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The Trans-Siberian Railway and the Clash Between Russia and Japan

The impressive Trans-Siberian railway is known as the world’s largest single railway, spanning seven time zones and over 5,000 miles. Stretching from Moscow to far eastern Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian was built over a hundred years ago and changed the scope of the Russian Empire significantly (Cavendish, 2004). Until the construction of the railway from 1891 to 1916, Russia had difficulty managing and developing its land in Siberia and other Asian territories along the Pacific Shore (Paranyushkin, 2015). Although the great railway promised economic expansion and progress for the Russian Empire, the construction of the railway prompted the unintended consequence of war with Japan, a growing East Asian power.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904 was triggered by a partnership between Russia and China, in which the Qing Dynasty agreed to negotiate lands in northern Manchuria for the Trans-Siberian railway construction (Beauchamp, 2016). This negotiation created a shortcut for the railway’s route to Vladivostok, shortening the length of the railway by roughly 800 miles and providing opportunity for trade in Manchuria (Odyssey Traveller, 2020). Japan, however, viewed this endeavor as an invasion of a territory Japan sought to claim for itself. These fears were confirmed when Russia proved its ability to move significant military power across the continent, stationing 170,000 troops in Manchuria to quell a local rebellion (Odyssey Traveller, 2020). Threatened by such a heavy presence, Japan launched a surprise attack in retaliation, and a war between two great powers began in earnest. 

The clash between Russia and Japan tested the utility and efficiency of the Trans-Siberian railway considerably. Shortcomings of the railway became apparent as the battles wore on, with the railroad reaching a peak capacity of only 13 trains per day (TransSib Express, 2020). Russia even tried laying temporary tracks across the frozen Lake Baikal in order to expedite transport of troops and supplies; however, this quickly became a fatal mistake and the train sank through the ice (Odyssey Traveller, 2020). Although the Russo-Japanese War lasted for two years, Japan devastatingly overwhelmed Russian forces and forced Russia to evacuate Manchuria (Beauchamp, 2016).

The Trans-Siberian railway now had to be constructed across a longer and more difficult route along the Amur River, strictly within Russian territory. The end of the war signaled changes for the construction of the Trans-Siberian, prompting the Russian government to convert wooden railways to metal and expand the railway into a continuous line throughout Russia (TransSib Express, 2020). These changes increased the speed, capacity, and accessibility of the Trans-Siberian railway, transforming the Trans-Siberian into the epic railroad we can travel on today.

Interested in experiencing the magnificent railway for yourself? Join us July 11 - 24, 2021 on the luxurious Tsars Gold as we begin our journey in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and travel all the way to Moscow, Russia. Learn more here.

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