Rail transport in the Soviet Union
During the Soviet era, freight rail traffic increased 55 times, passenger traffic almost 10 times, and the length of the rail network almost doubled. The Soviet Union had a railway network of 147,400 kilometres (91,600 mi) (excluding industrial railways, of which 53,900 kilometres (33,500 mi) were electrified.
- 1 Rail traffic in Soviet Union
- 2 World War II
- 3 Post-war development
- 4 USSR vs. USA: Were the Soviets More Efficient?
- 5 Congestion and failure to transport
- 6 Railroad labor
- 7 Rail transit
- 8 Dieselization
- 9 Electrification
- 10 Post-Soviet rail traffic
- 11 See also
- 12 Bibliography
- 13 Notes
Rail traffic in Soviet Union
Rail traffic problems in the early Soviet Union
After the foundation of the Soviet Union the People's Commissariat of Railways (after 1946 named the Ministry of Railways (МПС), the railway network expanded to a total length of 106,100 km by 1940. A notable project of the late 1920s and one of the centerpieces of the First Five-Year Plan was the Turkestan–Siberia Railway, linking Western Siberia via Eastern Kazakhstan with Uzbekistan.
As the quality of rail transport continued to deteriorate, in part because of the Russian Civil War, some within the Soviet leadership claimed that the railways were not sustainable if congestion continued to increase. Those who advocated an enlargement of rail transport felt that increased investment and the lengthening of already established rail tracks could solve the ongoing congestion crisis. The majority agreed on increasing investments, but there was no clear consensus on how these investments were to be used. There were even some who believed in the privatization of the railways. Gosplan economists in the meantime advocated the rationalization of the railways, coupled with tariffs based on actual cost, which would reduce traffic demand and provide funds for investment. The leadership was unable to reach a conclusion and the rail system continued to deteriorate. In 1931, in a Central Committee (CC) resolution, it was decided that increased investments coupled with the introduction of newer trains could solve the crisis. This resolution was never carried out, and yet again, the system continued to deteriorate. However, at the same time railway traffic was growing (See graph).
The Central Committee ordered Lazar Kaganovich to solve the railway crisis in 1935. Kaganovich first prioritized bottleneck areas over other less-traveled areas; his second priority was investing in heavy traffic lines, and thirdly, the least efficient areas of the rail network were left to themselves. Another problem facing rail transport was the massive industrialization efforts pushed on by the authorities. The industrialization proved to be a heavy burden on the railways, and Vyacheslav Molotov and Kaganovich even admitted this to the 18th party congress. Even so, the Soviet Government continued their industrialization efforts to better prepare themselves for a future war with Germany, which became reality in 1941.
Rail freight traffic in the Soviet Union
The graph compares the freight traffic (in ton-km) of the USSR to the US. The USSR rebuilt its rail system and industrialized with five-year plans. As a result, railroad freight grew about 20 times from 20 to 400 billion tonne-km by 1941. But then disaster struck again: World War II in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. In the first year or so of the war, traffic plummeted to about half its prewar value. But then the USSR started restoring and constructing railroads during wartime so that by the end of the war about half of the lost traffic had been recovered. After the war was over it took a few more years to restore the railroads and get back to the pre-war level of traffic.
Then the USSR embarked on a series of more five-year plans and rail traffic rapidly increased. By 1954 their rail freight traffic (about 850 billion tonne-km) surpassed that of the United States and the USSR then hauled more rail freight than any other country in the world. Rail freight continued to rapidly increase in the USSR so that by 1960 the USSR was hauling about half of all railroad freight in the world (in tonne-km) and they did this on a rail system consisting of 10% of the world's railway kilometrage. The status of hauling half the world's rail freight continued for almost 30 years but in 1988 rail freight traffic peaked at 3852 billion tonne-km (nearly 4 trillion). This rapid growth may seem impressive, but it was in part a failure because rail traffic at times didn't grow fast enough to satisfy demand, partly due to congestion.
In 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart and its largest republic, the Russian Federation, which then hauled about 2/3 of the traffic of the former USSR, became an independent country. For the USSR in 1989, shortly before the collapse of Soviet Union, the railroads hauled nearly eight times as much ton-km of freight by rail as they did by highway truck. In 1991 a law was passed which declared that railroads were the basic transportation system of the USSR.
World War II
During the World War II the railway system played a vital role in the war effort transporting military personnel, equipment and freight to the front lines and often evacuating entire factories and towns from European Russia to the Ural region and Siberia. The loss of mining and industrial centers of the western Soviet Union necessitated speedy construction of new railways during the wartime. Particularly notable among them was the railway to the Arctic coal mines of Vorkuta, extended after the war to Labytnangi on the Ob River; construction work to extend it all the way to the Yenisey continued into the 1950s, aborted with the death of Joseph Stalin.
As a result of Japan's loss in World War II, the southern half of Sakhalin Island was annexed by Soviet Union in 1945. The 1067 mm railway network built by the Japanese during their forty years of control of southern Sakhalin now became part of Soviet Railways as well (as a separate Sakhalin Railway), the only Cape gauge rail system within USSR (or today's Russia). The original Japanese D51 steam locomotives were used by the Soviet Railways on Sakhalin Island until 1979, together with regauged ShA USATC S160 Class locomotives.
After the war the Soviet railway network was re-built and further expanded to more than 145,000 km of track by major additions such as Baikal Amur Mainline.
Soviet rail transport became, after the World War II, one of the most developed in the world, surpassing most of its First World counterparts. The Soviet railway system was growing in size, at a rate of 639 km a year from 1965 to 1980. This steady growth in rail transport can be explained by the country's need to extract its natural resources, most of which were located close to, or in Siberia. While some problems with the railways had been reported by the Soviet press, the Soviet Union could boast of controlling one of the most electrified railway systems at the time. During much of the country's later lifespan, trains usually carried coal, oil, construction material (mostly stone, cement and sand) and timber. Oil and oil products were one of the key reasons for building railway infrastructure in Siberia in the first place.
The efficiency of the railways improved over time, and by the 1980s Soviet railways had become the most intensively used in the world. Most Soviet citizens did not own private transport, and if they did, it was difficult to drive long distances due to the poor conditions of many roads. Another explanation has to do with Soviet policy, the first being the autarkic model created by Joseph Stalin's regime. Stalin's regime had little interest in rail transport, or any other form for transport, and instead focused most of the country's investments in rapid industrialization. Stalin's regime was not interested in establishing new railway lines, but decided to conserve, and later expand, much of the existing railways left behind by the Tsars. However, as Lev Voronin, a First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union, noted in a speech to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union in 1989 that the railway sector was the "main negative sector of the economy in 1989". As industrial output declined in the late-1980s so did the demand for transportation.
USSR vs. USA: Were the Soviets More Efficient?
The efficiency of the Soviet Railways improved over time and by the 1980s had many performance indicators superior to the United States. Railroads built in the USSR were planned, and in contrast to the US, only a single railroad line would be constructed between major cities. This avoided the situation in the US where two (or sometimes more) railroad companies would construct lines that more or less paralleled each other resulting in wasteful duplication of effort. But most of the rail lines in the USSR were inherited from the Russian Empire which had also avoided such duplication.
As a result of having a shorter rail system plus more freight traffic, the USSR had a freight traffic density (in ton-km per km of line) 6-7 times higher than the US. In the US, the mean daily freight car mileage was only 95 km. vs. 227 km. for the USSR. The percent of freight car miles that ran empty was 41% for the US vs. 29% for the USSR. It was claimed that labor productivity rose 4.3 fold between 1955 and 1980, resulting in the USSR being roughly the same as the US (after taking into account that the USSR hauled a greater proportion of non-bulk commodities which were more labor-intensive to haul—more switching of cars, etc.).
The Soviet Union made the transition to automatic brakes and couplers long after the United States did and as a result their brakes and couplers were more advanced. Their (air) brakes could operate in a mode where it was possible to slowly reduce braking effort, while the US system required full release of the brakes (in the entire train) and reapplication of the brakes in order to reduce braking effort. The Soviet Union developed advanced machinery for track maintenance and renewal such as a Continuous Action Tamping Machine which in 1977 could move at 3 km/hr and also straighten the track and dress the ballast. It was model ВПО-3000 (VPO-3000) and at that time no such machinery like this existed outside of the Soviet Union. It was claimed to be several times faster than non-Soviet tamping machinery of cyclical action.
However, the reliability of locomotives in the USSR was much worse than for the US. Their high traffic density often resulted in traffic congestion and delays, especially after an accident blocked the line.
Congestion and failure to transport
Harm to the Soviet Economy
The railroad system in the Soviet Union (mostly after the 1920s) was utilized several times more intensively than the railways of developed capitalist countries. The high traffic volumes per kilometer of line resulted in congestion problems that at times became so severe that goods available for transport could not be shipped and factories, etc. were forced to slow production. This happened in the 1930s  and during the so-called Brezhnev stagnation starting in the late 1970s and beyond. In 1989 the President of the Council of Ministers of the USSR stated  that economists estimate that the failure of railroads to provide adequate transportation, costs the Soviet economy 10-12 billion rubles per year.
Train flow basics
Congestion on a railroad line is different than congestion and traffic jams of motor vehicles on highways. The flow on a transportation route (in tons/hour, trains/day, etc.) is simply equal to the product of velocity and linear density (gross tons/meter or trains/km etc.). For a railroad line as a whole (in one direction), one would use the average linear density along the whole line, where most points on the line have no trains on them and thus have zero density there. Thus less spacing between trains (or motor vehicles) tends to increase the average density and thus increase the flow (if the velocity remains the same). For motor vehicles, when traffic speed slows, the vehicles closely follow each other and this tends to increase flow and partially (or even fully) compensate for the loss of velocity. But under normal conditions of train operation, they can't closely follow each other. This is partly because the Automatic block signalling system maintains a minimum distance between trains (moving under the green signal aspect). On single track lines between passing sidings, trains can't travel in opposite directions at the same time. If they tried to do this, they would either collide head on with each other (if they were headed toward each other) or they would need to have magically passed thru each other (if they are moving away from each other). This poses a further restriction in train spacing.
Increasing freight density
One expedient is to reduce the spacing between 2 or 3 trains to zero by running "connected" trains. One simply couples two or more trains together without connecting the braking systems of the 2 trains. The locomotive crews then coordinate their handing of the train by radio. If they don't coordinate properly, the combined train can derail due to high forces in the train. This method was used in the Soviet Union mostly as a temporary expedient and almost never as a standard operating procedure.
In the mid-1980s about 70% of the Soviet network was single track lines. It was proposed to select two large end stations on a single track line that have enough trackage to hold several trains. Then opposing trains accumulate at such stations and the trains that accumulated at one end station then proceed down the rail line closely spaced (a packet of trains) while traffic in the opposite opposing direction is spread out and yields (by hiding in the passing sidings) to the packet so that the packet of trains can travel non-stop over a significant distance. Later on, a non-stop packet can be formed in the other direction, etc. Using packets to increase capacity was common in the USSR.
Amenities for rail workers
Especially in the 1970s, some railroad depots/shops provided a good workplace environment and whole books were written on this subject, sometimes called "production esthetics" (производственная эстетика). An example was at the mechanized track maintenance station ПМС-121 (PMS-121) (in 2013 ЦMПР) near Kiev in the Ukraine. For the workers they installed showers, a shoe repair shop, a barber shop, a laundry, a small store, a club with a capacity of 200 persons, a lounge, and an art studio. In the track assembly plant (they prefabricated lengths of track, with rails attached to ties) they installed facilities for heating (and eating) food, a reading room, and a billiard room. They also provided improved amenities when workers traveled to work on remote sections of track and lived in dormitory rail cars. As a result of the improved amenities, it's claimed that employee turnover was reduced from 63% (per year) to 11%.
The Soviet rapid transit system was seen as the cheapest way of urban transport, and eventually another point acquired greater significance; the authorities could allocate their resources from the automobile industry to the rapid transit sector and save a substantial volume of the country's diesel and petrol. Because rapid transit system usually were cheaper to operate and less energy consuming, the Soviet authorities managed to construct 20 rapid transits nationwide, with a further nine in construction when the Soviet Union collapsed. Twenty other stations were under construction in 1985. The country's rapid transit system was the most intensively used in the world.
The Soviet Union was a pioneer in the development of the diesel locomotive to replace the steam locomotive (dieselization) on non-electrified lines. But the USSR failed to make steady progress and while they lead the United States at first, they soon fell behind and their last steam locomotives were retired about 15 years later than for the US. The first mainline diesel locomotive in the world began running in 1924 in the USSR  but it had an excessive number of breakdowns so other designs of diesel locomotives were developed and used in desert regions where water for steam locomotives was scarce. Then in 1937 the small scale production (only several units per year) of diesel locomotives (for desert use) came to a halt  by order of Kaganovich, the head of the national railway committee (NKPS)  and a leading figure in the Communist party.
In the late 1930s, Interest in diesel's was rekindled by reports from the US that production of diesel locomotives was overtaking production of steam locomotives. The USSR was able to order 100 of them via lend lease but they didn't begin arriving in the USSR until the start of 1945 when the war was almost over.
As compared to the U.S., the Soviet Union got off to a very slow start in electrification but later greatly surpassed the US. Electrification in the US reached its maximum in the late 1930s which is just when electrification was getting its start in the USSR.
Post-Soviet rail traffic
|This section requires expansion with: information about the rest of the post-Soviet states that are not Russia. (October 2013)|
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, railroad traffic in Russia sharply declined  and new major electrification projects were not undertaken except for the line to Murmansk which was completed in 2005. Work continued on completing the electrification of the Trans-Siberian Railway, but at a slower pace, finishing in 2002. However, the percent of tonne-kilometers hauled today by electric trains has increased to about 85%.
- History of rail transport in Russia
- Transport in the Soviet Union
- The Museum of the Moscow Railway
- Boublikoff, A.A. "A suggestion for railroad reform" in book: Buehler, E.C. (editor) "Government ownership of railroads", Annual debater's help book (vol. VI), New York, Noble and Noble, 1939; pp. 309–318. Original in journal "North American Review, vol. 237, pp. 346+. (Title is misleading. It's 90% about Russian/Soviet railways.)
- Hunter, Holland "Soviet transport experience: Its lessons for other countries", Brookings Institution 1968.
- Omrani, Bijan. Asia Overland: Tales of Travel on the Trans-Siberian and Silk Road Odyssey Publications, 2010 ISBN 962-217-811-1
- "Railroad Facts" (Yearbook) Association of American Railroads, Washington, DC (annual).
- "Transportation in America", Statistical Analysis of Transportation in the United States (18th edition), with historical compendium 1939-1999, by Rosalyn A. Wilson, pub. by Eno Transportation Foundation Inc., Washington DC, 2001. See table: Domestic Intercity Ton-Miles by Mode, pp. 12–13.
- UN (United Nations) Statistical Yearbook. The earlier editions were designated by date (such as 1985/86) but later editions use the edition number (such as 51st). After 1985/86 the "World railway traffic" table was dropped.After the 51st ? edition, the long table: "Railways: traffic" was dropped resulting in no more UN railway statistics.
- Urba CE, "The railroad situation : a perspective on the present, past and future of the U.S. railroad industry". Washington : Dept. of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Office of Policy and Program Development Govt. Print. Off., 1978.
- VanWinke, Jenette and Zycher, Benjamin; "Future Soviet Investment in Transportation, Energy, and Environmental Protection" A Rand Note. The Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, 1992. Rand Soviet Transport
- Ward, Christopher J., "Brezhnev's Folly: The Building of BAM and Late Soviet Socialism", University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.
- Westwood J.N., 2002 "Soviet Railways to Russian Railways" Palgrave Macmillan.
- Westwood J.N., 1994 "Transport" chapter in book "The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945" ed. by Davies, R.W. et al., Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Громов, Н.Н.; Панченко, Т.А.; Чудновский, А.Д.; "Еденая транспорттная система (Unified Transportation System), Москва, Транспорт, 1987.
- Дробинский В.А., Егунов П.М. "Как устроен и работает тенловоз" (How the diesel locomotive works) 3rd ed. Moscow, Транспорт, 1980.
- Ж/Д Транс.=Железнодорожный транцорт (Zheleznodorozhnyi transport =Railway transportation) (a magazine)
- Иванова В.Н. (ed.) "Конструкция и динамика тепловозов" (Construction and dynamics of the diesel locomotive). Москва, Транспорт, 1968 (textbook).
- Иноземцев В.Г., Казаринов Б.М., Ясенцев В.Ф. "Автоматические тормоза" (Automatic Brakes) Москва, Транспорт, 1981 (textbook).
- "История железнодорожного транспорта России и Советского Союза, Т.2 : 1917-1945 гг" (History of railroad transport in Russia and the Soviet Union, vol.2, 1917-1945) М. М. Уздин, В. Е. Павлов (editors); Н. Е. Аксененко et al. Moscow: МПС РФ, ПГУПС ; СПб. ; 1994 - 1997. - ISBN 5-85952-005-0. 415 pp.
- "История железнодорожного транспорта Советского Союза, Т.3 : 1945-1991 гг" (History of railroad transport in the Soviet Union, vol.3, 1945-1991) В. Д. Кузьмич, Б. А. Левин, Г. М. Фадеев.(editors); Г. М. Афонина et al. - Moscow: Академкнига/ Moscow, 2004. - 631 pp. ISBN 5-94628 110-0
- Макарочкин А.М., Дьяков Ю.В. "Использование и развитие пропускной способности железчух дорог" (Utilizing and development of traffic capacity of railroads) Moskva, Транспорт 1981.
- Плакс, А.В. & Пупынин, В.Н., "Электрические железные дороги" (Electric Railroads), Москва, Транспорт, 1993.
- Резер, С.М., "Взаимодействие транспортных систем" (Coordination of the transportation system), Москва, Наука, 1985.
- Сергеева, В.И. ed. "Эстетика на железнодорожном транспорте" (Esthetics in railroad transport) Moscow, Транспорт 1977.
- Фед=Федеральная служба государственной статистики (Federal government statistical service) "Транспорт в России" (Transportation in Russia) (annual) Available online
- Филиппов, М.М. (editor), "Железные Дороги, Общий Курс" (Railroads, General Course) Москва, Транспорт, 3rd ed. 1981. 4th ed. 1991 with new editor: Уздин, М.М. .
- Шадур, Л.А. ed., Багоны: конструкция, теопия и расчёт (Railroad cars: construction, theory and calculations), Москва, Транспорт, 1980.
- Шафиркин, Б.И, "Единая Транспортная Система СССР и взаимодействие различных видов транспорта" (Unified transportation system of the USSR and coordination of various modes of transportation), Москва, Высшая школа, 1983.
- Хомич, А.З., Тупицын О.И., Симсон А.Э "Экономия томлива и теплотехническая модернизачия темпловозов" (Fuel economy and thermodynamic modernization of the diesel locomotive) 1975. New edition title: "Томливая еффективость и вспмогательные режемы терловозных дизелей" (Fuel efficiency and non-nominal modes of operation of the diesel engine of locomotives) 1987. Publisher: Moscow, Транспорт.
- Громов, p.170
- Central Intelligence Agency (1991). "Soviet Union – Communications". The World Factbook. Retrieved 20 October 2010.
- Westwood 1994, p. 159–60.
- Westwood 1994, p. 160.
- Westwood 1994, p. 160–61.
- Westwood 1994, p. 162–63.
- Data points in the graph come from many sources listed in the pageWikimedia: RailUSAvsUSSR.svg. A single source book "International historical statistics" (various editions), vols. "The Americas" and "Europe" also has this data (see Ch. on "Transport" in each of the 2 vols.)
- See statistics references by Госкомстат (Russian)
- UN 1958, pp. 297, 300
- UN 1985/86 Table: World Railway Traffic, p. 55
- Плакс, p.5 (Russian)
- UN 37th p. 690; UN 43rd p .548; (both for 1998)
- Филиппов 1991 p. 7 (table 1.1) (Russian)
- Филиппов 1991 p. 4 (Russian)
- Wilson 1983, p. 201.
- Pallot, Judith; Shaw, Jenis J.B. (1983). Planning in the Soviet Union. Taylor & Francis. p. 130. ISBN 0-85664-571-0.
- Ellman, Michael; Kontorovich, Vladimir (1998). The Disintegration of the Soviet Economic System. M.E. Sharpe. p. 184. ISBN 0-7656-0263-6.
- Шаферин pp.17+: Сравнительные Данные о Развитии Транспорта СССР и США (Russian)(Comparative Data about the Development of Transportation in the USSR and USA)
- Иноземцев p.5
- Лехно, Н.Б. "Путевое Хозяйство" (Track Laying and Maintenance), Moscow, Транспорт, 1981 p.165+, Sect. 5.8 "Подбивочные машины чепрерывного дествия" Continuous Action Tamping Machines
- Article in ЖТ (Russian)(Didn't note which issue)
- VanWinkle pp. 3–5
- Макарочкин p.5
- Westwood 1994, pp. 165, 167, 181
- Н.Н. Рыжков (N.N. Ryzhkov) Нужны взвишенные решиния (We need informed decisions), Ж/Д Транс. 4-1990, p.7
- Макарочкин p.60-1
- Макарочкин p.27+
- Правдина, Елена Николаевна (Pravdina, Helen Nikolaevna) "Комплексное увеличение пропускной способности однопутной линии во взаимодействии с работой станций" (Coordinated increase of capacity of single track lines with interacting with the work of line stations) Thesis, Moskva 1984. See abstract
- Сергеева is one, another book on this topic may be found on the Internet
- Сергеева pp. 3, 6
- Сергеева p.293, section "Опыт лучших коллективов" (Experience of the best collectives). This name implies that this is one of the best examples of provision of amenities and that this case is not typical
- Сергеева p.110+ "Озеленение территории и чехов" (Greening of the territory and the shops)
- Сергеева p.6 and Ch.3 "Теопетические ин практические основы оптимального цветового оформления" (Theory and practical basis of optimal color schemes)
- Сергеева p.117+ section "Зоны отдыха" (recreation zones)
- Wilson 1983, p. 205.
- Wilson 1983, p. 205–6.
- Wilson 1983, p. 206.
- Раков p.356 9.2 "Тепловоз сицтемы Я.М. Гаккеля" (Diesel locomotive system of Ya.M. Gakkel); Дпрбенский p.5
- Раков p.371: 9.8 Тепловозы серииА+
- Westwood p.159
- UN 40th p. 514; UN 48th p. 527
- Murmansk Electrification (Russian) ,[http://www.gov.karelia.ru/News/2004/11/1123_05.html Electrification Completed (Russian)
- Transsib electrification (Russian)
- Freight by electric railroad 2008 (Russian)