The Mysterious Bend in the Trans-Siberian Railroad

On Wednesday, October 24, 2001, a 650-kilometer rail link of the Trans-Siberian Railroad between Moscow and St Petersburg closed down for 24 hours as workers straightened out a 17-kilometer kink in the track near the town of Novgorod. The curious bend was the only anomaly in the otherwise-straight segment of railroad. Popularly known as the "Tsar's finger," the kink in the track was the subject of much local legend attempting to explain its origin.

One such tale claims that the Tsar, as he drew up the plans for the railroad, traced around his own finger on the ruler by mistake. Timid planners supposedly built the track as it was drawn, too frightened to point out the intimidating Tsar's error. Another similar myth attributes the bend in the track to a nick in the Tsar's ruler rather than his finger. Science fiction author Douglas Adams relates this version of the legend in his essay, The Little Computer that Could:

That reminds me of another favourite piece of information: there is a large kink in the trans-Siberian railway because when the Czar (I don't know which Czar it was because I am not in my study at home. I'm leaning against something shamefully ugly in Michigan and there are no books) decreed that the trans-Siberian railway should be built, he drew a line on a map with a ruler. The ruler had a nick in it.

However, a more likely explanation for the bend (offered by the Russian newspaper Kommersant) is that the steam-powered locomotives used in Russia at the time of the railroad's construction were not able to climb the steep Verbinsky gully and the bend in the track served as a means to avoid doing so.