Imperial Russia’s Westward Expansion

     At the turn of the 20th century the Russian empire was undergoing an economic transformation. One of prominent industries was the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  Construction on the nearly 5,800 mile long railway began in 1891. Tsar Alexander III believed the railroad system was a cornerstone in imperial ambitions and wanted to connect European Russia with the far east. This picture, taken by Prokudin-Gorskii was taken around 1910 at Zlatoust Station, Chrysostom in what is todays Chelyabinsk Oblast in the Ural Mountains. By this point there were no railroads linking European Russia with the east. Chrysostom was the start point of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. This picture shows the major pivot Russia was taking in its efforts to industrialize. This photo also brings to life Tsar Alexanders ambitions of a far east empire. The Ural Mountains in the background give a little insight on the geographical obstacles engineers and workers would face while building the railroad. When the construction started, Alexander sent his son Nicholas to lay the first brick in Vladivostok in the far east, where the railroad was suppose to end.

The men responsible for building the railroad came from all over Russia as well as workers from China and Europe. Many Russians were eager to leave their farms and villages to work on the railroad. Workers were at the mercy of bitter heat as well as the unbearable Russian winter. Siberia was mostly uninhabitable and likely felt like they were in a wintery hell. Parts of the railroad went underground while other parts went under mountains.

By 1905 revolution had gripped many parts of the empire after government troops fired into an open crowd of workers protesting the Tsar. Social unrest lead to riots, workers unions and mutiny within the ranks of the military. Many workers as well as soldiers working on the railroad joined in the strikes against the government. By the end of 1905 Russia had also suffered a humiliating loss to the Japanese in the far east, a war that started over each nations territorial ambitions. This defeat only furthered the divide between the Tsar and the people.

This picture shows in detail the forced labor of the railroad in the far east that would eventually link with the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The Russian army was tasked with building a new city to connect Russia to the Pacific Ocean. The connection between east and west by the railroad was referred to as the “Russian Steel Belt”.  The city of Vladivostok, the final destination on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, was almost like a frontier outpost like many Americans thought of when the United States started its westward expansion into unfamiliar territory.


Beskhlebnaya, Natasha. Russian Life. Nov/Dec2011, Vol. 54 Issue 6, p52-57. 6p. 3 Color Photographs, 4 Black and White Photographs.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Trans-Siberian Railroad.”   Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 14 Nov. 2019,

Lonely Planet. “History in Trans-Siberian Railway.” Lonely Planet,