Crossing the entire Asian continent from Europe to the Pacific, the Trans-Siberian Railroad is the longest rail line in the world, running nearly 6000 miles (9446 km) from Moscow to Vladivostok. Begun in 1881, the railroad took 35 years to complete. Still one of the most beautiful rail routes in the world, riding it remains a popular tourist attraction.
Plans for the Trans-Siberian railway were first drawn up in 1857 and given to the Tsar. For the next 20 years numerous men took up the cause of the railway without success. Russia was a backwards nation in the 1800s, still struggling to industrialize, so the prohibitive cost and formidable task of constructing such a railway ensured that no progress was made. Russia needed to build several other railroads first just to get the raw materials to build the Trans-Siberian. The first real step was taken in 1873 when the Ural Railway Company was established to link the iron and coal mines of the Urals with Central Russia. That year, planning began in earnest for the Trans-Siberian railway.
Full time construction on the Trans-Siberian Railway began in 1881. As with America’s Transcontinental Railroad, Russian engineers started construction at both ends and worked towards the center. From Vladivostok the railway was laid north along the right bank of the Ussuri River to Khabarovsk. Meanwhile in the west, other links connected Moscow to Kuenga. Convicts and Russian soldiers were drafted into service to build the railway, almost literally by hand. In a virtually unindustrialized nation the railroad was built with brawn, sweat, elbow grease and horses. The last link in the railway, the middle section from Khabarovsk to Kuenga, was completed in 1916.
The importance of the Trans-Siberian railway can not be understated. The Railroad was crucial to Russian security. As the only means of transporting men and supplies over most of the interor, control of the railroad meant control Russia. Much of the Russian Civil War of 1917-1920 was fought for control of key portions of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Perhaps more importantly, the railroad opened up a vast new eastern frontier to Russian expansion (Unlike the American West, however, the government tightly controlled who could emigrate east). Places that used to take months to reach by coach over bad roads and sleigh-routes could now be reached in a matter of days. New cities grew up almost overnight and vast tracts of natural resources could now be exploited to the benefit of the nation. The railroad realized Russia's potential as a world-spanning power by literally spanning a significant portion of the World.