The Project of the Century

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) railroad has been called the project of the century in Russia. However this is not because its been the most amazing piece of construction built in Russia; this connotation is given because the project has taken about a century to be fully completed.This railway runs 2,687 miles in eastern Siberia. The BAM departs from the Trans-Siberian railway at Tayshet, then crosses the Angara River at Bratsk and the Lena River at Ust-Kut, proceeds past Severobaikalsk at the northern tip of Lake Baikal, past Tynda and Khani, crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure and finally reaches the Pacific Ocean at Sovetskaya Gavan while it crosses 4,200 bridges and goes under 21 tunnels(1).

Map of major railways in Russia, with Trans Siberian Railway shown in red, the Baikal-Amur Mainline in green and the Amur–Yakutsk Mainline (including “Little BAM”) shown in orange(1)

 

The BAM project was proposed in the late 1800’s, but it didn’t begin construction until the 1930’s. This railroad’s purpose was to be an alternate route for the Trans- Siberian Railroad. One that was farther away from the Chinese border in case something ever happened between Russia and China or Japan. The railroad was constructed with forced labor, including POWs and political Prisoners. These laborers had to deal with the harsh conditions of Siberia. When the project was halted in 1953 afters Stalin’s death, about 150,000 laborers had died during the construction of the railway(2). The Railroad began construction again in 1974 as the next great hero project of the Komsomol(2). The railway officially opened in 1984 with a golden spike, similar to that of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the US.  However, the BAM was not fully completed until 1991, where it has seen limited use and efficiency.

The large timeline of construction can be attributed to the lack of labor and funding to complete the railway, as well as harsh conditions accompanying it, such as crossing seven mountain ranges, swamps, taiga, seismic zones, and forty percent of its rail laid on permafrost(2). One extreme problem that was faced by the workers who restarted the project was a tunnel that was filled with ice from the Stalin Era of construction. Stalin’s engineers met the railways from both sides of the tunnel without any survey technology with only a 20cm error, but it was left to freeze solid after the project was discontinued.  “The dismayed railway engineers of 1974 were left with the problem of dealing with 32,000 tonnes of ice blocking the shaft– and also of disposing of the frozen bodies of the gulag workers they frequently stumbled on while reconditioning the tunnel. When all else failed, the Soviets resorted to raw power. The workers jury-rigged an aircraft jet engine at one end of the tunnel, and hit the ignition. Its stream of superheated exhaust rapidly blasted a path through the wall of ice, clearing the tunnel for further work”(3).  The railway construction also lead to high levels of pollution into nearby rivers and lakes, such as Lake Baikal, as well as large amounts of deforestation and erosion. While the BAM project took multiple decades to complete, thousands of lives, huge amounts of funding and pollution, it still may prove itself to be an effective transportation route for the Russians.

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Works Cited.

1. Baika-Amur Mainline. wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baikal%E2%80%93Amur_Mainline#Early_plans_and_start_of_construction.

2.Von Geldern, James .The Baika-Amur Mainline. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.

3. Baika-Amur Mainline Railway. http://www.losapos.com/bam%20railway

 

 

The Soviets Didn’t Give a Dam

Throughout their history, the Soviets have not been a people to care much about the environment.  It could be said that this is because they have so much land it doesn’t really matter. Either way, the damming of the Angara River, which began in 1955 perfectly shows the lack of preservation that many Soviets had.

The Bratsk High Dam is one of four dams on the Angara River. It began construction in 1955 and was operating at full power with 18 turbines and the capacity to generate 4.5 million kilowatts of power by 1969(1). At the time of its construction, the Bratsk dam was the largest and most powerful in the world. A majority of its energy goes to nearby industry and manufacturing, “including a wood-processing combine capable of turning five million cubic yards of wood into various products, and an enormous aluminum plant”(1).  These factories, as well as the actual damning of the river help to contribute to diminishing fish populations and mass amounts of pollution in the Angara river as well as Lake Baikal(25% f the world’s freshwater). Fish are also affected by the damn since it disrupted the natural flow of the river and created a huge basin. “After the river was dammed with the 3 miles of concrete, the water level rose 479 feet”(1). This is also known as the Bratsk Sea since it is one of the largest artificial bodies of water in the world(1).

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Even though the dam helps to destroy water quality and fish populations, the construction of the damn was an impressive feat. The workers had to build through the freezing temperatures of the Siberian winter, which gets down to -72 degrees Fahrenheit with frost on the ground for about 3/4’s of the year. It was also a great challenge to transport materials and workers to Bratsk due to its remote location. The building of the Bratsk damn shows how far technology came for the Soviet Union and is a testament to their power at the time, but it also brought along negative side effects.  The destructive progressiveness of the Soviet Union can be represented by Valentin Rasputin and his work Farewell to Matyora, which describes the downfalls of technology and the loss of Russian peasant culture during the Soviet Union through depicting a 17th century village that becomes flooded by the dam.

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Works Cited:

1. Siegelbaum, Lewis. Bratsk. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1961bratsk&Year=1961

2. Bratsk High Dam. http://s690.photobucket.com/user/DeadNoon/media/hometown/bratsk_s_vertoleta_08.jpg.html

3. Rasputin, Valentine. Farewell to Matyora. 1976. Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1961rasputin1&SubjectID=1961bratsk&Year=1961

4. Bratsk Damn. http://www.treklens.com/gallery/photo551355.htm