had done this morning). He hadn't thought of it before, but now that it has been  mentioned, he can see the irony in it.

After dinner, a small group of tour members takes a guided ride on horseback, down to the fork in the road at which we had turned away from the main road through the park. The rest of us wait for them to return, until a half hour after scheduled departure Anna says we must board the buses and head down the side road towards the turnout. It transpires that the locals with the horses expected the buses to meet then at the turnout, but our guides had not received that message!

On the way back into Ulaan Baatar from the National Park, bus 3 suffers a broken rear suspension or shock absorber, and cannot continue (certainly, on these rough roads). Fortunately, bus 1 is still behind us, and stops to help. There is (just) room on bus 1 for the bus 3 inhabitants to take up the spare seats (requiring some of the Turks to move their stuff from those seats), so we're able to return to the train with only a small delay. However, this does mean that we're immersed in the Turks' bus culture for the next couple of hours, including pressuring passengers to sing on the microphone, etc. Unlike some, I don't find this either amusing or entertaining. My enforced seatmate is uncommunicative, again, unlike some others.

Back on the train, we go to bed as the train heads back towards Russia.

Mongolia/Ulaan Baatar

Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world, with only 2.6 millions people, 1.6 million of whom live in Ulaan Baatar. Most of the rest are nomadic herders. For many years, the country was known as 'Outer Mongolia' (to differentiate it from the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia). From the 1920s to 1990, Mongolia was basically a dependency of the Soviet Union.

The city was established in its present location by 1778, and was given its present name (which means 'Red Hero') in 1924. From the 1930s, the city was built up as if it were any other Soviet eastern city, with lots of ugly apartment building and monumentalist civic buildings. The Gandan Khid is the only monastery to have survived the Soviet period.

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park is about 80 km northeast of Ulaan Baatar in Alpine-like surroundings, at a altitude of 1600 m (over 5000 feet).

Mongolian Railways were run as an adjunct to the Soviet railway system for  around 70 years, and thus share the same broad gauge and many of the same diesel locomotives. Although the newest Mongolian freight locomotives are from General Motors, and look similar to those found in the USA and Canada, the passenger locomotives that hauled our train in Mongolia are older Soviet passenger M62 types, like those once found throughout the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites.

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Again, I awake in the Mongolian countryside. There are rail-served industries on the east side of the line, including large grain elevators, as the line approaches the border town of SukhBaktor (named for the same Mongolian hero as the central square in Ulaan Baatar), there is a freight yard to the west, with the station platforms and depot to the east. The line then runs through lightly wooded hills towards the border itself, where there is a Mongolian customs post on the east side of the line, just south of the border fence.

We stop at the Mongolian border crossing, and the Mongolian authorities check our passports before we're permitted to go to breakfast in the restaurant car. After 90 minutes, the train continues to the Russian border, where it stops again in a tightly-fenced high-security area, where it is inspected and the Russian authorities pass through the train collecting passports and visas.

After all the passports and other documents are surrendered to the Russian border authorities in a security-fenced compound right at the border, the train pulls down to Naushki station, where we're allowed off the train, and the passengers who did not get to go to Mongolia rejoin us. Since there will be a long wait here, Jack and I head down to the locomotive depot, just south of the station, and spend some time looking over the Russian locomotives present there. A crewman, technical manual (with an English-language cover, at the very least) in hand, nods hello before starting his locomotive. Other personnel walk by us without any apparent interest in what we're doing there. After getting photos of all the locomotives and most of the facilities, we walk back to the station.

Some three hours after first arriving at the border, the train departs from Naushki, the same way it had come two days earlier, and we all head to lunch in the restaurant car. We stop at the next siding north of the station for a southbound passenger train to pass. This afternoon, there is a talk, by Tour Manager Anna, about the Trans-Siberian Railway, which provides much information about the line to passengers on the train. Anna has previously provided me with a copy of one of the data sheets used in this presentation, showing which segments of the route are electrified at what voltages, where we change locomotives, etc., so much of this information is included in this report.

Among the new passengers is Steve Sandberg, leader of the "Friends of the 261", and engineer for that steam locomotive when it goes out on the main line, along with his wife and daughter. I introduce myself to Steve when I walk by him videoing out of one of the two open vestibules on the train (in the kitchen car) after the talk on the railway. After I've told him about my activities in railroad history, Jack Swanberg walks by, and I introduce the two of them also, telling Steve who Jack is and what he does. Steve is very welcoming of our introductions.

In late afternoon, we arrive back at Ulan Ude, where we leave the train for a visit to the city and surrounding mountains. Bus 3 has many more "independents" this afternoon and evening, including a family with small children (one still requires a stroller, which they carry with them), and a couple that sits in the front seat of the bus every day, where the man addresses questions almost amounting to an interrogation to every local guide we have.

On the way out of Ulan Ude, we pass a large locomotive factory. We head out east of the city, along a anrrow road that is said to be the "transcontinental highway", to a secluded hollow containing a village of 'Old believers', descendents of people who defied Peter the Great's orders to make changes in Orthodox religious rituals in the late 17th-century,, who had been sent into exile east of Lake Baikal as a result (requiring a 7,500 km walk—about 5,000 miles—from their previous settlements in what is now Belorussia) and who still maintain those beliefs today. At a house in the village, we eat local food and are treated to an amateur (very) theatrical on the traditions of old believer weddings, featuring two of the MIR Travel folks (Americans) as the protagonists. (The participants were selected by Luba, that group's interpreter and guide.) Our hostess's speeches are translated by Luba. This process goes on too long, and is not as educational as some in the audience seem to think. The proceedings are interrupted when the family's cattle try to walk through to get to their shed at the back of the small yard we're sitting in.

After a return bus ride in the late evening light, we return to the Ulan Ude station. As Chris and I, with many others, are walking across the footbridge out to the platform, a four year-old girl comes running past us, to shouts of "Tara, Tara" from (presumably) her parents, the first of many times this child will be seen running loose over the next week. Back on the train, we go to bed as the train departs the station in a northerly, and then westerly direction, heading for the south end of Lake Baikal, initially descending the Selenga River valley towards the lake.

Ulan Ude

The city is located at approximately 52° N and 107.5° E, dates from 1775, and has a population of 38,000 people. The main square contains the largest head of Lenin in the world. The large locomotive works dates from the Soviet industrialization era. The city is located on the original post road of the Russian Empire, which as it heads out of the city to teh east is barely wide enough for two buses to pass.

Monday, July 21st, 2008

When I awake this morning, the train is running very slowly along the old line on the west shore of Lake Baikal. At breakfast, Luba sits with Jack, Chris and me, and we chat about her selection of the theatrics protagonists the previous evening, making a pun on her name (Luba means 'love' in Russian) to say that 'Love did it!'

The old line along Lake Baikal heads almost due east, on a ledge not more than 50 feet above the water, curving around some headlands, and passing through others in short tunnels. There are tracks on the shore serving erstwhile shipping loading facilities, then twelve successive tunnels during the breakfast period. There's a deck girder bridge over a side ravine, with an old deck bowstring girder bridge just further up the ravine. The next tunnel has an avalanche shelter, then after six short tunnels, a longer tunnel has a path on the short side that goes through a shorter tunnel. After two more tunnels, the visible southern shore of the lake angles away and vanishes into the morning mists. Much of the line has a stone retaining wall on the landward side.

A siding on the lakeward side holds a speeder with four men at a wayside station, followed by two more tunnels. At a small village whose station sign says 'Halburg', according to Luba, the train stops on an embankment beside the bay, with a stuffed-and-mounted 2-10-0 steam locomotive, EA-3070, on the south side of a small stream from the small wooden depot. Fortunately, there is a through-truss bridge across this stream, indicative of a former second track perhaps, permitting access to the locomotive. As soon as the passengers are allowed off the train, Steve, Jack and I head over to examine the locomotive, whose builders plate is missing. The tender trucks say "Baldwin, 1945", while one of the driving wheel tires is stamped "1971".

While we are at Halburg, the train is moved back and forth a few times to position different carriages for unloading, and later loading, the equipment and supplies needed for the barbecue prepared by the dining car staff. While the food is being prepared, both passengers and car crews head for the beaches along the lake, where a number of people in both groups go swimming, with or without swimsuits. After the barbecue lunch (good, but not excellent), we reboard the train, the equipment is reloaded, and the train continues along the line, through a long tunnel, then past a bypassed tunnel on the north side, through three more tunnels, past the wayside station at Ulanovo, where there's another speeder and an old deck girder bridge on the lakeward side of the present line, through ten more tunnels, to Port Baikal, where the line curves around a bay, with a headland in the distance on the other side of an inlet that turns out to be the origin of the Angara River (since that river flows out of Lake Baikal, but not into it).

The first version of the Trans-Siberian Railway ran along the Angara River valley from Irkutsk (only 40 miles to the west) to Port Baikal, where there was a train ferry carrying trains across the lake to the line onwards to Ulan Ude, on the far side of the lake. The line we have just traveled was then constructed around the south end of the lake, connecting the two segments of line, after which the train ferry was abandoned, along with much of the port facilities. There is now a dam on the Angara River in Irkutsk, which has flooded the line reaching Port Baikal from that direction.

Today's habitation, museums, and road into the area are on the far side of the river, reaching that headland at the village of Listvyanka, so we take an old rusting ferryboat across the mouth of the river, to reach them. This ferry is also designed to carry cars, but there are none on our trips across the river (since there are almost 100 people traveling each way. We all walk up a steep path to the road, where our buses are waiting. A second Tour Manager, named Jana, joined us with the group joining in Mongolia, and she now becomes the leader in bus 3.

We head first for the Open Air Museum (also called the Museum of Wooden Architecture), where buildings from historical villages of three different periods have been assembled and grouped into three village scenes—a 17th-century Cossack village, a 19th-century Russian village, and a Buryat (the local indigenous people) village with yurts. (Our local guide is of Buryat extraction.) We visit a number of the wooden buildings in the first two groups, with explanations by our local guide. Inside the first of these, the four year-old girl was inside, touching exhibits on the wrong side of the rope prohibiting access, while her parents were still dealing with the stroller outside. There are sales stands lining the path through the villages, where Chris buys a jade cat.

Returning from this museum, the bus stops at a souvenir shop near the origin on the Angara, where Chris and I take the opportunity to chat with Lindsay and Robert, not to buy anything, while Jack buys a tee-shirt. Then the bus parks in front of a cafe, and the passengers (are supposed to) walk down to visit a modern house owned by one of the researchers at the Limnological Institute. Finally, we visit the museum at that institute itself, devoted to research on the borderline between mountains and the largest freshwater lake in the world, the exhibits at which are very interesting. The four year-old again goes around touching all the exhibits, so I ask Jana who would be responsible if something got broken as a result. At the museum, Tour Manager Anna takes her temporary leave of us, since she's spending the night at her home in Irkutsk, rejoining us tomorrow.

We then walk back down the ramp to the ferryboat dock, and wait for its arrival. Back at Port Baikal, I head for the stuffed-and-mounted Russian-built 2-10-0 steam locomotive at the north end of the passenger station, П-4657 from 1955, followed by Steve, who examines every hatch, climbs into the cab, etc., and Jack. No-one else seems interested.

During dinner on the train, the train sets off back along the line we had come in on, and the same glacial pace (the maximum permitted by the current state of the track). During the night, back at the main line, the train will swap the diesel locomotive for an electric one and continue on into Irkutsk.

Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world (with 20% of the worlds fresh, unfroze, water), formed in the expanding gap between two tectonic plates. At its deepest point, its around 5000 feet deep, and its water is crystal clear throughout much of its 400 miles length (but only 40 mile width). Some 80% of the lake's flora and fauna are found nowhere else in the world. The water never rises above 60°F.

The Limnological Museum has geological exhibits on Lake Baikal, including three-dimensional models, and an aquarium with examples of Lake Baikal fish, including the salmon-like omul, and freshwater seals (nerpa), with comparative examples of fish from Lake Tanganyika.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

When I awake, we're still on the way into Irkutsk, reaching there shortly after breakfast. Along the way, we pass through mountains with coniferous forests a tunnel, a deep valley to the northeast, a tunnel, a forest of birches and beeches. There's a rail-served industry to the northeast, in the mountains/forest, with a small town nearby Having passed Lake Baikal, we are now in eastern Siberia. We pass through a couple of communities with large wayside stations. As we descend the valley towards Irkutsk, the valley floor is occupied by small communities, with many vegetable allotments, all with small 'dachas' on them. (Not an official's vacation house, by any means!) A couple of times, along the way, thick fog patches appear.

Nearing the valley floor, there are yard tracks to the south/west, a spur trailing in on the east side, a small wayside station, and then another, an 8-10 track freight yard, a spur curving away to an industry to the north, a wayside station in an urban area, with socialists realism apartment blocks bestriding the city along the tracks. After another suburban wayside station, the line reaches the riverbank (on the southwest side of the river), with an extra track below nearer the river level. At the main Irkutsk station, there are six total tracks, served by three island platforms, with refreshment stalls on the platforms and the large station buildings to the southwest, connected to the platforms by a footbridge.

In the adjacent platform is a train whose carriages say Moscow to "Peking"! We leave the train to board the usual three buses, with bus 3 now quite full, and head across the Angara River into the main part of the city, turning east along the Gagarin Embankment on the right bank, with a grassy, tree-lined sward between street and river. At Karl Marx Street is the monument to tsar Alexander III, who created the Trans-Siberian Railroad. We're invited off the bus here to visit one or more souvenir stands down by the river, and then to cross the street so a museum, where we don't go inside but are invited to patronize the souvenir shop!

We then go to the old center of Irkutsk, which now comprises three churches, two orthodox and one catholic, a WWII memorial with an eternal flame, a monument to the general who led the Siberian troops, and many trees and grassy parks. One Orthodox church is the oldest stone building (1725) in Irkutsk. The churches survived the Stalinist period because they were put to other uses, such as warehouses or an organ concert hall. At one end of the park, is a bridge across a highway to a park on the bank of the Angara River. We next pass a monument to Admiral Kolchak, the White Army leader in the war following the October Revolution, and visit the convent of the "Seym", with the cemetery containing the graves of the Decembrists of 1825, who were exiled here, and stop outside the former house of the governor, with carvings and "lace", an excellent example of the architectural style.

At lunch, Chris and I sit with Lindsay and Robert. Lindsay has spent the morning at a hospital, with one of the Turks, who had fallen from an upper bunk and broken some ribs. She is quite disparaging about the quality of Russian hospitals. Then, I chat with Steve about how 'a friend of mine' would have gone looking for the 'shed visit' by now, and he says " you must be taking about Bruce [Anderson]!", to which I laughingly agree.

After lunch, we visit the Prince Volkonsky family museum, in the house the prince and his family lived in while exiled after the Decembrists' attempted coup, with material from other Decembrists. Our local guide described the Decembrists on the bus, before we got here, and Jana felt the need to take the microphone and give an alternate view, suggesting that the Decembrists had the right idea in resisting the tyranny of the tsars of the time. And the end of the house tour, there is a concert of classical songs and arias, or the types that were played during the Volkonskys' time here, in the Volkonsky salon. While we're waiting for this concert, the couple from the front seat suggest skipping the concert and going directly to the shopping area.

After the house visit, the bus is parked near the Central Market, for the "shopping" visit. After Chris ad I have left the bus, the 4-year-old girl goes running off into the crowd, completely disappearing from sight, while her parents are still on the bus dealing with their infant. If there had been a pedophile present, the girl might never have bee seen again. Visiting the Central Market, which doesn't seem to me to differ much from Reading Terminal Market, or even Los Angeles' Grand Central Market, the police stop the Japanese camera crew and a couple of other people for taking photographs, with or without permits, and bribes have to be paid to get cameras back. (My camera remains on the bus at this time, but I take a photograph of a tram after we return to the bus.)

Finally, we go to photograph houses on the "street of wooden houses", and some 18th-century wooden houses with the streets built up next to the "low" windows, which the guides say will likely not last long, due to their propensity to be destroyed by fire, which will be news to those many North Americans who live in wooden houses today. We then head out of the city, eastward, to the spot where the first icebreaker on the Angara River, built in Britain at the end of the 19th-century, is moored, near the dam on the Angara River. Leaving this area, Steve is seen with a large container of Pringles, which he says are 'emergency supplies', but on which the woman in the front seat comments 'what do you expect, they're Americans!

Dinner is at a restaurant outside of town, where there is also singing and dancing before we return to the train in the rain. At the station, after the rain has stopped, the "Baikal Cruise Train" is in the platform across from ours as we board, shortly before departure. Passengers greet Tour Manager Anna on her return, as we return to the train, here.

Heading northwest from Irkutsk, the line runs alongside the river, and passes a signal tower on the northeast side, freight loading sidings and a goods station on that side, then sidings storing lines of carriages. Beyond the road bridge that we had driven over in the morning, spurs curve away northeast, and there is a through truss bridge over a side river, followed by a rail-served coal unloading dock on the northeast side, an intermediate station, a ten track freight yard on the southwest side, a flying junction with a goods line joining from the south with connections to both side of the line we're on, an industrial plant on the northeast side, an intermediate station, several storage tracks on the northeast side with gondolas and open hoppers, becoming six or seven extra tracks on the northeast side, and another intermediate station.

There are eight additional tracks to the northeast and twelve to the southwest, a former water tank on the northeast side overlooking a signal tower, a maintenance-of-way yard on the northeast side, an intermediate station, two groups of four tracks on the northeast side, a three-track line trailing in on that side, with freight loading tracks beyond it, a ten track non-electrified freight yard to the northeast, which becomes electrified further northwest, a four-track freight loco. depot to the northeast, between the main line and the freight yard, then a four-track locomotive maintenance depot.

Leads from the freight yard bridge overhead, forming a flying junction with tracks connecting in on both sides. There is a prison camp on the northeast side, with a rail connection, and a small wayside station (albeit on a four-track line). The line speed along here is faster than anything the train traveled at further east. The landscape is flat, with large grain fields bordered by trees, except where industries intrude. There is a 'village' on the northeast side, a small yard,  ending at crossovers, another freight yard northwest of the crossovers, a line converging at a flyover junction with a deck girder bridge carrying one track overhead, then a 5-6 track yard on the northeast side with at least two non-electrified tracks, then from the northwest end of the yard, tracks move away to a power plant just off to the northeast.

There is a multi-pipeline bridge overhead, then a deck girder bridge carrying two electrified freight tracks at right angles to the main line, then an even larger power plant off to the northeast, with eight-to-ten tracks with tank cars northwest of the connection, another large power plant or factory a bit further away to the northeast, beyond the trees, then another smaller plant somewhat closer to the northeast. Electrified spurs curve away, then one trails in, with three extra tracks on the northeast side. The line crosses a multi-span through-truss bridge over a river, and passes a small wayside station (even though this is a four-track line). Then, it's finally too dark to see.


Irkutsk is the 'capital' of eastern Siberia (a generic description, not really an administrative Region), located at a latitude of around 53° N and longitude of 104° E, still further south than the 54° N at which I grew up, although the climate here is much harsher (reaching -40° (C or F, they're the same at that temperature) in the winter. The city has a population of 591,000, and was founded in 1651 as a Cossack garrison to control the indigenous Buryats. It was immeasurably enriched when the Decembrists settled here after the men completed their terms in the labor camp at Chita and many of their women joined them. In the early 19th-century, 'exile' to Siberia generally meant in Irkutsk, for this reason.

The city still has quite a few wooden houses, with lacy, carved decorations, dating from the late 18th or early 19th-century. Many of these were built on low-level ground, that has since been raised around them, giving them the appearance of having very low level ground floor windows.

The Angara River flows north, eventually joining the Yenisey to lead to the Arctic Ocean. The dam, 4 miles east of the city, was built in 1956, and raised the level of Lake Baikal by up to six meters, closing the original Trans-Siberian Railway line between Irkutsk and Port Baikal. The "icebreaker" located near the dam was also the original passenger ferry across the lake from Port Baikal. Complete trains went on a larger ferry, which sank years ago.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

This is another 'on the train all day' day, the last on this trip. Now that the restaurant car is essentially full for every meal, Douglas Davids, an 80 year-old physicist from the Johns Hopkins Alumni fill out our table, with Jack, on a frequent basis. We have discussions about his PC requirements for making and editing DVD movies on his computer.

Along the way, the main line bridges over a single electrified track (part of a flying junction) which heads towards a large facility that may be a coal mine, or a large material processing plant, off to the north. During the night. we've passed Zima and are still heading generally northwest, near 55° N latitude and west of 100° E longitude. A non-electrified spur trails in on the northeast side, with three extra tracks on that side. There is an area with multiple large gantry crane-like structures just beyond the extra tracks. There is a large station with footbridge overhead and station facilities to the north, which must be Tayshet, the west end of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), which runs north of Lake Baikal, and then north of the Trans-Siberian all the way to the Pacific Coast.

Then, the line runs out into the forest, passing a deck girder bridge over a river, Yurty, a location, with a goods yard and a goods flyover track, a small wayside station, and then another, a ledge above a river to the north as the line is now heading roughly due west at latitude 56° N, a through truss bridge over the river, a rail-served industrial plant on the north side, a small wayside station, a maintenance facility, a small wayside station, and then another, then a refuge track on the north side, which ends before another small wayside station, a deck girder bridge over a stream, a spur trailing in on the north side, followed by goods yards on both sides (up to seven tracks on the north side, and more to the south), locomotive and carriage maintenance facilities on the south side, between the main tracks, a three-track locomotive sanding facility on the north side, then various goods loading tracks, a large station (Kansk?), with depot to the north and footbridge connecting the tracks, a stuffed-and-mounted ЭО 0-10-0 30-73 on the north side. Jack says this is an E-class 0-10-0, or which more than 10,000 were built.

There is a locomotive maintenance depot/facility on the north side, west of the station, then we're out in the countryside again, passing a small wayside station, refuge tracks, a small wayside station, a multi-span through-truss bridge over a wide river, freight loading tracks on the north side, a station with depot to the north, a foot bridge connecting platforms, a signal tower to the north, a freight loading dock to the north, freight sidings to the south, three extra tracks to the north with an old water tower beyond them, a maintenance depot to the north, a rail-served facility on the south side, a large wayside station, and a small wayside station (even though there are four tracks). A westbound passenger train overtakes us on the fast track (since we're on the slow track), a through truss bridge over a minor river (where the line is back to two tracks), refuge tracks on either side, a small wayside station, then rolling meadows bordered by trees, and a station at Kamatia, with depot to the north.

The line passes another wayside station, a stretch of embankment, a station at Zaozrhea, with depot to the north and a footbridge between platforms, connecting tracks curve away, and a two-track non-electrified line passes overhead at right angles, with connecting tracks descending to join the main line further west, the line runs on a hillside above a wooded area to the north, past a small wayside station, a spur trailing in from a gravel plant to the north, and more spurs with brightly-painted passenger cars on them, a single track line heads away on the south side, there is a small wayside station, and the line on the south side edges back closer, with the line on an embankment in an apparently urban area. There is a rail-served industrial facility with a large loading crane on the north side, another rail-served facility to the north, sidings with oil tank cars to its north, and a yard with eight tracks to the north and several to the south.

After lunch, there is a yard with two groups of eight tracks each on the north side, which reduce to leads, and then two more groups of eight tracks each, this time non-electrified, then another two groups of eight tracks with overhead catenary, all on the north side The west-end leads join the main with a flying junction. There is a freight-loading area on the north side, and then one for containers, then six to eight tracks to the north and four to six to the south, followed by another loading area to the north, a small wayside station with extra tracks bypassing the platforms on the outside, six extra tracks on the north side, a station with two island platforms and two footbridges, a signal tower on the north side, another station with two island platforms and two footbridges on a four track line, then the track on the north side rises up, crosses over on a deck girder bridge, and descends on the south side.

There is a large wayside station, crossovers with the points still worked by rodding, four extra tracks on each side, a freight loading area to the north, and a container loading facility to the north. Just before reaching Krasnoyarsk, the line crosses the Yenisey River, which forms the border between Easter and Western Siberia, on a long multi-span through-girder bridge. There are cranes on the wharves on the east river bank, a second parallel railway bridge to the south (two tracks), and then the second pair of tracks joins the main formation. There are carriage sidings to the north (six tracks) and eight-to ten tracks of carriage sidings to the south, a carriage depot on the north side, a stuffed-and-mounted 2-10-0 steam locomotive, С017-1600, on the north side of the large station at Krasnoyarsk, which has a side platform with the station buildings to the north, and two island platforms to the south. Steve goes over to make his usual close inspection of the steam locomotive during our 20-minute or so stop for a locomotive change at the station, by the end of which Jana is getting quite concerned that some of us are not yet back on the train!

There are five additional tracks west of the end of the platform on the north side, a locomotive depot on the south side, west of the station, with four to six tracks and buildings, an EMU and carriage depot on the north side, a bit further west, a small wayside station, a through truss bridge over a flying junction with a line trailing in on the north side, a rail-served steel warehousing facility on the north side, and an apparently-derelict coal-using plant on the north side, formerly rail-served, right before the line passes back out into the countryside.

In mid-afternoon, the MIR Travel folks (the Johns-Hopkins group and the Harvard group that joined us at Ulaan Baatar) have a lecture from Bruce Parrott, head of a department that includes Russian history and affairs at Johns Hopkins. Just a half hour later, while that lecture is still going on there is a get together in a different car in which Jana and Anna give their view on life in the former Soviet Union and in Russia, today, taking questions from the audience (mostly draw from the "independents", since the other session is still going on, and the Turks have a different lecture ongoing).

I ask my question about the experience of the transition from Soviet totalitarianism to Russian 'democracy', and Jana's response is that in Soviet times, there was nothing in the shops to buy, and people stood in lines all day to buy food for dinner, whereas nowadays people can get anything they want, if they have enough money, but no-one is taking care of the old people who are on fixed, much too small, retirement incomes. She later makes it clear that by "getting anything they want", she is including getting decisions made in their favor by bribery, large and petty, including getting speeding tickets fixed. Here descriptions of this are quite colorful, but unfortunately many members of the audience think she's doing stand-up comedy rather than giving factual descriptions of current life.

Anna says that the biggest change in recent years is that students in school no longer work hard, but get passed anyway, while Jana, an educator at Moscow State University (in the Journalism school) disagrees with this, and says that students at the University level are working harder than before, since they have the possibility of real jobs to aspire to. In side discussions afterwards, some of us conclude that the two women, both in their thirties, are actually too young to have experienced any kind of Soviet repression as anything other than children (which they would still have been when Gorbachev came to power), and thus that Bruce Parrott's descriptions to the MIR group covering his visits to the Soviet Union as a young adult in the 1970s (as part of his academic career), were a much better reflection of the real quotidian Soviet-era experience (Jana's very real memories of long-lines at the stores notwithstanding). It's interesting to think that people who must have passports to travel outside their home city now think of themselves as "free", and don't understand why we would think otherwise!

During this time period, there's a freight yard on the north side with oil tankers, several wayside stations, and a long section of wrong-track running due to track maintenance, and later another section of the same thing. Then, we return to a section of four-track main line, with a small freight yard on the north side. The line passes two small wayside stations, then a track curves away and another trails in, bridging over the one that had curved away, with a ten track freight yard developing out of them, eventually becoming to pairs of tracks running parallel to the main, one of which turns away as the line passes a small wayside station. There is a multi-span through truss bridge over a river, not crossed by any additional tracks on the north side, and a small wayside station. There are frequent freight trains, spaced less than five minutes apart (two minutes, to us going the other way) on the eastbound track The surrounding landscape is now totally flat, with no mountains visible even in the distance. We pass two more small wayside stations.

After our 7:30 pm dinner, there's still lots of time before we need to go to bed, since as usual at this latitude at this time of year, the sun does not set until around 10 pm, and as usual (but not universal) on this westbound train, we have to set our watches back before going to bed because the train will be operating on an hour-earlier time zone the next day (regardless of where the time-zone boundary actually is on the ground).

There is a multi-span through-truss bridge over a river, a line trailing in on the north side, six extra tracks on the north side, Mariinsk station, with two island platforms, a side platform and depot to the south, and a footbridge overhead, a three track locomotive depot (with building) on the north side, and then we're back out in the countryside. Somewhat later, we stop to change locomotives from AC to DC electrification.

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I awake this morning with the train already parked in an unelectrified storage-area on the north side of the lower-level electrified tracks into Novosibirsk station. From the east end of the area, a stuffed-and-mounted 2-10-2 steam locomotive can be seen, but not identified. Many suburban-style electric multiple-units (EMUs) are seem heading from the east side of the city into the station area, which is, itself, not visible from our location. When the passengers depart the train for the day, we walk forward, along the north side of the train, and turn north, across some other storage tracks and down a dirt path to a street on which the buses are waiting. One of the local guides says something about buses not being able to park and wait in front of the station itself.

Bus 3 pulls around to the square in from of the station building, where we are shown that the building itself is in the 'constructivist' architectural style, resembling the proportions of a steam locomotive, with a chimney to the east, a long lower portion, then a higher portion left of center representing the 'cab' area, and a shorter lower portion to the left (west) representing the tender. The station serves 70,000 people on 450 trains/day.

In the center of the city, we see an orthodox church, and then the interesting-looking opera house, but cannot visit it because it is closed for the summer. (This greatly irritates the usual couple in the front seat.) Nearby, we visit the natural history museum, where the local guide goes very slowly through the opening portions of the museum, while some of us walk through more quickly and see it all, at a pace attuned to our interests rather than hers. (of course, we don't get a English-language commentary on what we see.) Heading out of town, we see the long multi-span through-truss bridge over the Ob River that was the wellspring of Novosibirsk (originally, Novonikolayevsk), which grew at the place the bridge was started in 1893. There is one segment of the original bridge preserved.

We head out of town to the south, passing beneath a bridge carrying a freight bypass line around the city, out to Akademgorodok, some 30 km to the south, where there are a number of scientific institutes, including one that was instrumental in the Soviet union's nuclear developments after WWII. We visit the Mineralogy Museum, in one of the institutes, where we have an excellent tour by one of the researchers. Standing in that museum, I reflect on being inside one of the institutes in what had been, during the Soviet-era, a closed city, totally forbidden to foreigners, which I had ever expected to be able to visit.

We have lunch at the House of Scientists, a conference center that has recently been used for an IEEE International Conference (!), and afterwards go to the West-Siberian Rolling-Stock Railway Museum, which is alongside the road out from Novosibirsk to Academgorodok. We're given a couple of hours to visit this museum, to the intense displeasure of the couple in the front seat. While the railway enthusiasts are going around photographing and noting down the exhibits, and the local guide takes some others around the few passenger cars present (including a WWII hospital train), heavy rain starts to fall, and while the one group stays in the hospital train, others return to the bus to wait out the storm. (The woman in the front seat reportedly throws a screaming fit at one of the Tour managers because we don't immediately return to the tour train when the storm breaks.) When the rain stops, at least some of us go back out to continue our exploration of the museum. My camera eventually mists up and requires some careful attention from Chris the following day to restore it to useful light transmission through to the sensor.

The exhibits at the museum include, as noted on the ground (and in distinction to what is said in the brochure we were able to obtain):

Steam Locomotives

ЭМ (EM) 725-13 0-10-0 1932
СО (SO) 17-508 2-10-0 1936
Су (Su) 213-42 2-6-2  
ПВ (PV) 0040    
уЭА (UEa) 3078 2-10-0 1944 Baldwin
Эр  (Er) 789-91 0-10-0 1958 Mawag
П-36 (P-36) 097 4-8-4 1955
9П (9P) 2 0-6-0T  
П (P) 3393 2-10-0  
ФП (FP) 20-588 2-10-2  
П (P) 013 2-10-0  

Diesel Locomotives

ТЭ3 (TE3) 7376 Co-Co 1971
2ТЭ10П (2TE10P) 2110 2(Co-Co) 1966
ТЭ7 TE7 096 2(Co-Co) 1964
2М62 (2M62) 500 Co-Co 1981
2ТЭ10М (2TE10M) 2670 Do-Do 1986
ТЭП60 (TEP60) 119 Co-Co 1975
ТГМ1 (TGM1) 2925 C 1969
ТЭМ15 (TEM15) 016 Bo-Bo  
ТГМ4 (TGM4) 1676 Bo-Bo 1982
ТГМ23а (TGM23a) 1026 C 1987
ТГК2 (TGK2) 8626 C 1990
ЧМЭ3 (UME3) 5452    
ТЭП10 (TEP10) 082 Co-Co 1964
2ТЭ116 (2TE116) 037 2(Co-Co)  

Electric Locomotives

ЧС3 (ChS3) 073 Co-Co-Co 1961
ВЛ23 (VL23) 501 Co-Co 1958
ВЛ60к (VL60k) 649 Bo-Bo 1963
ВЛ80с (VL80s) 005 2(Bo-Bo) 1980
ВЛ22м (VL22m) 144 Co-Co 1958
ВЛ10 (VL10) 271 Bo-Bo 1970
ЧС2 (ChS2) 009 Co-Co-Co 1962
ВЛ8 (VL8) 1232 2(Bo-Bo) 1953
ЧС4 (ChS4) 023 Co-Co  

Electric Trains

Ср3 Sr3     1953
Эр1 Er1 208   1959
Эр2 Er2     1969
Эр9 Er9      

On our return to the main railway station, where our train awaits, we run into a massive traffic jam, which may or may not have resulted from the thunderstorm, that delays our return to the train by some 40 minutes. We eventually have to drive down a side street and walk through puddles and cross a wooden fence to return to the train, as, we later found out, had the folks in bus 2, some half hour ahead of us. Our train awaits in the southernmost main platform at the station, which is located on a north-south segment of line (with the southward being the overall westward direction), with the main station buildings to the east. There is an east side platform, at the north end of which that stuffed-and-mounted 2-10-2 is located, and two island platforms in the main-line section of the station, directly accessible from an extension of the concourse of the main station, and four r more additional island platforms to the west, accessible by a separate footbridge, for the suburban commuter trains, with the storage tracks in which our train had been parked at a higher level on the west side, towards the east bank of the Ob River. The station handles 70,000 people on 450 trains/day. As we saw in our tour of the city, there is a freight bypass line, completing bypassing the city center, some distance to the south.

Leaving Novosibirsk, the line passes a carriage depot on the west side, climbs up on the east side of the line heading south along the east bank of the river, and then turns west, bridging over that line, to pass over that multi-span through-girder bridge we had visited in the morning, continuing on an embankment above a wooded area, and then past allotments with 'dachas'. There is an eight track freight yard to the north, followed by a suburban station with two island platforms on a four-track segment.

The line now heads west roughly along the 55th parallel, out across the West Siberian Plain, with no more mountains until the Urals. A flying junction with a line coming from the south (with the northern line passing below) heralds the arrival of the freight bypass line that passed around the city to the south There are extra tracks west of this location, and then crossovers, followed by a large wayside station. An additional track parallels to the north, with some separation, past two small wayside stations on this now two-track line, there are more crossovers, refuge tracks on either side, and after they end a wayside station which may represent the end of some of the EMU service from Novosibirsk.

Dinner is on the train as we continue our westward journey. After dinner, we stop at the station at Barabinsk, which has a side platform and depot to the north, with two island platforms to the south connected by a footbridge, but only a single track between the first and second island. There are six to eight goods yard tracks on the south side of the station, a locomotive depot with two to three tracks and a three track building on the north side, then an eight to ten track maintenance facility, a two track EMU depot, six to eight carriage sidings, and freight loading sidings separated from the main line, all on the north side. An electrified track trails in from the north, but there is no sign of a flyover, followed by a small wayside station before complete darkness falls.


Novosibirsk is an industrial city with a population of 1.5 million, located at 55° N latitude and 83° E longitude. It was founded in 1893, as a railroad town named Novonikolayevsk (until 1925), and grew around the Ob River bridge. Novosibirsk is (yet) another large Siberian city that has taken no (or totally inadequate) steps to provide for easy movement of its rapidly-increasing traffic loads.

In WWII, more than 50 industrial plants were evacuated from European Russia to the safety of Novosibirsk, where they were used to manufacture armaments for use by the Red Army at the front. These production facilities did not return west after the war. However, this meant that Novosibirsk was overly dependent on military production, and became a depressed are from the mid-1980s onwards.

Friday, July 25th, 2008

This morning, when we awake, the line is among the agricultural fields of western Siberia, having passed through Omsk during the night. Heading west-northwest, there is a large wayside station and then a large freight yard on the north side, west of km 2300. We cover about 100 km during breakfast, after which we pass a four track freight yard, and then an hour later stop for four minutes at a location with a large wayside station with its depot to the north. West of that station, there are six to eight track freight yards on both sides of the line, a six track locomotive yard to the north within the freight yards, and then industry or loading tracks off to the north.

In the morning, before we get to Yekaterinburg, there is a documentary shown about Nicholas II and his family, which Chris attends and I do not. In late morning, heading generally west, we pass through Tyumen, Luba's home town, which seems to be an industrial city with little or nothing of tourist interest (why perhaps explains why we don't stop at it). Within the urban area is a large wayside station on a four track section, carriage sidings on the north side, then a carriage maintenance depot. The main station has a depot and side platform to the north, with two island platforms south of it serving five total tracks, and six goods tracks south of that. The train stops here for a little over twenty minutes, but the passengers are not invited off. West of the station, there is a carriage depot on the north side, with freight tracks still to the south, a roundhouse on the north side, and then a locomotive maintenance facility on the north side, followed by freight loading and then container loading facilities, at a lower level than the main tracks, a grain loading facility on the north side, and then a rail-served scrap metal facility, all on the north side.

A spur from industries trails in on the north side, and then a spur curves away on that side. The track formation reduces to double track, and there is a small wayside station, as the line heads out into full evergreen forest, and passes three small wayside stations, a rail-served industry on the north side, a rail-connected electricity substation, a small wayside station, then a six track yard with an old water tower, a spur with ballast or gravel cars trailing in on the north side, crossovers, the line on an embankment above a valley, and then above allotments with 'dachas', a freight yard on the south side, and a through truss bridge over a river.

Over lunch, we pass through an area where the track is being completely rebuilt (including switches), and we have to wait for the crew to finish a task before continuing. We then run at a speed the cars cannot handle on the current track conditions, to try to make up the time. This area has maintenance-of-way vehicle depots on both sides of the line, plus a store of new concrete ties and of old (removed) segments of jointed track with wooden ties.

During the course of the afternoon, the Japanese videographers come to our cabin to interview Chris and me on our thoughts on the trip, on Russia, and especially, our (my) thoughts as rail enthusiasts). Marina translated the Japanese producer's questions for us, and then translates our (and especially my) often quite long answers as the camera continues to roll. It's interesting to watch the concentration on her face as she tries to keep all of an answer in mind as she's translating it. Of course, we have no idea of the accuracy of the translation! Perhaps we'll eventually see if we're included in the finished version.

Approaching an urban area, a second two-track line develops, and then splits away. Another double track line passes beneath, and the main line descends, with the other line converging to the north and becoming an eight-track yard. A suburban station has two island platforms, and then there is one with an island between tracks on the south side of ours, but not elsewhere. crossovers lead to an expansion of the number of tracks, and then Yekaterinburg station with eight island platforms, connected by a footbridge, with station buildings to the south of all tracks.

In late afternoon, we stop in Yekaterinburg, the westernmost city in Asia (on this line), and the city in which Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In Yekaterinburg, bus 3 first goes to visit the small item Railway Museum in the old depot built in the 1870s, just west of the present station, much to the displeasure of the couple in the front seat, both of whom say loud NOs when this is announced. The museum has artifacts and models showing the construction and operation of the Trans-Siberian railway through this area. According to this museum, there are now 15 railways in Russia.

On leaving this museum, the bus driver tries to take a shortcut to the route out of town to the west, but gets lost, temporarily, in a construction zone where the road he had expected to take is closed. The local guide's name is Alexander, but the man in the front seat tries to call him by the usual familiar name of 'sasha', only to be told to call him Alexander. Alexander then show us examples of the results of a color-photography process said to have been invented in Yekaterinburg in the early 20th-century, showing color pictures of churches in the area that were demolished in the early 1920s. The man in the front seat flatly announces his disbelief.

Our first stop on the road to the east, into the foothills of the Ural Mountains, is at the Memorial to the Victims of Stalin's Repression, located on a site where 50,000 local people were killed over the years. The memorial has the names only of people killed in 1937 and 1938. Then, we head further west to the Europe-Asia Monument, on the crest of the (low) mountains, at the divide between waters flowing into western Siberia and waters flowing towards European Russia. Here, tour members are served champagne (except for those of us who don't drink alcohol) and a chocolate, and invited to cross over the line into Europe together.

Finally, for this area, we drive back into the city, and go to the Cathedral on the Blood, the Orthodox church built (in the 1990s) on top of the site on which the Tsar and his family were killed. Inside this building, women are required to wear hats, men to remove them, and those in shorts provided with long skirts to put around themselves (including the men). There is a service going on in the lower level, and when our guide's voice disturbs the singing, we are told to go to the upstairs level. Both levels are beautifully decorated, but the singing in the lower level was mesmerizing. However, there is little (that I could see) to connect all of this with the Romanov's and their fate.

Back on the train, as we head west, many people comment on how 'low' the Ural Mountains are, having envisioned something like the Alps in their previous thoughts on the area. This evening seems especially long, since we're changing the time by two hours overnight. (Kazan seems to be in the wrong time zone, so that it can be on Moscow time.)

West from Yekaterinburg, the line passes through the Ural Mountains separating Asia from Europe, with many large lakes on the south side. The Urals are not high mountains, never climbing above the treeline. After dinner, the train stops at Druzhnino, which has a depot an side platform to the north and an island platform between the tracks, with seven freight tracks to the south. Here, we change from DC to AC electrification, again. West of the depot, there are seven freight sidings north of the station, with a freight loading area between them and the main line. There is a junction where a line (the TRans-Siberian to Perm) separates to the north, and a track trails back in on the north side, after which the line to Kazan passes back into the birch forest.


Yekaterinburg is a city of 1.3 million people, located at 57° N latitude and 61° E longitude, at the east base of the Ural Mountains, and was known as Sverdlovsk from 1924 to 1991. This was a rich mining region in the days before the revolution (the city was founded in 1723), and there are still relatively more pre-Soviet buildings in the city than in the other cities we have seen. It is famous as the site of the executions of the Romanovs,  in July, 1918 (90 years ago), but its current prosperity is due mainly to the wholesale transfer of industry to this region during WWII, when factories further west were being overrun by the Nazis. The presence of many defense factories caused the city to be closed to foreigners until 1990. The railway station is on the north side of the city center, with the Urals beginning immediately west of the urban area.

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

By morning, we're well within European Russia. I awake just before the line crosses a multi-span through-truss bridge over a river, and then passes a small freight yard on the north side. The line then runs on an embankment; beyond the trees to the north are fields with crops. After breakfast, the line is again on an embankment above a farming village. There are two small wayside stations, and then island platforms at the station named "804 km". A single line trails in on the north side of the four-track formation, then there's a station with island platforms serving all four tracks, and then the four tracks reduce to two. At a junction, double track goes off on the north side, three separate spurs head off into factories on the south side, and the line then passes through a deep cutting, a tunnel in an urban area, and another deep cutting.

The line has a local service, and the train's performance suggests it is following a local stopping service. There's a station with two island platforms at Onetbevo, with a footbridge connecting the platforms and signs alongside warning against crossing the tracks on foot. Then the line runs on an embankment above a valley with allotments, and then housing blocks and light industry. The line curves around from heading west to heading north, along the west side of the city center (and not far east of the east bank of the Volga River). The line passes over two broad streets with pairs of tracks in center reservations, but no trolley wire overhead. Two factories with loading docks on the east side have spurs trailing in, and the line passes a station with island platforms, a wayside station with side platforms only, but a footbridge connecting them, carriage sidings to the west, then depot and side platform to the east and three island platforms with a footbridge connecting them at Kazan and east side bays at the north end, with five tracks to the west.

In mid-morning, we leave the train in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, where there are crowds of visitors from the other direction for this afternoon's Moscow versus Kazan soccer match. Our buses take us up on the hills to the east of the station, to visit the city's Kremlin (a word meaning citadel), which overlooks the city and the rivers flowing through it (Kazanka to the north, Volga to the west). Within the citadel are a mosque, reconstructed in 2005, in which we visit a viewing balcony on an upper floor (with plastic wrappers over our shoes), as well as items on the ground floor, and an Orthodox Cathedral. Outside the citadel, we visit the St. Peter & Paul Cathedral, which has a huge iconostasis wall, and drive past Kazan's monument to the Victims of Stalin's Repression, located in a city-center park. As we drive among these places, I start to realize that we're actually driving around in circles in a relatively small area.

After lunch in a city-center restaurant, we walk along a shopping (pedestrianized) street, on which Chris buys a large porcelain cat, and then attend an excellent concert at a local hotel at which a singer from the Kazan Opera  sings works that Feodor Chaliapin, a native of the area, would have sung. The buses then take us to the port facilities on the east bank of the Volga River, where we board a boat for an hour-long cruise both up and down the Volga River, passing the city center and the harbor facilities. The river is at least a mile wide in this area, and the cruise is very enjoyable, easily the most relaxing event on the trip.

Leaving Kazan, the line heads north, almost immediately crossing the Kazanka River on a multi-span through-truss bridge, and then turns just north of due west, along the east bank of the Volga, past a rail-served gravel plant and then a container freight yard, on the north side, a small wayside station, a double track line bridging overhead on a through-girder bridge, with connections west to our line, on both the north and south sides, a parcels loading facility behind a wall on the north side, a small wayside station, some stuffed-and-mounted diesel locomotives on the north side, a small wayside station, an eight-track locomotive maintenance depot on the south side, a freight loading facility to the south with an eight to ten track yard, getting closer as we head west, beyond it, with a additional, separated, eight track yard beyond that.

A small wayside station precedes a track splitting off on the south side, to pass beneath as the main line climbs up on an embankment, and then connectors heading west join on both sides. There is a station with high-level island platforms serving four tracks, crossovers, extra tracks on both sides, a station with three island platforms, more crossovers, a station with low-level platforms between the tracks, a station with high-level island platforms, a spur trailing in from a facility to the north, extra tracks on the north side, a station with three high-level island platforms and a footbridge connecting the platforms, with a freight yard to the north of the station, more crossovers, six additional extra tracks on the north side, and a small wayside station (Voata).

The line climbs up on an embankment and turns almost due south to cross the Volga River on two parallel multi-span through-truss bridges, with signs of new bridge construction on the "north" side, turning west again and passing into a cutting on the southwest bank of the river.

On the train, after the day in Kazan, we have the 'farewell dinner on the train", at which the serving staff are dressed in traditional costumes. The food, of course, is the usual selection of traditional Russian dishes or vegetarian dishes, also in the Russian style. For once on this trip, we don't have an extended evening, since Kazan is in the same time zone as Moscow. The train stops twice more during dinner and afterwards, but darkness has fallen.


Kazan is a city of 1.1 million people located  on the east bank of the Volga River (in Europe, where the rivers flow south to the Caspian, unlike Siberia, where they flow north to the Arctic) at 56° N latitude and 44° E longitude, and is the capital of the Tatarstan Republic, home to the descendents of a nomadic Turkic tribe, dating back to 1005. Only 43% of the population of the republic is Russian.. The historic Kremlin contains the Kul Sharif mosque and the Annunciation Cathedral, as well as the slightly-leaning Syuyumbike Tower. Outside the Kremlin is the St. Peter & Paul Cathedral and the gardens containing the monument to the victims of Stalin's repression. All are located on the hill east of the station (and Volga River), and south of the Kazanka River.

Kazan is perhaps the most alien city we visit in Russia, due to its Islamic influences, yet it is also one with much character, of the kind that is absent from the quality of sameness that we have seen in the big cities of Siberia, most of which developed quasi-homogeneously in the same time period, after the coming of the railway. Of course, some of this effect is due to the proliferation of Soviet-era architecture and government-supplied buildings in that de-humanizing command economy.

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

When I awake, we are still in open countryside, but not long after breakfast, we start to see signs of the urban area around Moscow.  During the night (or perhaps in late evening), we have changed from AC to DC electric traction, again. Along the way, we pass a six to eight track freight yard on the north side, a locomotive depot to the north, and a small wayside station with low-level side platforms, and then pass back into wooded countryside.

West of km 164, there is a six to eight track freight yard on the south side, a small wayside station, a small wayside station with high-level platforms, a log-loading facility on the north side, a through-girder bridge over a small river, a spur trailing in from an industry on the north side, the line rises on an embankment, past more spurs at a lower level, crossovers, a loading facility on the north side, a small wayside station, a wayside station with high-level platforms, carriage sidings and a maintenance depot for suburban EMUs on the south side, perhaps marking the outer end of Moscow suburban service, goods loading facilities on the north side, and a station (Kurovaskar) with high-level platforms and depot on the north side.

There are maintenance-of-way sidings on the north side, a double-track non-electrified line bridging overhead, with westward connectors descending to join our line, a through-truss bridge over a small river, a wayside station with high-level platforms, a high-level island platforms between the double tracks, a wayside station with two side high-level platforms, spurs trailing in on the north side, a station with two high-level side platforms, a station with two low-level side platforms with depot on the north side, a station with two high-level  side platforms and depot to the north, a car-loading facility on the north side, a station with two high-level island platforms.

A line bridges overhead and a track heads away to join it, then two more tracks bridge overhead and head away on the north side, and tracks come alongside to the north, past a station with four island platforms and umbrella sheds, with single through tracks between the platform tracks. Extra tracks on the north and south sides separate, then our line rises to a through truss bridge and passes above the extra tracks from the south, and then descends on their south side to join them, with crossovers making this a four-track line. There is a station with two high-level side platforms on the four-track line, then another, crossovers, , seven extra tracks to the north, , forming an electrified freight yard, a station with two island platforms, and the freight tracks edge away north, with other facilities in between.

The Moscow Locomotive Maintenance depot appears on the north side, then EMU carriage shops, with stripped-out carriages. Two track and four track lines pass underneath at right angles, there is a suburban station on tracks to the south of ours, with some sort of electrified facility to the north. A single line trails in on the north side, forming part of a burrowing junction with a track trailing in on the south side. There is a station with high-level platforms on both sides and an island platform between tracks on the south side, carriage sidings and a container loading facility on the south side, spurs trailing in curvingly from the north, locomotive tracks on the north side, and then the seven platforms of the stub-end Kazansky station, with eight-to-ten tracks on the south side, an overall roof towards the west end, and station buildings west of the concourse at the west end of the stub tracks.

At the Kazansky station in Moscow, we leave behind the train and all of its on-board personnel (car attendants, serving staff, etc.), boarding our respective tour buses for the tour of Moscow, leaving Tour Manager to go the the hotel (at least for the bus 1 and bus 3 people) to check us all in ahead of time. The bus takes us first from the area of the station─on a square with two other mainline terminal stations, including the "Leningrad" station─under a viaduct carrying a busy railway line, and onto a boulevard curving around the north side of Moscow. After crossing a river, we stop at a park that provides a view of the Russian White House (across the river), the parliament building outside which Boris Yeltsin defied the Soviet tanks at the time of the attempted coup against  Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.

Then we stop for lunch at a restaurant that has some locomotive prints on the walls, including one of a Reading camelback! At lunch, I realize that the Sandbergs are no longer with the bus 3 group (and we don't see them again), and after lunch, the folks who prefer shopping leave us to go shopping and make their own way to the hotel for dinner. After lunch, we continue around the boulevard, past the Triumphal Arch, Victory Park and the WWII monument (dedicated in 1995), and then visit an observation platform overlooking a panorama of the city center, near Moscow State University (site of Jana's regular employment). Here, there are many souvenir stalls, at one of which Chris buys a set of nesting cat dolls, as well as several examples of newly married couples and their wedding parties being photographed at the scenic sites all around the city.

From this location, we descend to the New Convent of the Virgin (Novedevicky), where we visit the grounds but not the interior of the church or other buildings. Then we head towards the city center, past a cathedral that has been reconstructed just in the late 1990s, then around the outside of the Kremlin walls, past the old KGB headquarters (still in use by the successor organization), and leave the bus at Red Square. We're told, by the local guide, that "red" in this context means 'beautiful', not communist. We walk through a portion of this big parade-ground square, and visit part of the interior of St. Basil's Cathedral, across the square from the Kremlin walls, then continue past the GUM department store on one side and the Kremlin Clock Tower and the exterior of Lenin's Mausoleum on the other.

Passing between the historical museum and a corner of the Kremlin's wall, we pass by the statue of Marshal Zhukov, leader of the victorious Red Army in WWII, and enter the park alongside the Kremlin wall that we had passed by on the bus. Here is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, adjacent to the wall, and flower beds in front of the old stables, on the other side of the park, and the Kremlin Gate (Holy Trinity Tower) where we have to wait for the appointed hour for our group entry, passing through a somewhat perfunctory security inspection and then crossing a bridge over the moat between the walls into the citadel itself.

Inside the walls, we see the outside of the State Palace, the major government buildings where the newly-elected President receives visits from his master, the new Prime Minister and former President, Putin, passing other buildings such as the Arsenal and St. John's (Ivan the Great) Bell Tower before visiting the Cathedral of the Assumption, and passing by two other cathedrals—the Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Archangel. Finally, at the appointed time (after the normal closing time) we go to the Armory Museum for our private guided tour of the exhibits on several floors, including dresses and uniforms worn by the royal family in centuries gone by, many carriages, many jewelry pieces, and, to top things off, the Fabergé eggs. Jack says that, although he had visited the museum before, he had learned much from the commentary on our private tour that he had not been able to discern before.

Leaving the Kremlin, we return to the bus (in a different spot), which takes us around the front of the Bolshoi Theater (which is under renovation) to our hotel on a street up behind that theater. Later, in the hotel, those on bus 1 and bus 3 have a final farewell dinner. We're graced by the presence of Anna and Jana at our table (which otherwise has only the five of us from car 6 on the train), where Jack produces a poem he had written about the trip, and where he makes Jana blush by referring to her as his 'beautiful teacher' (in the Russian classes on the train).

As we'll be leaving in late afternoon, with a 2 pm checkout time, we pack before going to bed.


Moscow is a city of 10.4 million people, located at 56° N latitude and 37° E longitude, dating from the mid 12th-century. It was the capital of Russia until 1712, and of the Soviet Union from 1917, reverting to capital of Russia in 1991. As with many other capitals, most railway lines enter the city, but do not pass through it, ending at stub-end terminal stations on the fringes of the city center. The Kazansky station is on the same square as the Leningrad station and another terminal, east-northeast of the city center.

Apart from the distinctive architecture of Orthodox Christian churches, Moscow resembles large European cities much more than it does the cities of Siberia and the Russian Far East. Many of the buildings and features of central Moscow are much more familiar to westerners than those of any of the cities further east. Moscow has a comprehensive metro (subway) system, that we don't have time to patronize. In addition to the Kremlin (whose buildings are described above), on the north bank of the Moscow River on the southwest corner of the city center, many of the famous buildings of Moscow are located close by: the GUM department store is on the east side of Red Square, north of St. Basil's Cathedral and across from Lenin's Mausoleum, the Lubyanka building, site of the notorious prison and still used as the headquarters of the successor to the KGB, is just a few streets east, the Bolshoi Theater fronts on the main square, just a couple of streets north, and the ZUM department store is just behind that, on the east side of the street up the east side of the theater. The main shopping street is just two streets to the west of ZUM, also extending north from the main square just north of the Kremlin.

Monday, July 28th, 2008

We've some hours to spend in Moscow today, before leaving, so together with Jack, we walk over to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior/Redeemer (the one that had been rebuilt in the late 1990s, that we passed by yesterday), where we say goodbye to him, then walk back by the riverbank, under the river bridge, and again through the gardens along the Kremlin wall to the shopping center under the street. Here, we have lunch and buy a replacement battery for the one in my blood sugar meter, which had died this morning. We then walk under the street (still in the shopping center), and back past the front of the Bolshoi Theater to the hotel, as rain starts to fall. A little while later, with luggage in hand for the first time in two weeks, we return to the lobby, checkout, say goodbye to Jana and Anna (and some other people), and climb in our appointed car for the ride to the Leningrad station (across the square from the Kazansky station).

From Moscow to Winnipeg (7/28-8/3)

Monday, July 28th, 2008 (cont.)

Although its only a short distance, the ride to the station takes around 45 minutes. However, that means we're still there about two hours before our train will depart. The car driver hands us off to a porter, who loads our bags on a cart, and then takes us into the large station waiting room, where there are no seats available and we have to improvise seating for the duration.

The Leningrad station has a large rectangular building facing on the square, to the north of the Kazansky station, oriented long-axis perpendicular to the square. Inside this building is the main waiting room, lines with cafes and shops, but not supplied with adequate seating. At the north end is the arrivals and departure board, mounted on the wall above the doors that exit to the outdoor (but covered) concourse at the south end of the stub-end platforms. There is a driveway on the west side of the building and platforms, five stub platforms with umbrella sheds, directly on the concourse (with one west-side platform and two 'islands'), numbered, from the west, 9,7,5,3,1, and further out, on the east side, past some operational buildings on that side, five more 'local' platforms, without umbrella sheds, numbered 2,4,6,8, and 10.

At about 3:45 pm, the porter returns, and takes us to the carriage on the train in which our reserved seats are located. (He had looked at the tickets only once, so must have memorized this.). This turns out to be a Business-Class style carriage, just forward of the restaurant car, which I think is handy but turns out not to be necessary. The train departs at 4:30 pm, on time.


Train Operator



Train Stock


8-28-08 ?? 1630 Moscow-St. Petersburg Inter-City ЧС6-015

The line from Moscow to St. Petersburg is a four-track line out of the end of the odd-numbered platforms, while three tracks from the 'local' platforms curve away on the east side immediately north of the station, with a carriage maintenance depot in the vee of the junction. There is a carriage depot on the west side of the long-distance lines, with 11-12 carriage sidings beyond that. There is a suburban station (two side platforms and an island), eight to ten track carriage sidings on the east side, followed by a carriage maintenance depot, a suburban station (two side platforms and an island), a suburban track trailing in on the east side and bridging overhead, two suburban stations with two side platforms, eight to ten sidings with parcels cars on the east side, with carriage sidings beyond them, and a suburban station with two island platforms.

There are three to four freight sidings to the west, a suburban station with two side platforms, a locomotive depot to the east, then spurs going off, a suburban station with two side platforms, a through truss bridge over a river or lake, a suburban station with two side and a center island platforms, a parcels loading platforms to the east, and a suburban station with two side platforms, after which there is, for the first time, a break in the urban landscape as we're out in the fields. There is a suburban station with two side platforms, followed by another, an embankment above a valley, a suburban station with two side platforms, extra tracks and a goods loading platforms to the east, a suburban station with two side platforms, and two to three carriage sidings to the west. All this way, the train has been traveling at about 100 mph, and continues to do so.

We pass a suburban station with two side platforms, crossovers, extra tracks to the east, carriage sidings to the west, crossovers, and a suburban station with two island and two side platforms. The line reduces to only two tracks, on an embankment, in a cutting, on an embankment in a forest, past crossovers, then two extra tracks to the east, an embankment in the forest again, then a cutting, a track trailing in on the east side, crossovers, a station with two side platforms, extra track on the east side, an embankment, a station with two side platforms and then another, a cutting, a station with two side platforms, fields lined with trees, a station with two side platforms, a spur trailing in on the east side, crossovers, a freight yard on the east side, a rail-served factory to the east, a station with two side platforms, a maintenance-of-way depot to the west, a station with two side platforms, crossovers, three extra tracks on the east side, and a station with two side platforms, just about one hour from departing Moscow.

As we head north, it becomes apparent that we're to be served diner at our seats. An attendant comes through asking about choice of entree and choice of drink. These are served quite soon, and the whole meal process is concluded before the express train makes its first stop, about a third of the way to St. Petersburg.

Just over that hour from Moscow, a large body of water appears on both sides, which we then cross on a multi-span through-truss bridge. It appears to be the Volga River, much upstream from when we had last seen it, but still quite wide. There are two sets of crossovers, extra track on the east side, an embankment, a station with two side platforms, and then another, a cutting, a station with two side platforms, a goods siding, separated, to the east, then a goods loading facility, crossovers, five or six extra tracks to the east, EMU carriage sidings to the west, and a station with a large island platform and an EMU maintenance depot to the west of the station (Tver?) where we make that first stop from 5:50 to 5:53 pm.

There is a stuffed-and-mounted 0-10-0, Em 725-39, on the west side, north of the station, three-to-four  EMU sidings to the west side, a nine-to-ten track freight yard to the east, and the tracks reduce to two, again, past a station with two side platforms, a multi-span through-truss bridge over a river, a station with two side platforms, rail-served plants on the east side, a four-to-six track freight yard to the east, non-electrified sidings with a rail-renewal train to the east, a station with two side platforms, an embankment, a deck girder bridge over a river, a station with two side platforms, as the train is running slower than it had been before the stop, three stations with two side platforms each, extra track on the east side, a station with two island platforms, crossovers, a track maintenance train on an extra track to the east, spurs, a station with two side platforms, as the train speeds up again, two more stations with two side platforms each, extra track to the east, a station with two side platforms, a cutting, and embankment, and crossovers.

Extra tracks on the east and west sides lead to a station with two island platforms, after which the extra tracks end as the line runs through a cutting, a station with two side platforms, crossovers, extra track, a station with an island and two side platforms, crossovers, a station with two side platforms, extra track on the east side, a station with two side platforms, a spur trailing in on the east side, a spur heading away, extra track to the east, a station with two side platforms, a brief second extra track to the east, a deck girder bridge over a river, a station with two side platforms, extra track to the east, a station with two side platforms, an embankment, three extra tracks on the east side, a station with two island platforms, with additional tracks between the east side platform and the depot, an embankment, extra tracks below and to the east, a six to eight track freight yard to the west, more extra tracks to the east, and a station with two side and center island high-level platforms (Bolonoye), where we stop from 7:19 to 7:25 pm.

There is an extra track to the east, a connector and the extra track head away east, a cutting, a station with two side platforms, extra tracks on the east side, crossovers, more extra track on the east side, a spur on the east side curving into a facility, an embankment, a cutting, a station with two side platforms, an embankment, a cutting, a station with two side platforms, a cutting, a spur trailing in on the east side, two extra tracks to the east, a station with two island platforms and a depot to the east, with two east side extra tracks, crossovers, an embankment, a cutting in thick forest, a six track yard on the east side, a station with two island platforms, a maintenance depot to the west, a cutting, and embankment, and a deck girder bridge over a river.

The line passes through a cutting and over an embankment, past a station with two side platforms, extra track on the west side, a station with two side platforms, a log-loading facility to the west, two stations with two side platforms each, a cutting an embankment, a bridge over a stream, a station with two side platforms, a cutting, an embankment, a viaduct over a river in a valley below, that requires slower running from the train, a station with two side platforms, extra track on the west side, two stations with two side platforms each,, extra track to the west, four extra tracks serving a facility on the west side, a four-track freight yard, a spur heading away east into a lumber yard, a station with two side platforms, extra track on the west side, and then forest again.

There is a station with two side platforms, extra track to the west, a station with two side platforms, a through truss bridge over a river (the Neva), a station with two side platforms, a four-track freight yard to the west, crossovers, extra tracks on both sides, a wye on the east side, crossovers, a station with two island platforms, four stations with two side platforms each, three extra tracks on the west side, four stations with two side platforms each, a spur trailing in on the east side, a station with two island platforms, extra tracks on the east side, a rail-served petrochemical facility to the west, a bridge over a river that requires the train to go slower, extra tracks to the east, a station with two island platforms, two additional extra tracks to the east, serving a repair facility, and an eight track freight yard to the east.

Crossovers precede a line heading away on the east side, a line trailing in on the east side,  and there are four extra tracks, a double-track line to the west has a station on it, and then another, an embankment, a bridge over a river that requires the train to go slower, a station with two side platforms, crossovers and then extra tracks on both sides, a station with two island platforms, railway workshops for carriages and EMUs to the east, four extra tracks on the east side, a station with two island platforms, a through truss bridge over a river requiring the line to rise and then descend again, a through truss bridge overhead comprising a flying junction, a twelve track goods yard to the east, a station with two side platforms, many freight loading tracks to the east, a station with two side platforms, a ten to twelve track freight yard to the east, carriage sidings to the east, and a station with two side platforms.

A through truss bridge crosses tracks passing below, and then another, there is a ten track freight yard to the east, carriage sidings to the east, two extra tracks to the east and four to six to the west, a platform to the east with tracks beyond it, and the same on the west side and we reach St. Petersburg's Moscow Station, which has seven total platform tracks, with five of them (1 to 5) full length, on the west side, and 6 and 7 shorter, on the east side. The Moscow Station in St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Station in Moscow have identical-looking Great halls (waiting rooms) in modern rectangular buildings arranged long-axis parallel to the tracks, with the whole building located with the narrow end beyond the end of all the platforms. 

We arrive in St. Petersburg at 9:59 pm, as twilight is falling. There's no sign of the car driver who's supposed to be meeting us, anywhere on the platform, at the end of the platform where other people with signs are waiting, or in the main waiting room at the location which one of the people with signs, but not yet the people she's meeting, says is a standard meeting place. Eventually, when darkness has almost completely fallen (a long process, at this latitude in late July), I go back out to the platform, and find a man with a sign bearing our names, who definitely had not been there when we were waiting there earlier. He drives us west on Nevsky Prospekt, and then north to the Kempinski Hotel, alongside the first canal around the city center, just to the east of Palace Square, where we check-in and they make copies/records of our passports. It's quite late, so we go right to bed.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

We start out this morning by walking to the indoor Railway Museum, located in the Headquarters of the Russian Railway Institute. The walking distance is a bit further than I might have wanted to walk, but there's no obvious public transit method for getting there. We start out by walking back along the side of the first canal to Nevsky Prospekt, the main street on which we had come in from the Moscow Station the previous night, and discover that there's no way to cross that street at the canal, to continue walking along the canal. So, we turn northwest, to the next street corner, and cross there at the traffic light, continuing down that side street, which takes us past a McDonald's, where we stop to buy coffee and a drink for Chris. We continue, taking the next cross street back to the canal and then out to the second canal, walking along it out to the next radial street and then past to a short street which reaches over to the street where the museum is located. We cross that street and turn west to the museum. We're too early for its 11 am opening, so we have to wait outside for awhile, in a threatening rainstorm.

The main floor of the institute is given over to excellent exhibits and models covering the history of railways in Russia, with an annex covering the history of (railway) bridges in even more detail. It's interesting to see the models of the full range of locomotives and rolling stock, both to see how similar they are to the ones we're uesd to, and how different in some respects. There's even a model of a dome observation car, very similar to those developed in the USA, that apparently ran somewhere in Russia. It's disappointing that even here, where the ticket office has a number of issues of what appears to be a rail enthusiasts' magazine, there's no book covering the classes of locomotives currently in use on the railways of Russia.

On leaving the museum, we find that the rainstorm has transpired while we were inside, but now the air is dry again, so we walk towards the River Neva up the west side of the city center, taking care to avoid the puddles resulting from the rainstorm. Eventually, we reach and photograph the Cathedral, the former Senate building, a statue of a mounted horseman in a park, and the riverbank, with clear views across to the other side, the cruiser Aurora (a shot from which started the October Revolution), and more views across the river as we walk east to the Winter Palace. At the latter, we find that entry to the Hermitage Art Museum is from Palace Square, behind the palace, and in that square we find a long line for entry, so Chris goes off to buy some sausages for lunch, while I take up a place in the moving line.

Two-and-a-half hours later, we finally make it inside the museum, with just over two hours of opening time left. That's plenty for us if we plan our visit correctly, so we take the time to peruse the layout before starting around. We want to visit Catherine the Great's painting collection, especially those from the Dutch and French schools. We can pass on the modern paintings, since those we would be interested in we have seen on a visit to Chicago a few years ago. Not far into our exploration of the paintings, we run into a couple from the Trans-Siberian trip (the Indians who live in Massachussetts), who had arrived this morning (by air) and are touring with a personal guide. We greet them, and then continue on our way. We're duly impressed by some of the paintings, especially the very large ones, and less impressed by some others. After a couple of hours, we've seen what we wanted to see, and are walked off our feet, so we leave, and walk across Palace Square towards the hotel.

On the way, we're accosted by a couple of men who appear to be trying to sell us things, but may actually have been trying to steal things out of my camera bag and Chris' purse.  Perusing the city map, after getting back to the room after 5 pm, I notice that there's also an outdoor railway museum, south of the Old Moscow Station, some distance southwest of the indoor railway museum, but it's too late to get there now.

Later, when it's time to go out again, Chris can't decide whether to take her passport or not, and keeps moving it between a pocket in her purse and the credenza in the room. We walk back to the bridge over the Neva, next to the Winter Palace, where I take some photographs of the facade of the Winter Palace and the Hermitage, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and around to Strelka, and the other end of the cruiser Aurora. Then, not being very hungry, we walk down Nevsky Prospekt and up the side street to McDonald's for something to eat, walking back through the big arch in the military offices and the Palace Square before going to bed.

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg (which at times has been called Petrograd and Leningrad) is a city of 4.4 million people, located at 60° N latitude and 30° E longitude. It was created by Peter the Great in 1703, and served as Russia's capital until the Revolution of October (old-style) 1917. It is located on the River Neva, at the east end of the Gulf of Finland (and arm of the Baltic Sea), and was supposed to give Russia a port to communicate with western Europe, which unfortunately was not ice-free. The center of the city is surrounded by canals, just like those in Amsterdam, which served as Peter's model for designing the city. The city was the site of revolutions in December, 1825, January, 1905, and March and October, 1917. All this time, it was the cultural capital of Russia, home to its best composers, writers, poets, and artists.

For 872 days, Leningrad (as it was then) was besieged by the Nazi armies, resulting in the deaths of 1 million residents. Today, there seems little connection between the industrialized outer city and the central core of Peter the Great's city that serves as a magnet for tourists, domestic and foreign. We see some outer portions of the city because we are heading to and from railway museums, and some due to unexpected turns of events.

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

We're up early, this morning, to checkout of the hotel and take our car to the Finland Station, north of the Neva in the northeast corner of the city center, at 6:45 am for our 7:25 am train. Rain is falling steadily, and obviously has been overnight. At the station, our train pulls in just after 7am (it's the overnight sleeping-car train from Moscow, which only has sleepers, a restaurant car, and second-class coaches in its consist, so we're in second class, today.) At our car, the car attendant speaks no English, but manages to convey that she wants to see the tickets all the way to Helsinki, not just the Finnish border. Satisfied, she lets us and our luggage on board..


Train Operator



Train Stock


7-30-08 ?? 0725 St. Petersburg-Vyborg Sleepers+Second Class ЧС2

The Finland Station has one west side and three 'island' platforms, all stub end, for a total of seven tracks, numbered 2 to 8, and s short stub platform on the west side for track 1, with the station buildings across the stub end with no concourse outside the building towards the tracks other than walkways to and from the platforms. There's no obvious waiting room inside the building. The train is the overnight sleeper from Moscow, which has run around town on some orbital track, and comprises three or four sleeping cars, a restaurant car, and two coaches. We're in coach. The train reverses here, so the locomotive on the sleeping car end is not the locomotive hauling us out. The train departs at 7:27 am (on time).

The line north from St. Petersburg passes through a seven track wide station throat, with six freight tracks on the east side. The formation reduces to four tracks, and then two. There is a station with two side platforms, and the line heads out into the forest, past a station with two side platforms, extra tracks to the east and west, a station with two side platforms, with two goods tracks to the east, three more stations with two side platforms each, four extra tracks to the east, two more stations with two side platforms each, a spur heading away to the east, extra track to the east and west, a deck girder bridge over a river, and three more stations with two side platforms each.

There are two extra electrified tracks to the west extra track to the east, two stations with two side platforms each, a forest with tall evergreens, two stations with two side platforms each, a line departing on the west side, extra track on the east side, extra track on the west side, eight to ten tracks on the west side beyond the trees, a locomotive depot below and to the west, a bridge over a single track, goods sidings beyond the locomotive sidings to the west, an urban area, carriage sidings to the west, extra track to the east and west, crossovers, and the station at Vyborg, with depot and side platforms to the west and three island platforms to the east.

Not long after departure, the car attendant comes around to take our tickets and passports. I hand her my passport and the tickets, but Chris can't find her passport. This generates a lot of discussion, thankfully helped by a Finnish man named Igor in the seats in front of us, who speaks both excellent English and excellent Russian. After we go through a lot of discussion, with other train officials getting involved, it is concluded that we'll have to get off the train at Vyborg (the first stop, and the last stop in Russia) and go back to St. Petersburg to go to the US Consulate, there. When we get to Vyborg, this is confirmed with a lot more discussion with the Russian border officials, and a lot more interpreting by Igor, as we stand on the platform with our luggage, next to the train. The officials tell me, through Igor, that of course I can continue, but quite apart from the fact that our luggage isn't packed as 'his' and 'hers suitcases, we know that Chris would never find her way around without me.

The next complication is that there will be substantial delays to trains heading in the direction of St. Petersburg, since (as we had seen from the train), track maintenance forces are going to be replacing a bridge over a river, a few miles south of Vyborg, today. So, we're directed to a bus terminal a couple of blocks away. There's a bus every 20 minutes to St. Petersburg, and the trip takes a couple of hours along some very poorly maintained roads. I'm envisioning a bus terminal somewhere in the center of St. Petersburg, but instead the bus terminates at the northern terminus of the Metro Blue line. To get to the US Consulate will require two changes of train at interchange stations along the way, and we need some kind of special ticket to get us through the barrier with our luggage. This takes a lot of help from a passer-by who speaks some English, before we're on our way.

The St. Petersburg Metro is most decidedly not accessible for level boarding, so we have to drag the luggage up and down many flights of stairs. Finding running-in nameboards at stations is almost impossible, so we have to count the stations along the line to get to the one we want. One hitch is that an extra station has been added since the large maps were created, so we initially get off the first train one station too early, but its immediately obvious that this isn't an interchange station! At the interchange stations, we have to navigate by a sort of dead-reckoning to find our next train, taking note of which direction the arriving train is heading, and then which direction we're facing at each turn, to ensure getting on a train going in the correct direction. Eventually, we succeed in all of this, and drag our bags west from the exit station along the street to the US Consulate.

At the latter, the guards won't let us inside, and I have to talk on a house phone to someone who tells me that "Citizens' Services" is closed for the day (it's all of 1:30 pm!). I protest and explain what has happened, and eventually, Chris is allowed inside, but I have to stand, with the luggage, in the under-construction dirt median of the street while she's in there. At about 2:30 pm, she reappears, and says she has an appointment for 9:30 am the following day to get her temporary passport. This means we need a hotel for the night (as well as passport photos), and as we're discussing this, the consul himself (with whom Chris had been dealing) appears, heading for lunch, and recommends a small hotel 'nearby'.

We head off to find this, but before getting there, dragging the luggage, Chris encounters a Russian travel agent, who tells her that no hotel is going to let her in without a passport. Now why hadn't the Consulate told her that, and helped with the matter? The travel agent helps us get a taxi to go back to the Kempinski, the one hotel that has a record of her passport, and fortunately they have an available room for the next two nights.

Next, we have to work on revised travel arrangements, since even though our train tickets are good for two months, we can't catch up with our itinerary by taking those trains. We also have to deal with the issue that both Chris' Russian visa and her entry stamp disappeared with the passport, so if the passport doesn't turn up by 9:30 am, we'll have to replace them too. So, we call the GW Travel Emergency Telephone, and are connected with a lady named Melanie who will help us for the next 48 hours. We can't meaningfully cancel even the ferry reservation for tonight, since it's less than 48 hours ahead, and we shouldn't make flight bookings to catch up with the itinerary until we have a functioning passport in hand. Melanie asks us to call her back when we have the passport, to start the process of getting a substitute visa/entry-stamp so Chris can exit. (My existing Visa is good until August 2nd, so that's one less thing to be concerned about.)

Now, we have to get the Passport Photos, so we ask the location of an appropriate facility, and are directed to one on Nevsky Prospekt. We go over there, and with some difficulty, convey what we want, get the photos taken, and are given a time in two hours when they will be done. We then head for McDonalds to get something to eat for the first time, today (finally), where we run into the Sri Lankan couple from the Trans-Siberian train. Later, we get the photos, which will do, and later still, eat at a restaurant just beyond the big arch in the General Staff building.

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I allow an hour to take the Metro over to the US Consulate for Chris' 9:30 am appointment. Photos and forms in hand, we set off, walking east on Nevsky Prospekt to the nearest Metro station to the hotel, which is in the vicinity of the Kazansky Cathedral. Unfortunately, the dead-reckoning that works when changing trains doesn't work at the originating station, and we get on a train on the wrong line, and realizing the error, go back, thinking we've just gone the wrong way, past the originating station. Finally realizing the true error, we return again, and this time connect to the correct train(s) and make it to the Consulate only 20 minutes late.

Chris is allowed inside, but I'm not, and again, I have to stand outside on that under-construction dirt median for an hour, watching the same thing happen to prospective visitors to the US, both business and tourist, who all suffer the same indignity after arriving and while waiting for their appointments inside. When Chris reappears, she has a replacement passport, good for one year, but nothing has been done about either visa or entry stamp, not even assistance offered!

Not wanting this to be an entirely wasted day, and since it isn't yet 11 am, I decide we should try to visit the outdoor railway museum, so we take the Metro down to a station in that vicinity, and after a couple of false starts, find our way to the Old Moscow Station, and then to the railway museum behind it, which appears t have even more locomotives than the one we had visited in Novosibirsk.

The exhibits at the museum include:

Steam Locomotives

СО17 (SO17) 243 2-10-0 1949
П-36 (P-36) 0251 4-8-4 1956
  (LU18) 002 2-10-2 1953
Су (Su) 253-15 2-6-2 1940
Л-2 (L-2) 298 2-10-0 1953
Т7 (T7) 1770 2-6-0T 1913
9П (9P) 15387 4-6-0 1963
ТК3 (TK3) 1105 2-8-0 1941
ТЭ (TE) 6769 2-10-0 1943
ЭА (Ea) 2201 2-10-0 1944 Baldwin
Э1 (E1) 534 2-10-0 1917 Alco
  Fireless 9305 0-6-0 1928
Эр  (Er) 750-04 0-10-0 1943
ССм17 (SsM17) 945 2-10-0 1938
ЭЧ (ECh) 4444 0-10-0 1921-24
ФД20 (FD20) 1103 2-10-0 1936
ОД (OD) 1080 0-8-0  
Со (So) 68 2-6-2 1960
БВ (BV) 6640 0-6-0 1902
Эм (EM) 730-31 0-10-0 1930
СО (SO) 1137 2-10-0  
Ь y 2023 0-6-0T 1897

Diesel Locomotives

ТЭП80 (TEP80) 0002 Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo 1960
ЛжС200 (LhS200) 002   1975
МЛСА1 (MLSA1) 719-3   1984
ТЭП70 (TEP70) 0007 Co-Co  
ТЭП60 (TEP60) 0190 Co-Co 1969
ТЭП10 (TEP10) 163 Co-Co  
ТЭ7 TE7 013 Co-Co 1957
ТЭМ1 (TEM1) 0026 Co-Co 1959
ТГМ3 (TGM3) 012 Bo-Bo 1960
ТГ (TG) 016   1960
ТГМ1 (TGM1) 575 C 1962
ГжМЭ3 (ChME3) 001   1965
ЧМЭ1 (UME1) 043   1956
МГ2 (MG2) 1 Co-Co 1964
ТГ102 (TG102) 153/169   1963
ТЭ3 (TE3) 1001 2(Co-Co) 1956
ТЭ1-20 (TE1-20) 135 Co-Co 1949
ДА20 (DA20) 09 Co-Co 1945
ТЭ2 (TE2) 414 2(Bo-Bo) 1954
ТЭ5-20 (TE5-20) 032 Co-Co 1948
М62 (M62) 1731 Co-Co 1983
ГЭИО (GEIO) 001 10 axles 1924

Electric Locomotives

ЧС2 (ChS2) 023 Co-Co-Co 1962
ЧС200 (ChS200) 002 Co-Co-Co  
ЧС1 (ChS1) 041 Co-Co-Co 1960
ЧжС4 (ChS4) 012 Co-Co 1960
ВЛ41 (VL41) 060   1964
ВЛ60к (VL60k) 065 Bo-Bo 1960
ВЛ23 (VL23) 001 Co-Co 1956
ВЛ22м (VL22m) 1729 Co-Co 1957
Фк (FK) 07   1959
ВЛ8 (VL8) 1522 Bo-Bo 1953-67
СсМ (SsM) 14   1933

Electric Trains

Эр10 Er10 002   1969
СМ3 (SM3) 1024   1934
СМ (SM) 1027   1932

It takes us about 90-minutes to go around the museum, and we then take the Metro back to the Nevsky Prospekt station (which requires a change), stopping at a Subway restaurant to buy lunch, which we then take back to the hotel room to get started in the Visa/Entry issue and the travel arrangements issue. Several phone calls with Melanie and others in different places and organizations ensue (two different attempts to locate our 'sponsor', for example), until finally we're given the name and number of someone at the US Embassy in Moscow who is alleged to be able to help, but by then its just after 6 pm, and the office in Moscow has closed for the day.

We eat at a pizza restaurant, next to the Subway restaurant on Nevsky Prospekt, and walk back past the Cathedral on the Blood, which is visible out of the rear of the hotel, and which we had passed in the taxi the day before.

The St. Petersburg Railway Museum(s)

The Central Railway Transport Museum of Russia claims to have been founded in 1813, and is part of the Ministry of Railways of the Russian Federation. It was started as part of the Institute of Railroad Engineers Corps, in St. Petersburg, so that "models of all important constructions in Russia" would be kept "in a special hall" It was opened to the public in 1862, in a different location from the present indoor museum, which was opened to the public in 1924. Later, ownership was vested in the Leningrad Institute of Railway Engineers.

The museum has exhibits of model locomotives, carriages, signaling, bridges and bridge building, freight yards, and construction and maintenance-of-way equipment. There is no obvious connection between the indoor museum in the city, and the outdoor collection of locomotives and rolling stock located behind the Old Moscow Station, south of the city.

Friday, August 1st, 2008

We arise in plenty of time to head over to McDonald's for morning coffee and tea, getting back to the room in time to call the Embassy at 9 am. The woman there agrees to help, and we fax her some documents, but she requires evidence of the flight(s) on which we're leaving Russia before doing so. Nothing is said at this point about restrictions on which airport we can leave Russia from. So, we call Melanie again, and she finds a travel company in St. Petersburg that will sell us the flight tickets. However, we must make the reservations ourselves, and we do this with the help of the concierge at the Kempinski, for flights from St. Petersburg to Munich, and then Munich to Amsterdam, this evening. (Our original itinerary had us arriving in Amsterdam shortly after noon, St. Petersburg time, today, so this will catch us up with tonight's hotel reservation.)

The embassy wants to see "a copy of the tickets", so first we must buy them. The Kepinski arranges for a courier to bring them to the hotel, but that will require cash, and two attempts to take the needed just over $2,000 (in roubles, of course) at ATMs results in a cash amount well short of the needed amount, and an inability, even at a bank (we tried) to get more). So, we ask if the travel company will take a credit card, and the answer is yes, but we must go there. The company is alongside the Kazansky Cathedral, so we walk over there, and after a couple of false starts, find someone who speaks English who can point us at it, precisely. Electronic ticket in hand (using a different card from the one we had used at the ATMs), we walk back to the hotel, making the mistake of not buying lunch on the way. We've already arranged for a 2 pm checkout from the hotel, and been told that this can't be extended, and for a car at 2 pm to take us to the airport.

We fax the copy of the electronic ticket to the woman at the Embassy, and get a call back asking why we're not leaving from (or via) Moscow! This is a new wrinkle, and it has Chris in tears. When I've calmed her down,  and we've tried but failed in raising anyone at the Consulate in St. Petersburg, we call Melanie again, with our latest request for help. She asks about changing the air booking, and I comment that at some point we will run out of money to pay for new sets of tickets (the ones we have are non-refundable). I also point out that we have to be out of the room at 2 pm, so continuing discussion will have to be via the phone(s) at the concierge's desk.

We go downstairs and checkout. About 2:30 pm, Melanie calls, talks to Chris and then the concierge, and then Chris again, and somehow, we're set up to leave at 3 pm (for a 5:20 pm flight, which everyone agrees is a tight schedule). Finally, someone from the embassy calls, who has talked to someone at the consulate, and wants to talk to our driver! We leave, and on the way to the airport, she calls again, tells both Chris and me (in succession) what is happening (and that she doesn't understand why the Consulate hasn't already provided this assistance, without having to be asked further), and then talks to the driver again. At the airport (by 3:30 pm), we wait in the entrance area, with the departures board saying that check-in for our flight closes at 4:25 pm, with the driver checking his phone regularly.

What is supposed to happen is that someone from the consulate is supposed to call the 'consular' at the airport, who will then stamp Chris' replacement passport with something that will pass muster at the departure passport control  At 4:20 pm, the driver gets another phone call, sends me through the intervening security step with all the bags (by myself), and goes off with Chris to see the consular. Somehow, I manage to move all five bags through security by myself, and get them to the counter, where I check in three of them and get the boarding passes for the flight to Munich. I then sit down and wait for Chris to appear. She does, with passport stamped, having had to pay the consular $25 (US funds) as a bribe. As we head for passport control, the person from the check-in counter runs up with the boarding passes for the second flight, which she had printed but not given to me.

Although the passport control officer raises an eyebrow, the replacement passport and stamp eventually pass muster, and mine, of course, is just fine, so we're through, and on our way to the gate. The flight to Munich passes without incident, as does the change of planes in Munich and the flight onward to Amsterdam. Arriving at the latter, we change our bundle of roubles to euros, buy two tickets for the train from Schiphol Airport into Amsterdam, and head for the platform.


Train Operator



Train Stock


8-1-08 Netherlands Rail 2125 Schiphol-Centraal Double-deck EMUs N/A

Manipulating the luggage on the stairs of the train is a minor difficulty, and 20 minutes later we're in Amsterdam Centraal. The forecourt of the station, where all the tram stops are, is under major construction, so the view from the station doesn't resemble what I expect. We walk beyond the tram stops, and at the first hotel, Chris asks for directions to our hotel. (Darkness has completely fallen, since we're more than 6 degrees of latitude further south than this morning.) We're told "walk a hundred meters south, turn left (across the street), and the hotel is behind the big red building. This works just fine, and we find the hotel just as rain begins to fall.

The hotel is on the edge of (but outside) the red light district, and the streets are full of celebrating crowds in town for the Gay Pride festival this weekend. The noise threatens our ability to sleep, since we must have the room window open to cool the room. We don't care! What a contrast in lifestyles and freedom! From Russia, where the citizens need passports to move around their country (yes, in 2008), every visitor needs an EXIT visa to leave the country (never mind what the citizens need), and everyone pays bribes to get things done, we have wound up in the maelstrom of the very epicenter of freedom in the western world. To me, just the freedom to drink the tap water and rinse my toothbrush in it is something to celebrate. Russia is truly "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma", as Winston Churchill wrote in 1939.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Rain is falling when we awake this morning, but not enough to keep us from our day's activities. We walk over to the storefront serving as the base for the "Hop On, Hop Off" buses around town, which also provide a one-hour guided tour around town, and buy tickets for the "Hop On, Hop Off" service, and for entry to the small segment of the Rijksmuseum (known as "Masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum") that is operating while the rest of the building is being renovated. While we're waiting for the bus to arrive, we chat with a Canadian couple who are just doing the one-hour city tour (on the same bus, it transpires).

The bus takes us north, past the station, and then east, along the harbor area, turning south and then west, past the zoo, to a stop at a diamond factory. Tours are available for those who wish, or the bus continues on after ten minutes. The bus then heads out to the one remaining windmill in the area and an inner ring-road, along the Singlegracht waterway, where it heads clockwise, around the city, across the Amstel River, past a stop at the Heineken Brewery, where again, tours are available, and then a stop at the Hard Rock Cafe that serves as the stop for the Rijksmuseum. We get off, here, and walk across the street and then back a couple of blocks to the museum, where there proves to be no line that would have prevented us from getting right in even if we hadn't bought the tickets already.

Highlights of the "Masterpieces of the Rijksmuseum" include the Vermeers and the Rembrandts, including the magnificent "Night Watch", but the many Dutch School landscape paintings are also very interesting. When we get to the Vermeer paintings, their apparent lighting puts them in a class by themselves. We already have a big book on the Rembrandts (as we do on the Paintings of the Hermitage, from St. Petersburg), but I buy books on Vermeer and on the highlights of the Rijksmuseum collection. Then, we go back outside and reboard the bus at the same stop, continuing on around the ring road, and then turning inward, past a church (the Westerkerk) that serves as a stop for the Anne Frank House, located just behind the church, and then turns south, after crossing the various rings of canals, to the south end of the city center, and back north again, through Dam Square, the center of the city, to our original boarding point, one block from our hotel.

We drop off the books at the hotel, and then head back towards Dam Square, where we have lunch in a restaurant featuring local cuisine. Our guide book for the city describes a walk along segments of four of the canals around the city center. We decide to follow this walk, so we head west from Dam Square, south along Singel, west on Wolvenstraat to Keisersgracht, on which we walk south and then southeast, northeast on Koningsplein, southeast and then east on Herengracht, stopping at a sidewalk cafe for an apfelsap along the way, south along Reguliersgracht, alongside a cross-canal, and east on Prinsengracht to the Amstel. By the last couple of these, we're into the crowds and entertainment for the Gay Pride events, and while we would ordinarily avoid these, they seem almost welcome after the restrictions in Russia!

At the west bank of the Amstel, we turn north, through the crowds, and follow the riverbank around to the west, to the south end of the city center where we had passed on the bus. From here, we walk north along Kaiserstraat, a pedestrian-only shopping street, not the street (Rokin) further east that the bus had taken, stopping in a Waterstone's bookshop, where I buy a book on Britain's railways that I had missed when it first came out, and then continuing north to Dam Square and back to the hotel. Later, in a light rain, we walk back over to Damrak, the street on which we had initially walked south from Centraal Station, and have dinner in a restaurant there.  

Back at the hotel, we check what time we need to be on a train from Centraal station to catch our 11:15 am flight to Chicago, with no hassles, and then go to bed.


Amsterdam was born as a fishing village at the mouth of the Amstel River in abut 1200. It grew slowly in the historic center for four hundred years, and then in the 17th-century expanded through three great canal rings in the age of the Dutch Empire. It consolidated in the area then attained for another couple of hundred years, before expanding again in the industrial era and into the modern era. The city has prospered both as a financial center and as a center of the diamond trade. This was the city that Peter the Great visited around 1700 to develop his ideas on how to westernize Russia.

Central Amsterdam is just 7 ft. above sea level, and the water in its canals and river are at the level of the surrounding sea, but much of the land between the city and either the Ijsselmeer to the north or the North Sea to the west is below sea level, protected by dikes and tide barriers. The runways at Schiphol airport, for example, are 15 ft. below sea level.

The city itself has a population of just under 750,000, in an area of just under 85 square miles, but is the center of an urban area comprising some 6.7 million people occupying 700 square miles. It is located at 52°22′ N latitude and 4°53′ E longitude.

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

We're up at 6:30 am, to be sure we're on a 7:30 or so train from Centraal station, pack, checkout, walk to the station, and buy tickets to the airport. Then we walk out to the platform, and board the train.


Train Operator



Train Stock


8-3-08 Netherlands Rail 0730 Centraal-Schiphol Double-deck EMUs N/A

A twenty-minute ride gets us out to the airport, after which we find we have to wait in line for the United Airlines counter to open (at 8 am). We've used frequent-flyer miles to get Business Class upgrades for this leg of the trip, so we're in a shorter line than we otherwise might have been. After checking-in, checking the luggage, and getting boarding passes, we're invited to go to Lounge 42 to wait for the flight, which we do (by 8:30 am). When it appears to be time to head for the gate (since we're not yet through security), we do so, and discover that at this airport, there's a security checkpoint at each gate, and that once through, there's no access to toilets or cafes. This becomes an issue, when the flight doesn't board when our boarding passes say to expect it, but over a hour later (ostensibly, because the aircraft was late arriving from the USA).

The Business Class seats and service make this flight almost enjoyable, but of course, our connection in Chicago gets smaller by the same amount of time as the 68 minute delay in Amsterdam. In Chicago, only about 45 minutes late (which must result from the routing we took, passing well south of Greenland), even though we're only transiting on the way to Winnipeg, we nonetheless have to go through US Immigration, reclaim our luggage, take it through customs, and then recheck it with United Airlines. We then have to take a ride on the airport train over from Terminal 5 to Terminal 2, where our flight is at one of the low-level gates used for regional carriers. We get there just as the flight starts boarding.

In Winnipeg, although the bag we had to check at the gate is there, the luggage we had re-checked in Chicago is not. We encounter Rolland Graham, of Mountain Outin', at the luggage counter, who had the same thing happen with one of his bags from Denver. He says this is common with United Express, since the pilots have discretion as to how much baggage they will load when they see how full the airplane is. He also says this is why his tour plan has allowed a full day in the Winnipeg area before heading out of town on the train.

We head for the airport-area hotel on the hotel's shuttle bus, get into our room, have something to eat (but not a full dinner, since for us this is the small hours of the morning on the time we had arisen this morning), and go to bed.

Mountain Outin's 'White Whales and Prairie Tales (8/4-8/13)

Monday, August 4th, 2008

Still adjusting to the time zone change, we have breakfast in the hotel restaurant this morning, sitting with Robert Stanley and Jack Hathaway, both of whom we've met before. This is a provincial holiday in Manitoba, the hotel hadn't wanted to open for breakfast this early (but Rolland Graham the Tour Director, held them to it), and it shows in the quality of the breakfast buffet, today. Our luggage still hasn't appeared, and 'phone calls to United Express are not answered.

Boarding our (small) bus for today, we see the familiar faces of David and Ginny Bousquet and Jim & Julie Nowell, and many new faces. The bus is just large enough to hold all 26 of us, so some people have to sit with their feet raised on the wheel wells. The bus goes first to "The Forks", a park located at the junction of the Assiniboine River, flowing east, with the Red River (of the North), flowing north. The local guide, in Métis-style traditional dress, shows us "udern", where the Cree and aboriginal tribes were present 6000 years ago. (Today's artifacts date from the 1990s.) One of our number doubts that date, since it would have to have been 'before Christ'!

While we're in this area, four westbound and one eastbound Canadian National freight trains pass. The guide talks about British and French Trading Companies, mixed peoples called the Métis, etc., leading to a battle between the Hudson Bay Company (British) and the Northwest Company (French). Later, this led to the 1857 revolt led by Louis Riel.

From the Forks, we head out of town to the northwest, to Inkster Junction, to ride the excursion train of the Prairie Dog Central on a line still partially owned by the CN. Arriving there, Michael Bryans and I both go to photograph the locomotive, and are promptly invited into a large metal building to see 4-4-0 #3, built in 1882 by Dübs, in Glasgow, Scotland. This locomotive is being rebuilt, and on completion, it failed its hydrostatic boiler test in the steam dome. It should be fixed in 6-7 weeks. It was originally expected that this steam locomotive would haul our train today. Today's consist actually comprises:

GP-9    4138
Combine 103    Gordon Younger
Coach      105
Coach      106
Coach      107

in which all of the coaches are wooden clerestory cars from 1901-13.

Route Description from Inkster Junction to Warren

Along the way, we stop for 30 minutes at Goose Isle, where a number of locals have snacks and curios for sale. Chris uses a US $20 bill to buy some ice-cream, getting change in Canadian money, and reminding me that, in the time crunch in Chicago, yesterday, and the later absence of our luggage at the Winnipeg Airport, we hadn't obtained any Canadian money. At Warren, a lunch of Ukrainian-style food has been provided for our group, after which we tour the grain elevator, which is a smallish wooden affair with 24 separate silos and separate loading and unloading chutes. The elderly farmer has bags of different types of grains to show his visitors, and tells us the cost of each as the farmer delivers it to the silo (not this one, anymore), and how much the miller or food processor eventually makes for that same grain. Listening to him, one would get the impression that the downstream handlers and processors had no costs to speak of!

On the return to Inkster Junction, we reboard our bus and head back into tow, to visit St. Boniface Cathedral  in the former separate town of St. Boniface (now part of Winnipeg), on the 'French' side of the river across from the British settlement of Winnipeg. The present-day cathedral, which we do not visit, is a smallish modern affair located inside the ruined walls of the former cathedral, which burned down in the mid 20th-century. Here, we're 'treated' to "Theater in the Cemetery", some play-acting  nonsense on Louis Riel, the Métis who "founded Manitoba" (according to those of French or Quebecois descent).

We then visit the museum of the Convent of the Grey Nuns, where two summer students portray Grey Nuns. The museum has some 'historic room' displays that compare well with those at the 'Decembrist's house' museum in Irkutsk, from roughly the same time period. From this museum, we return to the hotel for an hour or so. Chris and my luggage still has not arrived.

Later, we visit the French-Canadian pavilion at the annual two-week Winnipeg Folklorama festival, where we see a craftswoman doing 'finger-weaving' (she has written the definitive book on the subject), as well as other items on Quebecois history and French-Canadian history in Manitoba, and have a dinner of French-Canadian style meat pies. The show itself is underwhelming—generic Nashville sound sung in quasi-French, with amateurish juvenile dancers.

On our return to the hotel, we're told that our luggage has finally reached Winnipeg. United Express finally gets it to the hotel at 10:45 pm, only 30 hours late!


Winnipeg has a population of 633,000, and is located at 50° N latitude, 97° W longitude, on the Canadian prairie, at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The first Europeans in the area arrived in 1738, and the first trading forts were built in 1812. Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873, not long after the Red River rebellion of 1869-70, led by Louis Riel. The Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in 1881, serving the same function for Winnipeg that the Trans-Siberian Railway did for the cities across eastern Russia, a decade or more later.

Winnipeg strongly resembles the cities along the Trans-Siberian Railway in a number of ways. It is a city of less than a million people, located in a populated strip not far north of the northern border of another country, at a similar latitude, and, it has a traffic congestion problem within the city that has not yet been addressed by any of the well-known traffic management methods.

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The ATM at the hotel won't take any of our cards, preventing us from getting any Canadian money. A (larger) bus arrives to take us west, out of town on the Trans-Canada Highway, to Portage la Prairie, where we will board the train for Churchill. Rolland says we're doing this because here the bags can be unloaded from the bus right onto the platform, whereas in Winnipeg the same process would require multiple trips from street-side to platform-side at the main station, a considerable distance. The train is apparently over an hour late leaving Winnipeg, so we'll have a couple of hours to wait here for it to arrive.

While we're waiting, the eastbound VIA Canadien puts in an appearance, right on the platform track, but without stopping. Several CN freights pass by on that same line, along with a couple of Canadian Pacific freights on their line, less than a hundred yards further north. Eventually, our train arrives, and the two sleeping car attendants, confusingly named Bridget and Brigitte, get off to help load the bags that go in the rooms, while VIA personnel are loading the checked bags (identified with green VIA labels) into the baggage car up front.

Consist of Train 693:
F40        6451
F40        6455
Baggage  8601
Coach     8120
Coach     8105
Diner       8415    Princess
Sleeper    8214    Chateau Laval
Sleeper    8227    Chateau Varennes
Sleeper    8216    Chateau Levis

The sleepers are all of the 4 section, 4 double bedroom, 8 roomette type, with the space of one section now given over to a shower. Our group occupies essentially all of the rear two sleepers (although no-one is officially in the sections). The Bousquets and the Nowells have adjacent bedrooms in Chateau Varennes, such that they can open the movable wall between them and set up a table for card-playing.

Route Descriptions for the Hudson Bay

Train 693, 8-5-08 Schedule Actual
Portage la Prairie. MB 1010 1135-45
Dauphin 1358 1501-18
Roblin                        CT 1549 1651-52
Kamsack, SK            MT 1600 pass 1649
Canora 1652 1820-32
Sturgis 1737 pass ?
Endeavor                   MT 1810 pass ?
Thicket Portage, MB  CT 0625 0740-50
Thompson 0830 1008
  0930 1054
Pikwitonei 1215 1315-20
Ilford 1545 1605-16
Gillam 1700 1742
  1730 1805
Churchill 0600 0758

Both lunch and dinner in the diner are included today, but there is no coffee in the sleepers (as there would be on Amtrak), so it must be purchased from the Diner. This requires Canadian money, of which we have only the change Chris got at Goose Isles, so we have to watch it carefully. Bridget makes up the room for sleeping at about 9 pm, but it is still fully-light outside for another hour after that. We go to bed anyway.

VIA Rail's Hudson Bay

The Hudson Bay is one of the trains that VIA runs with government money provided for running a socially-necessary service. (There is no road at all north of Gillam, and only a graded dirt road north of Thompson. There will be many coach passengers north of The Pas. When Rolland made the original plans for this tour, the train was running on its normal schedule, starting from Winnipeg at 10 pm, and getting to Churchill on the second morning at 0730, with daylight hours on the intervening day from Hudson Bay, SK, at 0640 (MT) to Pikwitonei, MB, at 2011 (CT), returning at 10 pm from Churchill, with second day daylight from Ilford (0702 CT) to The Pas (1915 CT) and second morning arrival in Winnipeg at 0730. The revised, and much extended schedule, has resulted from the train regularly running over six hours late on the The Pas-Churchill section, now owned by the Hudson Bay Railway, that section being ruled unfit for passenger trains (waking up both Provincial and Federal governments), and the schedule extended to cover massive trackwork planned for this summer. This permits seeing in the daylight, areas normally covered only in the dark.

The coaches are often almost empty south of The Pas, and almost full north of there. The busiest time of year for the sleepers is the six weeks of the polar bear migration in the October timeframe, when they and Churchill are both packed full.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

When I awake, the train is on the Hudson's Bay Railway, south of Thicket Portage, trundling along at some medium-slow speed in the boreal forest. We go to the diner for breakfast (paid by plastic), during which the train turns northwest at Thompson Junction wye to head for Thompson, reached a little after 10 am (only 98 minutes late, so far). While we're approaching Thompson, the crew talks about our counterpart, Train 692, leaving Weir River at 9:30 am, about 8 hours late. (In discussion, later, with Rolland, we conclude that this train must have left Churchill many hours late, because it's crew doesn't expire on the hours of service law before reaching the crew-change point at Gillam, some time after noon.)

There's no ATM anywhere near the Thompson station, so we still can't get Canadian cash. While the train is in Thompson, it moves within the platform, and a local locomotive couples a Trailer on Flat Car to the rear of the train. After some confusion regarding hooking up the brakes and the End-Of-Train device, we back up to the wye and turn the train, around 11 am. Then, we have to return to Thompson because the postal service had not put the mail on the train! We finally leave there at 11:15 am. At 12:35 pm, the train takes the north leg of the wye at Thompson Junction, and head northeast, through the boreal forest, Chris and I going to lunch at soon afterwards. Train 692 leaves Gillam at 2:10 pm, some nine hours late, leading our crew to speculate, again, about whether there will be a rested crew for our train at Gillam. (If the crews had to be provided by VIA, the answer would be no, but since Hudson Bay Railway crews the train north of The Pas, any rested crew at Gillam is qualified to run the train north.

We finally meet Train 692 at Ilford, just before 4 pm, when the schedule called for a meet somewhere around Thompson Junction. Our train, Train 693, is only a half hour late leaving Ilford, and is then 40 minutes late into Gillam and 35 minutes late leaving Gillam. At Gillam, we have plenty of time to walk around, and several of us get current VIA timetables from the agent, but there's still no ATM anywhere near the station. We leave as soon as the locomotives are done taking fuel from the fuel truck, so obviously the railroad has found a rested crew! Our group goes to dinner just after leaving Gillam, so we're in the diner as the train crosses the high bridge over the Nelson River.

The schedule from Gillam to Churchill calls for an average speed of only 15 miles per hour, inclusive of stops, so the train just trundles along through the dwindling boreal forest, with marshes alongside the track at many places (resulting from snowmelt above the permafrost). Bridget makes up the room for bed around 9 pm, and we go to bed shortly thereafter, with the forest still in full sunshine.

The Hudson Bay Railway

After almost a century of discussion, surveying of a railway route to Hudson's Bay began in 1908, under the auspices of the Canadian Government. Initially, the selected route was to Nelson near the mouth of the Nelson River, some 80 or 90 miles south of Churchill. Construction began with clearing of the right-of-way in 1911 and grading in 1912, with the construction of five major bridges over rivers and many smaller trestles over streams, leading to track laid and ballasted as far as the Nelson River crossing at Kettle Rapids (mile 332), north of Gillam. At this point, construction was suspended due to Canada's participation in WWI, but the line was opened and operated as far as Gillam (mile 327), later cut back by over 100 miles due to the difficulties of the war effort.

In 1926, the decision was made to change the northern terminus to Churchill, and construction resumed  under the aegis of the Canadian National Railway, the nationalized railway formed to take over the assets and operations of the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific when the expense and effort of crossing the northern prairies and mountains on the way to the Pacific coast proved to much for those lines. Construction of port facilities at Churchill proceeded in parallel with the railway, which opened throughout in 1929, just before the onset of the Great Depression.

The line has rarely, if ever, been profitable, as the trade for which it was built has never really developed. After the privatization of CN, the line north of The Pas was sold off to the Hudson's Bay Railway, an independent with (theoretically) lower operating costs, but much more difficult access to investment capital for rehabilitating the line's physical facilities. The line was built, and continues to operate, for political reasons, and political decisions will determine whether it gets the needed capital investment to be returned to useful operating condition, a condition that can continue to support the operation of passenger train services.

Without the passenger trains, Churchill's six week tourist season during the polar bear migration cannot continue. Without the freight services on the line bringing in the needed food and supplies, Churchill cannot support that tourist season, as the problems on the line from early August through the end of summer, 2008, have demonstrated, reducing food supplies in the town to critical levels as the high season approaches.

There are many parallels between the Hudson's Bay Railway and the Baikal-Amur Mainline in Russia, in that both run through areas devoid of any real economic potential, with few on-line traffic sources, were created for political purposes, have never been economically successful, and whose continued  operation and existence is dependent on political decisions.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

At 6:10 am, we pass MP 481, then MP 501 at 7:26 am, and arrive in Churchill (almost at MP 510) at 7:58 am, only two hours late. This compares well to the train's average of six hours late, in recent weeks. Our 26 people get off the train and board a local tour bus which has exactly 26 seats, so some of us must always sit with our feet up on the wheel wells. The driver, "Bill", seems well acquainted with Rolland, and vice versa (Rolland has been running tours up here for a quarter century). Our first stop is Gypsy's Bakery, one of the few local restaurants, and perhaps the only one open for breakfast.

After breakfast, we tour around the small town of Churchill, including the areas fronting on Hudson's Bay, where are posted for no passage due to the possible presence of polar bears, and then head down past the wharf and large grain silos on the Churchill River to the landing stage at which we board a small (but not tiny) boat for our whale-watching cruise. Coolers containing most of our lunch (sourced at Gypsy's Bakery) are also loaded on this boat, but somehow the drinks and dessert are left behind on the bus. The boat is just big enough for the group to sit down, and heads out into the middle of the river with rain falling, so we're all wearing (supplied) ponchos. The Beluga whales are white-colored, and surprisingly (to me) small, especially compared to those Chris and I had seen in 1990, off Cape Cod.

While we're out on the river, a unit train of loaded grain cars is shuffling around at the grain silo, getting ready to unload (and for its contents to be loaded into the waiting ship). This train has a Kansas City Southern locomotive in its consist, which seems odd for this far north. After a couple of hours, including eating lunch, the boat heads for the pier at Fort Prince of Wales, on the north side of the mouth of the Churchill River. Here, after more warnings about not walking away from the group due to the possible presence of polar bears, we have a walking tour of the fort, built by the British to protect this area from incursions by the French. The fort is currently being preserved, so that it does not fall down in the next big winter storm.

Returning to the south side of the river on the boat, and re-boarding the bus, Bill takes us to a place where we can access the Hudson's Bay shore (and where we finally get the drinks and dessert), where many people take the opportunity to walk down to the stony beach, and then out to Cape Merry, at the mouth of the Churchill River, across from the fort we had visited earlier, where there are also some fortifications. Finally, we head for the Tundra Inn, our hotel for the next two nights, where our bags are waiting in the hall (rather than having been placed in our rooms). Chris and I first head to the civic center, where there's an ATM at which we can finally get some Canadian cash, and then eat dinner at the Tundra Dining Room, across the street, where the food is excellent. A number of us agree that we had seen 'more than the sights there were to see in Churchill', today, and we have another full day and a large portion of the following day to go!


Churchill has a population of 923, and is located at 59° N latitude and 94° W longitude (not quite as far north as St. Petersburg)  The first Europeans arrived in the neighborhood in 1619, and the first permanent settlement was established in 1717. Today's town was established as the harbor at the north end of the Hudson's Bay Railway in the 1920s, and thrives mainly as a tourist center during the polar bear migration season. It is connected to the rest of Canada only by the railway and by air.

Churchill represents something we did not see in Russia—a small town in the far north, well away from any possibility of cultivating the land. It is located at the juncture of the boreal forest to the south, the tundra to the north and west, and Hudson's Bay, to the north and east.

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Today, after the supposed continental breakfast at the hotel (inadequately supplied with both food and coffee, with no hotel person in sight), Bill comes by again with the same bus, and we head directly to the shore, where there have been sounds of shooting. A polar bear has been chased out to sea, and we can see him swimming south, about a half mile out in the bay. We then visit a weir across the Churchill River, the exterior of Bill's home out in the woods, the exterior of the Polar Bear jail near the airport, and "Miss Piggy", a crashed DC-3 along the rocky shore, where there are lovely views along the bay but we're again restricted due to the threat of polar bears in the vicinity. Returning to Churchill, there's free time this afternoon, although some people occupy it with an excursion to see the Beluga Whales on even smaller boats than the day before. We patronize the local general store, visit the Parks Canada museum at the railway depot, where three of us watch the film on the Hudson Bay Railway's construction that Rolland had recommended, have dinner at the same restaurant as the previous night, and watch the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on television in our room.

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

We're supposed to leave today, so in addition to the continental breakfast (better administered, this morning), we all have to check out of our rooms before Bill comes for us in the bus. We're starting out the day with a Tundra Buggy ride in Wapusk National Park, just east (or perhaps it might be thought of, less correctly, as south) of town. As we head out on the main road, it is clear that no passenger train has arrived from the south this morning, ready to turn for our scheduled 4 pm departure.

A Tundra Buggy is an enclosed platform, with seating and toilet, mounted on a frame above very large tired wheels, similar to those used on large dump trucks. This enables it to travel, slowly, over the tundra, without losing its stability or becoming stuck. It works as well in this "dry" season as in the snow. At first, it looks as if use of these vehicles has destroyed large areas of the tundra along the north-facing coast in Wapusk, east of Churchill, but the driver assures me that the "roads" were made by the military in the early post WWII years, and that his company is not permitted to depart from these existing roads. I still think that use of these vehicles is at least preventing the land from recovering from its previous misuse.

We see Canada geese, snow geese, tundra swans, yellow legs, caribou, golden plover, Bonaparte gulls, falaropes, lapland longspurs,  and sandhill cranes. At lunchtime, Rolland, Bill, and the driver set up a shelf on a couple of seatbacks to hold the coffee and hot water containers, and serving dishes, while out on the back porch, the driver barbecues hamburger patties. The food is good, but late in the meal session the shelf collapses, taking with it my insulated mug, and breaking off the (decorative, it appears) plastic footing to it. We don't realize the latter until after we get home. No-one is hurt, and no-one loses food. Even the hot drinks survive, in their containers.

After the Tundra Buggy Ride, Bill drives us the long way back into town, stopping to visit the airport and a house featured in a National Geographic film on polar bears. In town, there is still no train to be seen. Rolland has known since some time on Friday that Hudson's Bay Railway derailed a freight train at Wabowden, between Thompson and The Pas, and that VIA has bused passengers between the southbound train that left here on Thursday and the one coming north from Winnipeg, turning each train to become the other. Our trainset will thus be the one that left here at 1600 on Thursday (the same cars we came up on), is arriving here about the time it should leave, and won't be leaving until around 2200 (10 pm), when the train crew has had six hours of rest.

Rolland's second plan (the first was to take the train all the way back to Winnipeg) for us to ride a bus from Thompson to Winnipeg has thus been scrapped, in favor of us leaving this train at Gillam, doing some activities there, and then flying to Winnipeg, getting there only a couple of hours later than planned. In the meantime, we have six hours to kill, in Churchill. Some of us visit the Eskimo Museum, which has a nice set of exhibits, and where I buy a book on the history of the (original) Hudson's Bay Railway. A group of us them walks over to the depot, where we walk around the museum again. Bill appears with the bus, and takes us all to his tour company's office, where Rolland has been planning and arranging the next 24 hours.

We split up to have dinner at the location of our choice (there are only three), and Chris and I go to Gypsy's Bakery, with some others, including Rolland. Then we all get together for a slideshow at the tour office, covering life in the north country (further north than here). After that, Bill drives us out to Cape Merry for the sunset and we return to the depot, where we board the train and go right to bed. After three full days, we really have seen more than there is to see in Churchill and its environs at this time of year.

The train consist is the same as on the way up. The on-board crew, however, is different.

Train 692, 8-9-08 Schedule Actual
Churchill. MB 1600 2207
Herchmer 2233 8-10-08
  8-10-08 0642
Weir River 0118 pass 1008
Gillam (arr.) 0430 1211

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

I awake when we're stopped at what must be Herchmer. Starting away, we reverse just over a train length before heading south again. At 0820, we pass MP 394, 115 miles south of Churchill in ten hours! We pass Weir River just after 10 am, have lunch on the train at 11:15 am, and reach Gillam just after noon. As we gather on the platform, Mike Bryans points out a VIA inspector, examining the train. I respond that this trainset has missed its normal appointment with the VIA mechanical folks in Winnipeg, and should thus be in need of extra examination out on the line.

A Manitoba Hydro supervisor shows up to check that we're the group they'll be hosting today, and then a Manitoba Hydro bus arrives. Between the two, the various sets of luggage get loaded on vehicles and taken out to the airport, where they're offloaded to be dealt with later. The bus then takes us on a guided tour of what there is to see in this company town (only a few buildings are not owned by Manitoba Hydro, and they are owned by one of two service operations). The most interesting sight in the early going is a family of black bears feasting at the town dump, who ignore the bus long enough to get their photographs taken.

We then go out to the northern end of the high-voltage direct-current transmission line, connecting the electricity generated here with customers in southern Manitoba and the north-central USA, which both converts alternating current to direct current and drives the transmission line. Unlike the southern end of the Pacific Intertie, that Chris and I have visited in Sylmar (northern Los Angeles), the equipment here is not enclosed in a grounded Faraday cage! Then we sped some time at a small park on the side of the Nelson River, just below the Kettle dam, before heading to the Kettle hydroelectric generating station for our guided tours.

In the power station, we see the control room, which has a fascinating wall map showing the instantaneous price of electricity in all the areas to which Manitoba Hydro is currently selling power (reaching as far as Kansas City). Then we see various levels of the generating station, including two levels of the turbines (at one of which the ambient temperature is 94°F), their outflow pools, the machine shop, the snack area, etc., and then go outside to see the water gates and the outflow from the turbines as it enters the river downstream. The inlets, behind the dam, are from what is now called Stephens Lake, a flooded area of the Nelson River. While we're at the power station, I notice Jim Gay asking engineering-level questions of the staff, and I later ascertain that he's an electrical engineer who once worked for a consulting firm that managed the building of projects such as the ones we visited today.

From the power station, we go by the beach area on the side of the lake, which seems to be where the young people hang out on a sunny Sunday like this, and then go to dinner at a restaurant that has specially opened for us. Then, we head out to the airport, where Calm Air now has staff on duty, and individually take our bags through the process of weighing and check-in. The wait is then longer than expected, because the plane is late, but eventually the turbo-prop place appears, and we depart from the grassy runway. We had heard, earlier, that the train we had left had been stopped due to another derailment, between Gillam and Thompson, and sure enough, as we take off, the train is spotted, parked just south of Gillam.

The flight gets us to Winnipeg at about 10 pm, and after reclaiming our bags, it takes several cycles of the hotel van to get everyone over to the hotel and into their rooms.

Manitoba Hydro

Manitoba Hydro is a Crown Corporation that provides electricity generation and distribution services for the entire province,  with 16 generating stations, 14 of them hydroelectric, and four local diesel-powered  stations located within the communities they serve. Six of the hydroelectric generating stations, including all of those over 500 MW in capacity, are located on the Nelson River in northern Manitoba, through which all the water from the Red, Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Rivers (plus half of the water from the Churchill River, diverted by means of another project) flows on its way to Hudson's Bay. These generating stations are all "run-of-the-river", that is, the pools just above their intakes have no water storage capabilities to provide for service when water flows are otherwise low—all the water storage for this purpose is in Lake Winnipeg, the source of the Nelson River, where facilities were constructed for the purpose.

The Kettle Generating Station is the second largest of the hydroelectric stations, and is located on the lower Nelson River, northwest of Gillam, MB, a town which exists largely to serve the electricity generating facilities. Kettle has 12  102 MW turbine generators providing a total capacity of 1,220 MW, operating on a 30 meter high 'waterfall' created by the generating station's structure. The station was built between 1966 and 1974, at a cost of $240 million (Canadian), with the first generating unit going into service in December, 1970. The spillway for letting unused water bypass the turbines has eight gates.

Power from the northern generating stations is transmitted to southern Manitoba over two High Voltage DC (HVDC) bi-polar transmission links, each having one line at a positive potential with respect to ground, and one at an equal negative potential with respect to ground. The southern end of the lines is about 15 miles northwest of Winnipeg. Onward transmission is by conventional AC transmission lines.

The Radisson Converter Station is located 2 km south of Kettle, and is about 500 miles north of Winnipeg by air. It was built in 1968, and provides the northern end of one of the two bipolar HVDC lines, operating at ±450 kV (for a total of 900 kV). The station uses a total of six thyristor valve groups providing a nominal capacity of 1,800 Amps on the HVDC lines. There are AC switches and conversion transformers preceding the valves and HVDC switches between the valves and the DC transmission lines.

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Today is our day to visit agricultural facilities in southern Manitoba, and we have a Manitoba Agricultural Agent to ride on the bus with us, and give commentary, as we visit these facilities. The bus takes us out to Elie, west of Winnipeg on the road we had taken to catch the train six days earlier, and then south, across the CN tracks. The crops along the way are wheat, canola (developed from rapeseed), oats, and some others. Canola (rape) is only yellow when its in bloom. Flax is blue when its in bloom, but it's getting rare near here, now.

We visit Absthof Farms, owned by Andreas Börsch, an immigrant from Germany (in the 1980s). This farm has 4700 acres, mostly canola and oats, then spring and winter wheat (the two of which, combined, are 8% above the amount of canola). There is no need for fallowing acres, they just use soy and peas to fix the nitrogen in rotation with the other crops (since there's sufficient rainfall for this).

Farmers in this area own their own machinery, since the short harvesting season does not permit the sort of 'custom harvesting' business found on the US Great Plains. Absthof owns its own sprayers (made locally in Elie), a swather for cutting, and combine harvesters. The wheat crop has a monopsony purchaser, the Canadian Wheat Board, but all of the other crops are sold on the free market. Farmers in this area cannot, today, in general, make sufficient money to pay off the cost of the land, if bought new today. (Andreas came from Germany, with some capital, in 1988.).

We next visit a flour mill, one mile west, which was started as a private business venture by Andreas, and has changed owners twice since. The mill was damaged by a tornado in 2007, so much of what we see is new. Processing is to the custom specifications of each customer. The mill has a lab for testing the qualities of the flour. There are seven large bins for incoming wheat grades, which are blended during milling to achieve the desired specification. Grain samples are kept for up to two years, flour samples for up to six months.

The processing flow is from grain storage bins to conditioning bins to grinding mills to flour bins and then to bagging machines or truck loading. Bran is sold separately. The grain/flour passes through several grading machines as they are sieved, and may repeat the process up to 14 times. The bagging machines are located in the warehouse and packaging area, not in the grinding area.

Grain elevators were once spaced every seven miles along the railway, to permit farmers to deliver two loads a day by cart. The land is flat here, because it was once at the bottom of the glacial Lake Agassi. Just further south, the soil is a little lighter and is used for potato production.

Finally, for today, we visit the Sunnyside Hutterite Colony, which is both an example of a religious commune particular to this area and an example of a very efficient farming group. The colony is ten miles further west (still along the way to Portage la Prairie), and then four miles south, beyond the CN main line. Here, we are shown their church, and eat lunch in their communal dining room (but not sitting in their preferred gender-segregated manner).

The colony has its own hog farm, with a grouping of completely automated grain silos, feeding animal feed to the barns with a grain drier, along with a grinder for making the finished feed, all with automated controls. All feed is supplied to the animals (pigs, chickens) automatically. The process of making the custom animal feed is very similar to that of grinding custom flour, and the automated equipment looks to be from the same supplier as at the flour mill. The Agricultural Agent says this is likely because the Hutterites built both systems, and sold the one used by the flour mill.

The carpenters shop has several automated machines, including an orbital grinder. The three combines parked outside can process 2300 bushels/hour, and are in their third season of operation. The hoppers in the combines hold 280 bushels of wheat each. The seed grain is kept absolutely separate from the feed grain. The Red Spring Wheat is all sold though Thunder Bay (the Canadian Wheat Board, and the port on Lake Superior reached by ocean-going ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway). There is a fully-equipped metal-working shop. The farm is 7,700 acres. There are 15,000 laying chickens, and 20,000 pullets. This is a massive agricultural and industrial enterprise, and arouses controversy because it is all covered by the no-taxation provisions for religious organizations.

In the evening, we visit two different Folklorama locations. The Ukraine-Lviv pavilion has some interesting exhibits, and some food similar to what we ate on the Trans-Siberian trip, with an uninteresting amateur choral/dance show afterwards. The Métis pavilion has ho-hum desserts, and a fascinating show. The tap dancers, especially eight-year-old Michael Harris, and six-year-old Jacob Harris (brothers), are excellent. When we leave the latter, rain is falling, a bad omen for Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Rain continues to fall, all day today, as the geography lesson continues. Our bus has a local guide from Gimli, on Lake Winnipeg, who describes the sights as we head north, using the River Road along the west bank of the Red River, through Lockport, where there is an interesting style of dam on the river, and where the Winnipeg bypass channel returns to the river. (This floodwater bypass channel was built after a flood in the mid-20th-century, and was very valuable in protecting Winnipeg from the big flood on The Red River in the late 1990s.) When the river reaches Lake Winnipeg, we drive about 500 meters from the west shore of the latter to the New Icelandic settlement of Gimli, where we have lunch at a cafe, visit the museum that covers the Icelandic heritage, and then visit a museum covering the fisheries on Lake Winnipeg. Our local guide at the latter is passionate about the world's loss of fisheries due to mankind's pollution of the lakes and oceans. We also visit a couple of local art galleries, but it's hard to get interested in local art on the same trip that one has visited the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam!  

After our return to the hotel, still in the rain, Chris and I eat dinner at the hotel restaurant, sharing the table with Ernie Draffin.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Today, we put the bags out for transfer to the airport, and then the group heads, in bright sunshine, for a natural history lesson at a reclaimed cement plant, which is now a nature preserve named Fort Whyte with bison, prairie dogs, a sod cabin, pond life, and many birds. We also have lunch here.

Returning Home to Tehachapi (8/13-8/14)

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 (cont.)

On the flight back to Los Angeles, our bags don't make the transfer at Denver, and catch up with us overnight, as we stop in Los Angeles rather than drive home in the dark, watching the Beijing Olympics on television after dinner in Chinatown.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

With all our bags in the car, we have one last delay when the police close the street leaving the Post Office area after some woman has run off the road leaving the freeway and needs to be helicoptered to hospital in Bakersfield. We're home by 1:30 pm.