Today in Transportation History – 1904: Opening of a Famed Railway

The Trans-Siberian Railway was officially completed after more than a decade of construction throughout a large stretch of the Russian Empire. Thousands of workers helped build this network of railways linking Moscow with the Russian Far East. While formally finished, trains had already been running on some portions of the system; other segments, however, would not be in operation for several more years.

Sergei Yulyevich Witte, 1905

A major force in the development of the Trans-Siberian Railway was Count Sergei Witte, who oversaw construction of the system during his time as the Russian Empire’s finance minister from 1892 to 1903. Witte was one of Russia’s most influential and efficient public officials during this period, and he proved to be instrumental in consolidating the infrastructure needed for the Trans-Siberian Railway and expediting work on the massive network.

As The New York Times recounted at the time of Witte’s death in 1915, “he bought up nearly all the privately owned railroads in the empire, and after getting them under State control proceeded to improve and systematize the organization of this vast system with remarkable effect.” As the article also noted, Witte was responsible as well as for the creation of many new lines within the system.

The Trans-Siberian Railway, which played a vital role in linking Siberia more closely with an increasingly industrialized European Russia, measures 5,772 miles (9,290 km) in length and encompasses the world’s longest railway line. It also has branch lines that connect with Mongolia, China, and North Korea.

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