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THE TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY

 

By THEODORE WATERS

 

Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly—March, 1900

THREE great engineering feats, now in the minds of three leading nations, promise to alter the commercial and diplomatic conditions of the world. One is the trans-continental canal route across Central America. Another is the African Cape-to-Cairo Railway of Cecil Rhodes. The third is the Trans-Siberian Railway of the Czar. The first and second of these are hardly beyond the stage of contemplation. They will be known as Twentieth Century feats. The last, however, is a Nineteenth Century fact; it is well under way. European powers are watching its progress attentively, for it is recognized that, in spite of the Peace Conference suggested by its projector, it contains all of the essentials for a great diplomatic coup—a ruse of "the man who walks like a bear'' to secure ultimately his slice in the partition of the East. Just now, too, it is of even more interest to the people of this country than the Isthmian Canal, because, abstractly speaking, the trans-Siberian Railway is being built in the United States.

Map of Asia, showing Trans-Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg to Vladivostock—400kb

Let the latter proposition be explained first. The contracts for the equipment of the Siberian road are being given to American firms. Carnegie and the Maryland Steel Co. are to supply the rails; Baldwin Locomotive Works are working night and day on the locomotives; the Pressed Steel Car Co. is to supply freight-car bodies; Westinghouse and another New York firm will make the air-brakes and the electrical apparatus; the bridges are being made at Sparrow Point, Md. Stationary engines and other features of the machine shop equipment have been made in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Schenectady and other American cities. Altogether this means the employment of an army of American workmen and the influx from Europe of many thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the adoption of these American made goods means that many of the supplies of the future necessarily will be bought from this country. In practice it is found much cheaper for a foreign country to replace a broken driving wheel, for instance, from the original maker, who keeps it in stock, than it is to make the wheel abroad. This applies to most of the equipment. So the effect of these Siberian contracts is highly cumulative. The point is so very important that it may be interesting to trace out the far-reaching effects in detail.

The order for steel rails for which American rolling mills recently competed was for 180,000 tons. Since thirty foot rails at eighty pounds to the yard weigh 800 pounds, this order means enough track to equip at least 1,200 miles of road, or approximately the distance between Irkutsk and the nearest reaches of the River Obi, which for purposes of comparison are as wide apart as New York and Kansas City. This, be it said in passing, is but one of the seven working divisions of the new Siberian road. Most of the iron for this order of rails has not yet been mined. So that there is prospective work and wages for the miners who get it out of the ground, for the men who convert it into steel, for the rollers who make the rails, for the railroads which handle them, and for the ships which will convey them to Russia. It will require hundreds of freight cars to draw them to the coast, and it will need the tonnage capacity of several steamers the size of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse to take there to Europe. Yet this large amount of rails will be sufficient to equip only one-fourth of the line of the Trans-Siberian road with single track. Three times the above amount will be needed to equip the entire road in addition to what is ordered now, not to speak of the sidings necessary for trains to pass one another. And, if the Russian Government should ever equip the road with double track, it would mean the duplicating of all that has just been

described. In other words, 1,335,000 tons of American steel would be necessary to supply the Trans-Siberian road with double track. Finally, when you consider the branch lines which will tap its 4,741-and-one-third miles of length like the innumerable branches from the trunk of a great tree and extend away indefinitely into the wilds of Siberia any distance you please, the mind is dazed by the infinity of figuring which would be necessary to arrive even at all approximate estimate. A similar condition presents itself when the probable cost of such an enterprise is considered; for even the crude affair now under way is expected to cost the Russian Government $175,000,000 at the least, and several competent engineers have declared it their opinion that this estimate is not large enough by half. Yet, if doled out at first hand without interest, it is enough to keep 2,500 families in comparative affluence for fifty years. The possession of just one year's interest on it at five per cent. would make the man who collected it a millionaire eight times over.

Now, the steel rails are the least human part of the Trans-Siberian road with which Americans have to deal. When riding in a railway carriage, one's mind is apt to stray very seldom to the track, unless it be disagreeably so, when forced by the jolts and jars. The locomotive, however, is always of interest and pride to the passengers whom it has pulled. This feeling will be doubly enhanced for Americans who ride over the Russian road, because the great locomotives which will draw the trains were made in Philadelphia. The Baldwin Locomotive Works have been working night and day, turning out great wood and coal-burning engines for the Czar. Six thousand seven hundred men are hard at work on the engines which they construct at the rate of two a day. Think of it! Two complete locomotives every day in the year. One would almost think that there would be a glut in the market. Yet there are factories in Paterson, N. J., Schenectady, N.Y., Pittsburgh and Scranton, Pa., and in Illinois, with capacities comparatively as great. It shows the remarkable impetus that has been given to railroad construction—how the United States in this line is becoming the supply depot of the world. An instance was recently had of this in Philadelphia, where the steamship Puritan cleared for Siberia and China with the largest cargo of railway material that has ever been taken from any port in the United States. She was bound first for Vladivostock, and she had on board forty of the locomotives which had been made at the rate of two a day, tenders for these locomotives, and eighteen steel bridges for the Chinese Eastern Railway. These latter she left at New Chwang, China, and the combined destination is significant from a diplomatic point of view, as will be seen later in the present article. While the latter is in course of preparation, another steamship, the Uplands, is being loaded with a cargo similar to that of the Puritan. She will go to the same destination. During the latter part of 1898 Philadelphia sent seventy-one locomotives to Siberia, and an order for seventy-seven is now being executed. In addition to these it may be said, by the way, that over three hundred other locomotives were shipped to the Far East last year by American firms; some for commercial purposes merely, others as part of the equipment of the Powers, who thus in times of peace are preparing for the struggle to come.

All of the locomotives sent to Siberia are of the modern type, some of them able to haul 3,200 tons, and all of them fully abreast of the best American engines of their class. This argues that the road is to be essentially modern in all of its parts, and not a makeshift from which a growth is expected to be made. For the standard of a modern railroad is a matter of dovetailed details. A locomotive weighing, as do the Siberians, 136,800 pounds, can be operated only on 80-pound rails laid on a roadbed of corresponding stiffness. The fitness of things becomes compulsory. Modern cars and rolling stock will be ordered to accompany the locomotives; none others would fit the road. Hence the Russian officials are compelled to turn to the United States for the rest of the equipment—first, because of the standard maintained; second, because of the great speed with which American wares are turned out. The triumph of the Atbara Bridge on the Nile is proof of this. A Pennsylvania firm made this bridge just as they might a sky-scraper. They found the dimensions of the river near Khartum, and then constructed a complete bridge; all of the parts interchangeable; every rivethole in its proper place, and every rivet exactly like every other rivet; every part of the bridge numbered and ready to fit into its place in the general mosaic. It was, comparatively speaking, little more than a game at building blocks to set up that bridge—a matter of weeks, not months or years as it had been before. Finally, it was a great object lesson to the English engineers, whose eyes it opened and whose methods it revolutionized. They had been used to welding the iron forms for foreign bridges and doing the fitting on the ground. This occupied a long time, for much of the heavy work was done far from the factory. The American idea causes very little work to be done on the ground. A complete bridge is made at home and then exported. The work of fitting is a minor consideration. This grasp and disposal of the problem in such a masterly manner has so captivated foreign engineers that an order to send a skyscraper abroad is logically to be expected in the near future. At any rate, it could be fulfilled just as was the bridge contract. The immediate result, however, is the regular exportation of big bridges and the special exportation of those on the Puritan and Upland. The company which constructed the Atbara bridge has just closed a contract to supply 7,000 tons of bridge work for the government railways of Japan. This, in detail, embraces 45 double-track 100-foot spans and 11 single-track 200-foot spans. Other firms are competing for contracts in bridges for the Chinese railways, and exportations of the same kind are expected to be made in token of the contemplated African railways. This, while perhaps a trifle foreign to the subject in hand, is yet essential in view of the interlacing aspirations of the Powers in the East. The Russian bridges were many of there made by a Maryland firm, and they are of the kind that are first built and then erected.

There has been for some time in America a scarcity of steel, which may bear heavily on the contract for freight cars exported to Siberia. It is not that there is any lack of raw material, judging the supply by previous production; but the inflated exportation of steel goods and the consequent activity of otherwise idle factories have thinned out the flow in the regular channels. Some of the big manufacturers, used to absorbing all the necessary ore in sight, have been compelled to make common issue and cause with the smaller men. To complicate the situation, there has been also a "famine" of freight cars, due, as with steel, less to the scarcity (judged by former standards) than to the immense and immediate acceleration in the movement of freight. This, also, in spite of the fact that the wheel loads of freight cars have quadrupled in a few years. Now, the modern freight car is not the wooden affair to which we have been used. It is made of steel, stamped out, and the various parts pressed into shape so that it may be exported conveniently. This feature of the car has led to orders from foreign countries, the most important being the Russian contract. In view of this find the extra demand at home, a car manufacturing company asked Carnegie to supply them one thousand tons of steel a clay for ten years. Steel, at the average market rate, is worth $20 a ton, so that, with an average of 300 working days in the year, the order will in the end be worth $6,000,000, facts of time and money of great encouragement to the wage-workers who turn out this vast amount of metal. Here again the advantage of the skyscraper idea in American steel-making becomes apparent. How much easier and economical to export the forms of knocked-down steel cars to be set up in Siberia than to send space-consuming wooden cars which would have to be made and braced before shipment, even if the Russians thought well of ordering the latter style at all!

Following out this eternal dove-tailing of the standards, each one of these locomotives, these freight cars, etc., must be equipped with an air-brake, an American product which so far has not been equalled in efficiency by any other device made for the same purpose. Furthermore, the universality of the patents is so complete that the Russians are compelled to come to the United States for the right to provide this means of stopping their trains. In the matter of shop equipment for the minor repairs which inevitably will be necessary, the machinery is all being made in and exported from the United States. Much of the machinery used in constructing the road has come from the same source.

Let us now seize the economic moral of the situation from another standpoint. In the rolling mills where the rails for the Trans-Siberian Railway are being made, ten thousand men are employed. Six thousand seven hundred men are at work on locomotives for the road. The bridge-making companies employ 5,000 men. The freight car companies, six thousand. The Westinghouse and the New York Air Brake companies keep five thousand men at work. So that on these items alone there are over 32,000 Americans at work for the Czar of Russia. The families of these men, roughly estimating them at three persons besides the men themselves, although we believe this too small, bring the number of Americans, men, women and children, depending for sustenance on the Trans-Siberian Railway to 128,000. This is a direct result of the triumph of our methods over those of our foreign competitors. The indirect result, such as the number of Americans employed in the handling of the supplies on the way to the coast; the prosperity resulting from the commercial contact of those employed with their neighbors; the employment of the neighbors on work which otherwise would have been performed by those now engaged in the Siberian work; the prestige which the United States as an industrial factor must achieve among nations; the impetus which the work must give to iron construction in the United States, so that she may feel herself competent to step in and demand her share of the immense railroad development impending in Asia, Africa, South America and Australia—the indirect result is indeed too great to be calculated. In its way the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad is an epoch-opening event in the history of American industry.

Now, having witnessed the immediate and indicated the ultimate effect of the Trans-Siberian Railroad on the prosperity of the United States, let us leave our army of American workmen to turn out the equipment, and look to the road itself and its probable effect on social and commercial Russia in particular and on Europe and Asia in general. This great railway has been in the eye of Russian diplomacy ever since the war of the Crimea. Possibly it was a project before that, but that struggle showed the need of a broader development than Russia had indulged in theretofore. The great modern trend toward centralization was recognized as an increasing force by the advisers of the Czars quite as readily as by the ministers of other countries. Europe, which had entered the Nineteenth Century as a composite of many principalities, had merged into a comparative few great "powers"; commerce, which had meant formerly the traffic of town with town, now meant gigantic interchange between hemisphere and hemisphere; language, which had been divided and subdivided into a babel of tongues over limited areas, until people on two sides of a mountain employed different and unrecognizable idioms, was rapidly simplifying into the collective speech of a few great nations; dress, which had been an emotional masquerade all over the world, had been universally simplified, until, for the male at least, one's nationality was not to be recognized by one's raiment; travel, which had meant months of journeying from State to State, now meant short weeks of globetrotting—and so on through all the departments of life. This great centralizing process, this intercommunication of human actions, ideas and habits, might go on, theoretically, until the whole world was a unit—one great country, one commercial system, one language, one mode of dress, etc., etc.; but in the ultimate result the influence, the impress, the force, of one great nation was bound to predominate. It might be England, it might be Germany, it might be France; but yet again it might be Russia. At any rate, her rulers began to adjust her destinies apparently to this end. Geographically she covered one-seventh of the land area of the globe, which merely numerical designation is qualified by the valuable location she held on the map of Europe and Asia. Her commerce so far lay in the products of the soil, but the nucleus was as great as the matured development of some other countries. Her language was spoken by over 119 million persons, and she sought earnestly to maintain this showing by severely discouraging the growing use of the French language in polite circles. In dress, which is unimportant, she followed the line of least resistance and adopted the fashion of the world. But in other things she was far less tractable. She had ways and customs of her own, modeled on the governmental and religious traditions of the empire, and she did not mean to give them up. However, her disposition being more Asiatic than European, she set about adapting the condition of affairs to suit her needs in a manner diplomatic, inconspicuous, but nevertheless forceful. It was a great movement, and a slow one; but, like all great movements, its momentum became irresistible and promised to be world-disturbing. Where England or Germany might have coerced, Russia persuaded, and then menaced the result of her persuasion with silent alternatives. She insidiously allowed her Jewish population to discern and to develop her outlying commercial advantages, and then quietly annexed the resultant development for the benefit of her Greek Church adherents. She made a hidden virtue of her penal system and scattered the best blood of the Empire over the cold-bitten wastes of Siberia, in the end to develop it and fit it for its place in the ultimate prosaic. While other countries noisily forced their way into the commercial recesses of China, she hung along the northern border of the Yellow Kingdom, studying the customs of the Mongol, foreseeing his needs and, in the Asiatic manner, worming her way to his heart. She sought to do for him inversely what the Chinese Wall once had done for his forefather. He had closed communication with the outside world with a great northern girdle of stone; Russia hoped to open it for him with a girdle of steel—the Siberian Railroad.

It was undoubtedly a significant event that the United States should have beaten England in the competition for the Russian contracts. One can find in it material for farther illustration of the secret methods of the Czars. For the Siberian road certainly constitutes the greatest menace a to the trade supremacy in China of other countries than Russia. Let us see how this may come to be. The Trans-Siberian road as originally projected was to be one of three routes leaving Russia at the convenient terminal point of some existing railway, and extending eastward somewhere above the northern boundary of Mongolia and Manchuria, and dipping southward after crossing the Amur River to Vladivostock, on the Bay of Peter the Great, which latter is an inlet of the Japan sea. These three routes, which may be likened to our Northern, Central and Southern Pacific Railroads, were discussed more in the light of diplomatic and commercial expedients than in vices of the engineering difficulties likely to be encountered. One of these routes was to be a continuation of the already existing Ural Mines Railway, extending eastward through the barren northlands. The Southern route was to be a prolongation of the old Orenburg Railway, across the unpeopled steppes and through the Barnaul mining district. The Central route which was chosen eventually will extend through a fertile, well peopled country between the objectionable rivers and marshes on the north and the barren steppes on the south—a course which will permit of its, so to speak, living on the country as it advances. But mark the set purpose kept always in view. These routes all converged and met at Nijni Udinsk, less than half of the way across Siberia, so that the plan of hemming in the complete northern boundary of the Chinese Empire was never for one moment abandoned. It is, indeed, the intention of the Russia Government to occupy all three routes in the indefinite future.

If you will examine the prospectus issued by the Russian Department of Grade and Manufacture, you will find a carefully prepared statement of the ostensible purpose of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Here, for instance, is the proposed route: Starting at Tcheliabinsk and extending to the River Obi, thence to Irkutsk, to Misovskaya, to Srjetensk, to Khaborovka, to Grafskaya, to Vladivostock. In May, 1891, the Czarovitch, now Emperor Nicholas II., broke ground for the road by digging the first sod at Vladivostock. It is also a fact, that part of the road has been built north from this point around the northeastern border of Manchuria. Yet it is thought that this part of the road may be subsidiary—a mere branch of the main intention. Let us see why! If you will take the map of China and look for its railroads, you will find probably two or three spasmodic sections of coal roads which have survived the prejudice of ancestor worshipers and which lean toward the coast as though afraid of extending too far into the unprotected interior. The longest of these roads extends from Peking to Tien-tsin, and thence northeasterly, nearly three hundred miles, to Ning-yuan. Its general trend is from the capital of China toward Vladivostock. But this comparatively short length of line will soon be only part of a great system of Chinese railroads. It will be remembered by the reader that the Imperial Government granted a concession last year to a Chinese-American syndicate, headed by the late Senator Brice, for the purpose of constructing a railway from Hong Kong on the China Sea, via Canton, to Han-Kau. Han-Kau is in the center of one of the most fertile and populous districts in the empire. Another concession was made to a Belgian syndicate for a line extending north from Han-Kau to Peking. So, with the line already in existence and the proposed lines named in the concessions, there shortly will be in China a continuous railway route starting at Hong-Kong and extending through the middle of the country past twenty cities, running through the fertile valleys of the Yang-tse-Kiang and the Hoang Ho, where the value of the soil products is very great, passing over mountain ranges where the value of the mineral deposits is greater, touching half a dozen ports on the Gulf of Pechili from which communication with the sea is convenient, and finally, having accomplished all this, making a dead-set in the direction of the Tram-Siberian terminus—Vladivostock.

It is not too much for say that the Russians have anticipated this, and that the trend of their road will be altered en route to take advantage of the Chinese development. Critics of the Eastern situation have openly asserted their belief in the Russian intention to make Port Arthur a terminus of the road. One eminent writer declares that part of the present route of the Siberian road will for a time be abandoned and a sharp turn be made at Streusk on the Shilka River, so that the main line can pass directly through Manchuria, and joining a branch line from VIadivostock at Kirin or Kalyuen, pass down to the Chinese terminus at Ning-yuen. Then, indeed, will the Czar control the main artery of land communication in the East. The line which will probably follow the route of the Grand Canal; the Central Chinese line, described above; the line which probably will stretch away from Hail-Kau through the valley of the Yang-tse to India and Thibet—these will all be feeders for the great project which the Czar inaugurated in May, 1891. He will be able to move and to control the movement of crops and merchandise between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and he will be able at a critical moment to hurry great legions of his conscripted soldiers from one side of the globe to the other in a manner which no other country will be able to anticipate. Having already appealed to the Chinese mind through the oneness of double dealing which characterizes the two nations, he will be able to cement the feeling into a positive and declared alliance which will enable these two nations absolutely to control the politics of Asia to the enforced exclusion of European powers—China to avoid the personal disadvantages of partition, Russia to enjoy the political and commercial advantages of exclusive intercourse. This is the end striven for. If it comes to pass, Russia will dominate the greater part of the world.

Meantime let us see how the work of preparation is being carried out. The Trans-Siberian Railway at the time of the present writing is approaching Lake Baikel, and hence may be said to be half finished. It has accomplished the point where the three routes converged and has already started to skirt the northern edge of Mongolia. The work is being pushed forward rapidly, but not so rapidly as it might be were the engineering methods employed a little more modern than they are. There is an underlying taint of corruption in the work, as may be seen from soiree recent reports concerning the treatment of the laborers. The laborers are unskilled or skilled, according as they are native or foreign to the soil. Many have been imported, but the majority are drawn from the masses of Siberian convicts and exiles. The convicts are forced to work on the road; the exiles are "induced" to do so. For the former, eight months of labor counts as one year of penal servitude; for the latter, one year of work on the road counts as two of exile. But there is much free labor. A recent report giving an approximate estimate of the force employed, is as follows: 37,000 laborers; 14,000 carters; 6,000 surfacemen; 5,000 carpenters; 4,000 stonemasons; 2,000 riveters; or roughly, a total—counting the directors and sub-directors in charge—of 70, 000, men.

The Government is offering great inducements to the peasants of Russia to settle in Siberia, and as a result emigration has been filling up the fertile plains of the Obi and the Irtish and the land beyond. Forty-three acres of land are given to each peasant settling in the provinces of Tobolsk and Tomsk, and every family is entitled to a reduction in railway fare, which makes the cost of traveling a mere trifle—one shilling per one hundred miles. Of course, once at his destination, the settler must stay, the return journey being possible only at a rate far beyond his means. The scheme amounts therefore to permanent colonization. One hundred thousand emigrants left the crowded Russian communes for Siberia in 1892; 100,000 went in 1893; 180,000 in 1894. The number has been increasing since. One hundred thousand passed over the border during the single month of May, 1896. During 1898 the great mob of home-seekers numbered 400,000, all rushing madly into the land which but a few years ago was synonym for terror and desolation. Spectators have said that the movement resembles a panic, and that worse still, the authorities, unprepared for the gigantic influx, have been unable to provide for it, and that many of the emigrants are herded like cattle en route, around stations, in cars, in wayside inns, etc., where the necessaries of life even are not enjoyed in any great abundance. Many of these emigrants have stopped to labor on the railroad and so become part of the engineering system, which is better off in the way of supplies, since it is entitled to live on the country it penetrates. Doubtless many of these men will remain railway servants all of their lives, for even when the road is completed there will be needed an army of laborers for its maintenance, those required merely to clear away snowdrifts during several months in the year forming no inconsiderable number.

So the work is being pushed forward with engineering difficulties that seem wellnigh insurmountable; through long valleys where summer is a question of a month or two and the frosts never leave the ground; over great rivers like the Tobol, the Ishim, the Irtisch and the Yenisei, which have to be bridged while the floods carry down long barriers of ice; over high mountains, like those of the Yablonovai range, where a summit level of 3,685 feet is reached, where the subsoil is continually frozen and the cuts are filled with snowdrifts; over trackless wastes where the compass and the sun are the only guides; over inclosed seas like Lake Baikel, across which the Trans-Siberian trains will be transported bodily on 4,000 ton steamers, which will have to force their way through the ice. Later on, this boat-crossing may be done away with, but if so it will be at a cost of fifty-four miles of tunneling and cutting through granite, gneiss and sandstone. These are the difficulties of this great engineering work. Probably no other railway in the world will have been constructed at such an expense of energy, money and human suffering. Will the end justify the means? In the opinion of the Czar, to whom these things are but necessary pedestal blocks to his throne—Yes! Already the results begin to manifest themselves. A recent dispatch from St. Petersburg states as follows: "The increase of the traffic on the eastern and still more on the western section of the Siberian Railway has surpassed all expectation. The last year's traffic returns of the western Siberian section show 300,000 passengers, nearly 490,000 tons of goods, and 400,000 peasant emigrants. Last winter, although 600 new trucks were added and 1,600 old ones borrowed, there was an accumulation of 1,000 truck loads of goods for which no means of transport could be found. Of the 490,000 tons carried over the railway in 1898, more than 320,000 tons consisted of cereals. With the opening of the through traffic to the Pacific, the extension of the road as a carrying agent, must be enormous. It is calculated that five years hence, the Trans-Siberian Railway will have a goods traffic of 1,700,000 tons per annum.

"It is proposed to spend over $40,000,000 in developing traffic during the next few years. Heavier rails and side tracks are to be laid, and 1,429 bridges reconstructed. The average speed of trains is now 20 versts (13.26 miles) an hour for passenger, and 12 versts ( 7.956 miles) an hour for goods traffic. When the reorganization is complete, it will be possible to run trains at 50 versts (33.15 miles) an hour, which would enable them to travel from Moscow to Vladivostock in ten days. The distance separating the Atlantic from the Pacific could then be traveled in considerably less than a fortnight."

The Russians are prone to revere an auspicious date. In May, 1705, Peter the Great founded his capital, St. Petersburg, "thereby breaking through the Neva a window into Europe." In May, 1905, the present Nicholas II hopes to be able to travel on his railway continuously from the " Window of Europe" to Vladivostock, the "Golden Gate of the East." It will be an epoch-marking anniversary, for it will probably produce as lasting an effect on the Asian world as did the act of the elder Czar on the European.


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