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Circum-Baikal Railway


Circum-Baikal Railway is a railroad on the western shore of the Baikal mostly for tourist purposes. 89-km–long route from Slyudyanka-2 to port Baikal is a great opportunity to enjoy the changing views of the lake as the train rides along the shoreline from south to north and back. You will pass through 39 tunnels making several 20 min stops to take a stroll outside. Before World War II Trans-Siberia trains from Irkutsk was following Angara river reaching Port Baikal and then going at lake coast to Sludyanka. In late 40s. Line from Irkutsk to Port Baikal was dismantled and traffic was moved to mountain road through Bolshoy Lug, making Circum Baikal dead-end railway.

These are major stops as follow:

  • Slyudyanka, its station building is covered with white and pink marble.
  • Staraya Angasolka - small village and viaduc.
  • Mys Stolby
  • Kirkirey
  • Polovinny, the location of the shortest and the longest tunnels.
  • Shumikha, you can get out and see valleys of two rivers and Italian wall.
  • Port Baikal located on the cape Baranchik, and has early XXth century lighthouse.

The greatest challenge for the Circum-Baikal Railway was and still is frequent landslides and mud flows. Even at the time of surveying, engineers noted a strong weathering of the rock layers and a large amount of scree. The demolition of the hillside and the steep slopes during the construction of the trackbed provoked a catastrophic intensification of geodynamic processes. Severe landslides occurred during the construction of roads, in particular at Tunnel 5 in April 1904 a collapse of about 3000 m3 occurred, and a month before the end of the construction a collapse occurred in Tunnel 9 of about 1000 m3, damaging the masonry of the tunnel.

The results of further studies of the rocks along the way showed that they were not as robust as the initial surveys had expected. Moreover, the work associated with the construction of the railway (particularly the work using explosives) had led to the formation of numerous cracks in the rocks below. Having recognised this danger, the authorities agreed on the construction of retaining walls, the stripping of the hillside, and other measures. In some places dangerous sections were rerouted with new tunnels.

Nevertheless, in spite of the work to prevent natural hazards, landslides were a frequent and dangerous phenomenon on the Circum-Baikal, often leading to crashes and interruptions in traffic. For example:

In early April 1913 a 4000 m3 landslide occurred on the Irkutsk side at Tunnel 16. As a result, the movement of trains was suspended for ten days.

In April 1929, owing to an earthquake there was a shift in the rock mass at the 143 km mark, which then collapsed from a height of 200 m. The rocks broke the retaining wall and damaged both tracks (some pieces were as much as 30 m3 in size; they were removed through detonation). The delay in traffic as a result of the collapse was 12 hours.

In 1937, a piece of rock about 4 m in diameter fell on a train car, broke through the roof and the floor, and caused a train crash.

In 1936, the Marituiskaya section was built for safety purposes. It was one of the most complicated sections of railway in the country.

In 1939 on the Western Siberian Railway the Travelling Machine Station was built, which was carried out by anti-landslide workers (including even rock-climbers). The levelling and clearing of dangerous slopes has continued to the present day.

In May 1941 at the 87 km mark of the railway, an 8 m3 block, having broken off from height of 30 meters, dislodged a moving train together with a steam locomotive into the lake. This boulder, which has become a popular sight, still today holds down some parts of the rolling stock. On September 27, 1948 at the 104 mark, a slope collapsed (100 m in length and 35 meters in height), with a general volume of about 20,000 m3. As a result, traffic stopped for four days.

In 1982, a collapse of 900 m3 occurred, stopping traffic for a week.

In 1991, a collapse of about 700 m3 closed off the entrance to a tunnel at the 140 mark.

Among other natural phenomena, mudflows and floods have had a negative influence on Circum-Baikal traffic safety. The greatest activity in this respect has occurred on the river Slyudyanka, which runs into Baikal near station 1. On July 29, 1934 a mudflow on this river had catastrophic consequences, carrying off in its wake several apartment houses and covering the station with a thick layer of silt and sand. In 1960 a mudflow on the Slyudyanka again washed away train tracks and destroyed a series of dams. Powerful downpours in 1971 caused the most severe floods, which led to the destruction of several bridges and tunnel entrances, as well as the foundations of a track on the Circum-Baikal (the interruption of traffic lasted almost a week). Another unusual natural phenomenon occurs on the south side of Baikal: the deposition of ice sometimes causes a several-meter heap of ice blocks on the coast, covering the railways with ice.

In 16 years alone, from 1932 to 1947, 721 collapses occurred, of which 502 were without consequences for the railway, 201 closed off a single stage and disturbed the top structure of the railway, and 18 caused train-wrecks and the destruction of the embankment. According to the data of the Eastern Siberian Engineering Service, between 1930 and 1984 about 1200 collapses and mud-flows were recorded. Besides this, about 500 cases of the falling of individual rocks caused damage to the railway and rolling stock. Engineers described trips on the Circum-Baikal as exciting but dangerous.

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