Railway electrification in the Soviet Union
While the former Soviet Union got a late (and slow) start with rail electrification in the 1930's it eventually became the world leader in electrification in terms of the volume of traffic under the wires. During the last last 30 years of the Soviet Union, it hauled as much rail freight as all the other countries in the world combined and in the end, over 60% of this was by electric locomotives. Electrification was cost effective due to the very high density of traffic and was at times projected to yield at least a 10% return on investment (as compared to diesel traction). By 1990 the electrification was about half 3kV DC and half 25kV AC 50 Hz and 70%  of rail passenger-km was by electric railways
|% of Rail Network||1.8||2.0||3.0||4.5||11.0||19.0||25.0||28.1||30.8||36.1|
|% of Rail Freight (in tonne-km)||2.0||2.4||3.2||8.4||21.8||39.4||48.7||51.6||54.6||63.1|
- 1 Comparison to the US and others
- 2 History
- 3 Electrical systems
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 Bibliography (Russian)
Comparison to the US and others
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 of 5000 km. in the late 1930s  which is just when electrification was getting its start in the USSR.
|Thous. km. of Route Electrified||51.7||14||12||11|
|Thous. km. of Railroad Route||144||28||28||34|
|Thous. km., Direct Current (DC)||27.3||8||0.8||6|
|Thous Km. Alternating Current (AC) (50 Hz)||24.4||6||11.2 (16 2/3 Hz)||5|
Replacing steam traction (on lines with high traffic) by electrification was cost effective  and this was the impetus for the first electrifications in the 1930s. The 1920 plan, ГОЭЛРО  (GOELRO)an acronym for ГОсударственная комиссия по ЭЛектрификации РОссии (Government commission for electrification of Russia) included railway electrification and was strongly supported by Lenin, the leader of the Soviet revolution. Lenin wrote a letter  implying that if rail electrification was not feasible at the present time, might it not be feasible in 5–10 years from now. And in fact, railway electrification actually got started about 10 years later.
Mainline railway electrification in the Soviet Union began in 1932 with the opening of a 3000V DC section in the Georgian SSR on the Surami Pass between the capital, Tbilisi, and the Black Sea. The grade (slope) was steep: 2.9%. The original fleet of eight electric locomotives was imported from the United States and were made by General Electric (GE). The Soviets obtained construction drawings from GE enabling them to construct locomotives to the same design. The first electric locomotive constructed in the USSR was an indigenous design completed in November 1932. Later in the same month, the second locomotive, a copy of the GE locomotive, was completed. At first, many more copies of US design were made than ones of Soviet design - no more locomotives of Soviet design were made until two years later.
World War II
In 1941, the USSR had electrified only 1865 route-kilometers. This was well behind the US, with nearly 5000 kilometers. However, since the USSR rail network was much shorter than the US, the percentage electrified was greater than the US. During World War II as the western part of the Soviet Union (including Russia) was invaded by Nazi Germany, about 600 km. of electrification was dismantled  but after the Germans were driven out, electrification was reinstalled. After the war, the highest priority was to rebuild the destruction caused by the war, so major railroad electrification was further postponed for about 10 years.
In 1946 the USSR ordered 20 electric locomotives from General Electric, the same US corporation that supplied locomotives for the first electrification. Due to the cold war, they could not be delivered to the USSR so they were sold elsewhere. The Milwaukee Road US obtained 12, nicknamed "Little Joes", "Joe" referring to Joseph Stalin, the Soviet premier. In the mid-1950s, the USSR launched a two-pronged approach to replace steam locomotives. They would electrify the lines with high density traffic and slowly convert the others to diesel. The result was a slow but steady introduction of both electric and diesel traction which lasted until about 1980 when their last steam locomotives were retired. In the US, steam went out about 1960, 20 years earlier than for the USSR.
Once dieselization and electrification had fully replaced steam they began to convert diesel lines to electric, but the pace of electrification slowed. By 1990, over 60% of railway freight was being hauled by electric traction. This amounted to about 30% of the freight hauled by all railroads in the world  and about 80% of rail freight in the US (where rail freight held almost a 40% modal share). The USSR was hauling more rail freight than all the other countries in the world combined, and most of this was going by electrified railway.
Partly due to inefficient generation of electricity in the USSR (only 20.8% thermal efficiency in 1950 vs. 36.2% in 1975), in 1950 diesel traction was about twice as energy efficient as electric traction (in terms of net tonne-km of freight per kg of fuel). But as efficiency of electricity generation (and electric traction) improved, by about 1965 electric railways became more efficient. After the mid 1970s electric's used about 25% less fuel per ton-km. Then if one considers the cost of diesel fuel was about 1.5 times  more than that of the fuel used in electric power plants (that generated electricity), electric railways became even more cost effective.
Besides increased efficiency of power plants, there was an increase in efficiency (between 1950-1973) of the utilization of this electricity with energy-intensity dropping from 218 to 124 kwh/10,000 gross tonne-km (both passenger and freight trains) or a 43% drop. Since energy-intensity is the inverse of energy-efficiency it drops as efficiency goes up. But most of this 43% decrease in energy-intensity also benefited diesel traction. The conversion of wheel bearings from plain to roller, increase of train weight, converting single track lines to double track (or partially double track), and the elimination of obsolete 2-axle freight cars increased the energy-efficiency of all types of traction: electric, diesel, and steam. However there remained a 12-15% reduction of energy-intensity that only benefited electric traction. This was due to improvements in locomotives, more widespread use of regenerative braking, remote control of substations, better handling of the locomotive by the locomotive crew, and improvements in automation. Thus it's clear why the overall energy-efficiency of electric traction as compared to diesel more than doubled between 1950 and the mid-1970s.
DC vs. AC
In 1973, DC traction at 3000 volts, lost about 3 times as much energy (percentage-wise) in the catenary as AC at 25,000 volts. Nevertheless, it turned out that DC locomotives were somewhat more efficient overall than AC locomotives. Most of "Auxiliary Electric Motors" are used for air cooling the traction motors and the AC locomotives (for unexplained reasons) use about 50% more energy for this purpose.
|Type of Current||DC||AC|
|Auxiliary Electric Motors||11.0||17.0|
|Traction Motors and Gears||77.0||74.1|
In 1991 (the final year of the Soviet Union) the cost of electrifying one kilometer was 340-470 thousand rubles  and required up to 10 tonnes of copper. Thus it was expensive to electrify. Are the savings due to electrification worth the cost?
But how does electrification economically compare with diesels locomotives which started to be introduced in the USSR in the mid 1930s and were significantly less costly than steam traction? Later on there were even whole books written on the topic of comparing the economies of electric vs. diesel traction 
The decision to electrify is supposed to be based on return on investment and examples are given which proposed electrification if the investment in electrification would not only pay for itself in lower operating cost but in addition would give a percentage return on the investment. Example percentage return found in two books are 10%  or 8%. In comparing two (or more) alternatives (such as electrification or dieselization of a rail line) one calculates the total annual cost, using a certain interest return on capital and then selects the least cost alternative. The formula for total annual cost is: Эпрi=Эi+ЕнКi where the subscript i is the i th alternative, Эi is the annual cost of alternative i (including amortization of capital), Ен is the interest rate, and Кi is the value (price) of the capital investment for alternative i. But none of the references cited here call Ен an interest rate. Instead they describe it as the inverse of the number of years required to have the net benefits of the investment pay off the investment where the net benefits are calculated after paying amortization "costs" of the investment. Also, different books sometime use different letters for this formula.
Electrification requires high fixed costs but results in savings in operating cost per tonne-km hauled. The more tonne-km, the greater this savings, so that high traffic will result in savings that more cover the fixed costs. Steep grades also favor electrification, partly because regenerative braking can recover some energy when descending. Using the above formula to compare diesel to electric on a a double track line with Ruling gradient of 0.9 to 1.1% and density of about 20 million t-km/km (or higher) results in less cost for electric with a 10% return assumed on the capital investment. For less traffic, diesel traction will be more economical.
After the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, railroad traffic in Russia sharply declined  and new major electrification projects were not undertaken but work continued on some unfinished projects. The line to Murmansk was completed in 2005. Electrication of the last segemnt of the Trans-Siberian Railway from Khabarovsk (Хабаровск) to Valdivostok (Владивосток) was completeed in 2002. By 2008, the tonne-kilometers hauled by electric trains has increased to about 85% of rail freight.
Voltage and Current
The USSR originally selected 3000V DC for mainline electrification. Even then in the early 1930s it was realized that it was too low of a voltage for the catenary but too high for optimal motors. The solution to this problem was to use 25kv for the catenary and provide on-board transformers to step down the 25kv to a much lower voltage where it was then rectified to give low voltage DC. Another proposal was to use 6000V DC(Russian) where the high voltage DC would be reduced by power electronics before being applied to motors. Only one experimental train set at 6kV was made and it only operated in the 1970s.
Examples of electric locomotives
3 kV DC
25 kV AC
- Electrification of Saint Petersburg Railway Division
- History of rail transport in Russia
- Rail transport in the Soviet Union
- Trams of Putilov plant
- For 1991 see РИАновести (RIA News; RIA=Russian Information Agency) 29.08.2004 section Экономика (Economics): "Исполняется 75 лет электрификации железных дорог России" (75th anniversary of electrification of railroads in Russia)
- Ицаев table 1.2, p.30. Ицаев uses the term "перевозная робота" (transportation work) to mean tonne-km of freight since the same data as in his table 1.2 is also found in table 4 of димитриев (p.43) where it is more precisely labeled as "грузообороте" which unambiguously translates into tonne-km of freight. For 1950 see Дмитриев table 4., p.43.
- see "The mystique of electrification" by David P. Morgan, Trains (magazine), July 1970, p.44+. He states that electrification reached it's peak (in the U.S.) of 3100 miles (1.23% of route-miles) but fails to give a date. But from the context, the date is between 1924-1957. The last major electrification was by the Pennsy (Pennsylvania Railroad) during the Great Depression of the 1930's, so one may guess that since electrified mileage had decreased by 2/3 by 1957 (per Morgan) that the peak was well prior to 1957. With the big Pennsy electrification going on in the 1930's, total electrified mileage was perhaps increasing. This reasoning puts the peak at the end of the 1930's. Дмитриев p.116 claims that there was almost no new electrification in the US from 1938-1973 which lends more credibility to the guesstimated time of the peak
- Ицаев table 1.1, p.22.
- Дмитриев p.42; Раков p.392
- Дмитриев pp. 13-14; ГОЭЛРО (Russian)
- Дмитриев p.15
- Раковx p. 394+ (Russian)x See 11.2 Сурамские электровозы (Surami electric locomotives)
- Пласк (Russian), 1993, See 1.2 (p.7+): Short history and current state of electric railroads (translated)
- Morgan, David P., "The Mystique of Electrification", Trains, July 1970. p. 44
- Исаев p.25
- Middleton, William D., "Those Russian Electrics", Trains, July 1970. pp. 42-3
- Плакс (Russian), p. 7 Fig. 1.3
- Railroad Facts: Table: Locomotives in Service
- Freight by electric railroad 2008 (Russian)
- Плакс (Russian), p. 3 (no 3 printed on p. but has heading: "От Авторов")
- United Nations (Statistical Office) Statistical Yearbook. See table in older issues: "World railway traffic". This table has since been discontinued.
- "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 Ton-Miles by Mode, p.12
- Планкс Fig. 1.2, p.6. Дмитриев, Table 1, p.20
- Планкс, p.6
- Перцовский p.39
- Higher weight may decrease specific train resistance due to economies of scale in Rolling resistance and Aerodynamic Drag
- Перцовский table 3, p.41.
- Планкс p.7
- Дмитриев p.34, Раков Ch.11 Электровозы (Electric Locomotives) p.392
- One such book is Дмитриев and at the bottom of p.118, several organizations are listed which published reports on this topic.
- Дмитриев: 0.1 (10%) is substituted on p.245 into the formula on the bottom of p.244
- Soviet Encyclopedia; Приведённые затрат (total cost including interest)
- Дмитриев p.236
- Дмитриев, p.237
- United Nations (UN) Statistical Yearbook, 40th p. 514; UN 48th p. 527
- Murmansk Electrification (Russian)
- Electrification Completed (Russian)
- Transsib electrification (Russian)
- Дмитриев, В.А.; "Народнохозяйственная эффективность электрификации железных дорог и примениния тепловозной тяги" (National economic effectiveness of railway electrification and application of diesel traction), Москва "Транспорт" 1976.
- Исаев, Е.П.; Фрайфельд А.В. "Бецеды об электрической железной дороге" (Discussions about the electric railroad) Моцква "Транспорт" 1989.
- Перцовский, Л.М., "Энргетическая эффективность электрической тяги" (Energy efficiency of electric traction), Железнодорожный Транспорт (magazine), #12, 1974 p. 39+
- Плакс, А.В. & Пупынин, В.Н., "Электрические железные дороги" (Electric Railroads), Москва, "Транспорт" 1993.
- Раков, В.А., "Локомотивы отечественных железных дорог 1845-1955" (Locomotives of our country's railroads) Москва, Транспорт 1995.