The Siberian Railway
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Siberian Express is still a novelty in Russia, and people come to the station to inspect its luxurious appointments and witness its departure. The Siberian station is the finest in Moscow, with an imposing white facade—"God Save the Czar" in permanent gas illumination over the entrance specious halls, an admirable restaurant, and a series of parallel platforms, which make one think sadly of certain great London termini. At the farthest of these stand five unusually large and heavy corridor carriages and a powerful engine. As always in Russia, a crowd of uniformed officials is on hand; a brilliant light pours through the little windows high up in the flat sides of the carriages; the locomotive is only purring softly, but somewhere in the train an engine is at work at high speed, for there is a cloud of escaping steam, a stream of wood sparks, and a shrill buzz; and a chattering, laughing, crying crowd is at each entrance taking long leave of those going far away. Three strokes of the bell. big men with swords kiss each other fervently, a whistle, a snort of the engine, an answering whistle, and the train is off into the night on its unbroken journey of 3,371 miles, to the confines of that land whose name was recently a synonym of horror.
The Russians are very proud of their Siberian train. They told me at every chance that I could never have seen such a train—that there is nothing so luxurious and so complete in the world. This is a mistake of tact-it rather causes one to look for shortcomings, and little failings look larger in the light of these boasts. Moreover the Siberian Express needs no puff ; from almost every point of view it is a marvelous achievement, tho the train itself is not so wonderful as Russians think. It differs enough, however, from all other "trains de luxe" to be worth a detailed description. The first engine I noticed was built in France, all the rest were Russian, and some of these, with four large driving-wheels coupled together, were extremely powerful. These were freight engines; in fact, after the Iine enters Siberia all its engines are freight engines; the train is a very heavy one, the speed is low, and passenger engines will not come until the line is complete and a great effort is made to shorten the entire journey. Behind the locomotive comes a composite car, the forward part being the locked luggage compartment, and the after-section being the kitchen. Between the two is the electric-light plant, for the entire train, even to the red tail-lamps, is lighted by electricity. This plant is an illustration of the enterprise Russian engineers are showing in every direction. Steam is supplied by an ordinary upright boiler, but the dynamo is run by a tiny Laval steam turbine—the same Norwegian firm that makes the familiar milk separators-revolving at an enormous speed. This turbine makes the shrill note that is audible whenever the train stops after dark. The electric plant was not out of order for a moment during my double journey, and the trains were lighted magnificently.
The second carriage contains the sleeping quarters of the cooks and waiters, the pantry and the restaurant. This is a car which formerly served as a royal salon, and it is in no way suited for a dining-car. It contains two leather sofas, a piano, three tables seating four persons, and certain absurd tables about eighteen inches square. In the front part of this car there is also a full-sized bath, with shower, and an exercising machine, something like the crank in our prisons, which you make more or less laborious by adjusting a weight. The third and fifth cars are second-class, and the fourth first-class.
Except in two points, there is virtually no difference between the two classes, altho of course, or, rather, much more than elsewhere, you are less likely to find objectionable companions in the one than in the other. There is a through corridor at the side, and six compartments for four persons and one for two persons in the second-class, and three larger compartments and one small one in the first-class. One of the advantages which the first has over the second is that in the former the center of the car is an open salon, with sofa, easy chairs, writing-table, clock, and a large map of the Russian Empire. This, when it does not happen to be monopolized by a party playing cards, is certainly delightful, and I have seen nothing like it elsewhere, except in the private car of an American railway magnate.