PREFACE – The Trans-Siberian Railway Encyclopedia
As the title indicates, this book is a complete, fully comprehensive, detailed explanation of the Trans-Siberian Railway and all four of its routes in the English language. Although there are some editions about various sections of the rail line in both Russian and Chinese, there has been no comparable work that covers all four lines available in English until now. Since there is no obvious ending point in the amount of detail in any such project, editorial judgment has been exercised throughout. The guiding principle employed is that the book is also meant to be a traveling companion. Thus, there is a constant tension between the goals of thoroughness on the one hand and portability on the other. At an early stage, it was decided that something approximately 1,000 pages would be both the minimum and maximum limitations on size. Less than that, and the coverage would not be as thorough as desired. More than that, the book would be too large and too heavy to carry along. Naturally, if prepared as a Kindle type volume, size or weight would not be a factor.
As most first time Trans-Sib travelers tend to take the rail line from Europe to Asia (west to east), rather than the other way around, the book is written in that fashion. Obviously, it can be used from east to west, but the reader will have to count the kilometers down, in reverse order. The book starts at Kilometer 0 at Moscow’s Yaroslavskiy Rail Station and runs east to Vladivostok, Mongolia, Beijing, Sakhalin Island, and Hokkaido, Japan.
There are six chapters. Chapter One is an overall introduction to the railroad, the four routes of the railroad, and traveling by train in Russia, Mongolia, and China in general. It discusses the types of sleeping accommodations available, the dining cars, and the toilets/washrooms. The chapter also introduces the other means of surface transport in Russia; that is, the metro, local trains, busses and trams, and river transport on hydrofoils.
Chapter Two is a brief introduction to the nation of Russia and an overview of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Although that latter city is not on any of the Trans-Siberian Lines, it is assumed that many visitors might wish to see this extraordinarily beautiful city while on their journey. If beginning at the beginning, all travelers must pass through Moscow and thus can’t miss this great city. The section on Moscow also includes a detailed view of more than a dozen of the most famous stations of the Moscow Metro.
At Chapter Three, the book begins to fulfill its main purpose – riding the Trans-Siberian Rails across the continent. This chapter covers the main line of Trans-Siberian Railway line from Moscow to Vladivostok. As in all the subsequent chapters, the coverage is kilometer by kilometer. Not every single kilometer of course, but every kilometer of interest. This amounts to thousands of entries as on average; there is something of interest every few kilometers on the Trans-Siberian Rail Lines: a city, a village, a river, a mountain chain, a scenic view, a point of history. It is sometimes difficult to fathom, but for the curious, open-minded, and imaginative, there is in fact a world of beauty, culture, and opportunity outside the window of one’s rail compartment. It can be extraordinarily relaxing to watch this world roll by – kilometer after kilometer. Many travelers report that their voyage on the Trans-Siberian has been one of the most exciting, yet calming, vacations they have ever experienced.
At the same time, it can be both interesting and enlightening to stop off from time to time and discover these worlds outside of the train. The purpose of any good guidebook is to alert the reader of various possibilities. No one has more than one lifetime – and no one can see everything, but given the options, one can make choices. The purpose of the book is to introduce the possibilities.
Chapter Four covers the Trans-Mongolian Line of the Trans-Siberian. The journey begins in Moscow on the Trans-Siberian, but halfway around the world after Irkutsk and Lake Baikal, the line turns south and travels through both Mongolia and China to Beijing. For many travelers, this is the most interesting route for three vastly different countries and cultures are explored.
Chapter Five, which discusses the Trans-Manchurian Line, is somewhat similar to Chapter Four in that the rail journey takes one from Moscow to Beijing. But in this case, the line takes a different route. After Russia and Siberia, the route of the Trans-Manchurian crosses Inner Mongolia and northeastern China, i.e., Manchuria, a fascinating region with its own long history.
Finally, Chapter Six offers a comprehensive view of the least known of the Trans-Siberian’s routes, the BAM – or the “Baikal-Amur Magistral,” a northern line ending well above Vladivostok. This journey extends to Russia’s remote Sakhalin Island and from there travelers may continue south to Hokkaido, Japan. Again, the coverage is complete; every kilometer of interest from the BAM’s beginning to Sapporo is mentioned.
A universal stylistic theme chosen for the book has been the translation or transliteration of all relevant place and personal names. Accordingly, the first time any person, place, or destination is mentioned in the text, it is spelled out in its local language, be that Russian, Mongolian, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. For example, the first time Moscow’s Red Square is mentioned, it is stated: Red Square (Красная площадь; “Red” or “Beautiful” Square). Likewise when Beijing’s Tian’anmen Square is discussed, it appears as: Tian’anmen Square (Chinese: 天安门广场; pinyin: Tiān’ān mén Guǎng chǎng).
The thought is that not only can the reader attempt to pronounce the word or words, but if all else fails, he or she may show it to someone else who will recognize it. Admittedly, the interjection of the local languages into the text is cumbersome. For this reason, it is generally done only twice in each chapter where the name appears: the first time when the term is first mentioned and the second time when actually discussing the person, place, or destination in detail – if such a discussion takes place. Thus if something or someone is mentioned only one time in the book, the transliteration occurs only once. The word “Moscow” may appear in this text over one hundred times but it is transliterated only several times.
The kilometer by kilometer coverage generally includes all the possible rail stops on the route; all the rivers or other bodies of water crossed by the train; all the tunnels entered; all the mountain ranges crossed or avoided; and in a number of cases, the major roads that parallel the railroad or are famous in their own right for various reasons. The number of rail stops is in the thousands. Major railway stations of course are all included; but so are minor stations, platforms, and in some cases, stopping points. If the station is generally one where a stop is made by any major line train, such as the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian, or Trans-Manchurian, then it is printed in bold typeface.
Russia and China, and to a much lesser degree Mongolia, are countries whose histories are tied to their rivers. Their first transportation routes were by water. More often than not, their cities, great and small, were born and grew up along their rivers. Even today, tremendous commerce and vast commercial traffic takes place on the rivers of Russia and China – very little in Mongolia. For this reason, every river on every route of the four lines of the Trans-Siberian is discussed. Whenever the rail line crosses over water, we distinguish the typeface in blue. “Every” river means rivers of at least ten kilometers in length or more – and many Russian rivers measure in the thousands of kilometers. Although a few famous exceptions are made, in general, tiny creeks and streams, or seasonal rivers of under ten kilometers, are not discussed.
Note that the inclusion of every river means all rivers that touch the rail lines. Thus, for example, the River Neva at St. Petersburg or the River Don that flows into Russia’s Sea of Azov above the Black Sea, are both magnificent and historically important rivers – yet they have no place in this book. They are not crossed by any line of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The place for discussion of each river in almost every case is the place of its first crossing by the rail line. At that time, at that kilometer, the river’s origin and destination are set forth. River lengths are notoriously difficult to nail down as rivers are famously meandering creatures. But every effort has been made to use official figures for river lengths – and when all else fails, the kilometers are quoted “as the crow flies.”
The Trans-Siberian’s various rail lines also cross a multitude of mountain chains. At each relevant place, the chain’s general geography and in some cases its political history, are discussed. Mountains, like rivers, are often natural geographic borders. In a number of cases, they have been used as political boundaries between nations or between provinces within nations. Whether separated by a natural frontier or not, every major political boundary within Russia and China is described, including all time zones along the way. Whenever the rail line crosses a border, be it an internal domestic boundary or an international frontier, the typeface is printed in red.
Since railroads generally don’t travel over mountains very well, rail engineers frequently tunnel under them. Every major tunnel on every route of the Trans-Siberian is also described.
Finally, every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this book. However, given the volume and detail of its coverage, no guarantees of any kind, express or implied, can be made. Should any reader find any error, I would be grateful to hear of it. All corrections shall be incorporated into future volumes of this work. Thank you and I wish you a safe and enjoyable journey. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org