Real Russia Blog

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

How much do you know about the Trans-Siberian?

We like to think of ourselves as the Trans-Siberian experts – we’ve taken the Trans-Siberian and every year we help thousands of others take it too but… Well, with countries as fascinating as Russia, China and Mongolia there’s always more to learn.

We've put together a few of our favourite facts we've learnt over the last few months as well as a few of the favourites that got us interested in the Trans-Siberian too.

A legendary lost city

Located just beyond Nizhny Novgorod, which gained recent exposure because of its role as a 2018 host city during the World Cup, is Svetloyar Lake. Some Russians believe that Svetloyar Lake holds a secret, and somewhere in its waters is Kitezh, a mysterious, sunken city. The city is said to have become invisible when it was attacked by Tatars, and there is even an opera partially based on its legend, Сказание о невидимом граде Китеже и деве Февронии, or The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya.

Svetloyar Lake

Stuck in the middle with Tayshet

The railway station of Tayshet, when you hit 4644.5km from Moscow, is the half-way point between Moscow and Vladivostok, which is 9,289km from Moscow. If you stop in Tayshet station, make sure to take a moment with a drink and admire just how far you've come, and just how far there is left to go! Think back to how many people have passed through this hallway point on one of the grandest journeys there is.

The Trans-Siberian wasn't always accessible to travellers

Vladivostok, the final stop of the original Trans-Siberian was off limits to foreigners until 1990, even Soviet Citizens needed a permit giving them permission to enter. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule and in 1974 the USA's President Ford was given permission to visit for an arms summit with Leonid Brezhnev.

There are also, urban legends that David Bowie spent time in Vladivostok taking a ferry from Japan at the end of his 1973 Japanese tour. He's said to have taken the train through Russia due to his dislike of flying.

Vladivostok, Russky bridge

A station of marble

Slydyanka station is the only railway station in the world to be built entirely of marble. The station is famously close to the beautiful Lake Baikal, a highlight for many taking the Trans-Siberian. There is an old story that when the train stopped for 15 minutes, travellers would dash down to the water to dip in a hand for good luck. It wasn't unusual for these travellers to not make it back to the train in time, but what a picturesque place to be left behind!

Nowadays, the train only stops for 2 minutes and many travellers will simply choose to book a later train so they have time to enjoy Lake Baikal.

Slydyanka station

Home of Dance

Famous Russian male ballerina Rudolf Nureyev was actually born onboard the Trans-Siberian, near Irkutsk. His mother was travelling to see Rudolf's father in Vladivostok where he was stationed as a commissar.

It's not a one-track experience

Russian and Mongolian railways use the same size gauge which makes travelling between countries very easy, the train only needs to stop for custom and border checks. Chinese railways, however, use a different size gauge for their wheels so when you cross from Mongolia to China, the bogies need to be changed on every single carriage, so it'll fit on Chinese rails!

Chinese train

Baikal-Amur Mainline

The Trans-Siberian was originally planned as Moscow-Vladivostok, however, over time, that has evolved with the Trans-Mongolian which travels through Ulan Bator to Beijing and the Trans-Manchurian which travels through the Manchurian region to Beijing. This evolution has continued with the newest addition of the Baikal-Amur Mainline which runs parallel and northern to the Trans-Siberian railway route. It begins in Tayshet, the Trans-Siberian's midway point, and ends at Sovetskaya Gavan. It offers an alternative to the Trans-Siberian, showing off towns and cities that perhaps wouldn't be seen otherwise.

Leonid Brezhnev described the BAM route as the ‘construction project of the century’ as much of it was built over permafrost.