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Around the world with steam

If Jules Verne had written his famous novel some decades later, he could have named it "Around the World in Forty Days". Indeed, Phileas Fogg would have not had problem in arriving to the London Victoria Station in time for taking the "Golden Arrow", whose departure was scheduled at 11:00 o'clock and which would have taken him to the dock of Dover, where the ferry boat to Calais would be awaiting. Here, shortly after 14:00 o'clock, Fogg could have taken a seat in the North Express, which effectuated the route by Liège, Hannover and Berlin to Riga, where the line ended, for in Russia the railroad was of wider gauge.

From there, Fogg could have taken a Russian train with destination Moscow, from where, barely 72 hours after having left London, he would have departed onboard the Trans-Siberian, traveling on it during eight long days - with roughly eighteen changes of locomotive - to end this stage of the great travel in the confines of Manchuria. Here, he would have linked up with the Trans-Manchurian, which would have taken him to the port city of Vladivostok. Then, onboard a small vessel, he would have crossed the Sea of Japan and, after a quick crossing across the Island of Honshu, he would have arrived to Yokohama just in time to get onboard again, this time on a steamship bound for America.

Vintage transportation

Once in San Francisco, Fogg would have bought a train ticket for the Overland Express (of the Union Pacific company), which after three days would have taken him to his next destination, Chicago. Having taken a taxi, he would have hastily crossed the city to reach for the 20th Century Limited, and sixteen hours later he would find himself immersed among the multitude that goes and comes on the New York Grand Central Station. And from the city of the skyscrapers, he could have traveled onboard one of the large vessels owned by the Cunard Line, the North German Lloyd or the Trans-Atlantic General Company, to arrive to England after a travel of four and half days.

Already in Southampton, a special train would have come to pick up the newly disembarked passengers, taking Fogg directly to London, where he would have made his apparition in the club after only forty days, in which he would have covered roughly 35000 kilometers, traveling onboard steam-powered vehicles and spending onboard trains about two thirds of the time.

The time of steam transport, which had begun in 1770 during the reign of Louis XV, with the steam automobile created by engineer Joseph Cugnot, reached its heyday during the interwar period. Steam was used not only to power vessels and trains, but also excavators, cranes and rollers, as well as the huge electric generators that contributed to the progress of the world.

In that time, the automobile was no longer a novelty, but it could be used to cover relatively short distances only. Hence, that was the time of trains, which became the fastest and most comfortable transportation and which offered the greatest guarantees of reaching on time the desired destination. On the other hand, it is true that airlines were starting to extend their continental and even trans-oceanic lines.

However, for the largest part of persons, a flight from city to city was an event, while flying to another country was an adventure and daring to fly to another continent in one of those "new machines" was a true feat. However, the threat that this new mean of transportation posed for the railway served to encourage the railroad companies, which started numerous projects for building new super-fast locomotives that would allow to set more strict schedules.

Traveling on train across a continent

Railroads had been devised for the transportation of coal rather than that of passengers, but soon it was discovered that carriages moved on rails four times faster than when towed by horses, so old stagecoaches were adapted as railway cars for transporting passengers. However, the few locomotives then existing were reserved for transporting the heavy convoys of minerals, until the time on which the British entrepeneurs understood that people was willing to pay for using that "ultramodern" mean of transportation.

Then, they put into operation new trains, composed of comfortable cars which only those with "well filled wallets" could use, and simpler cars, which once had been wagons to transport coal, fitted with hard benches, for the most "modest pockets". The first cars were formed by two or three stagecoaches linked together and supported by four or six wheels coupled to fixed axles. The access to individual compartments was made through side doors and, over time, as the duration of travels increased, passengers had available a water closet which was reached through a narrow corridor running along the whole car.

Nevertheless, the primitive individual compartment, sort of "ivory tower on wheels", remained in use during long time in the areas of British influence. The more democratic America - supporter of an equal treatment for all of its citizens versus the prideful social differences adopted by some British - was the origin of the wagon without compartments, with a central corridor separating two rows of seats.

Soviet steam train

Also in United States, country in which the cars, of rigid suspension, rattled in an uncomfortable and dangerous way due to the precarious rails and the large number of tight turns, were invented the bogies, sort of four-wheeled carriages that increased the stability of a car by making it to swing on each of its ends. Their effectiveness was even better when they were reinforced with buffer stops, bearings and leaf or spiral springs. These carriages also allowed to build increasingly long cars, but capable of taking very tight turns. Because of this their utilization was eventually adopted in the whole world, for both goods and passenger trains.

American engineer George W. Whistler was called to Russia to be commissioned for the construction of the first important Russian railroad, which would link Saint Petersburg and Moscow and which, very soon, would be completed with an international link passing by Warsaw and ending in Vienna. At the end of the 19th century, the Russian railroad network extended from the north to the south of the country, from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, and from the east to the west, through a transversal line which entered deep into the Ural Mountains to reach Cheliabinsk, city separated from Moscow by a distance of almost 1700 kilometers.

But the line continued extending more and more to the east, until reaching Vladivostok (at 7350 kilometers from Cheliabinsk), going through an almost deserted territory where immense steppes alternated with forests and mountains rich in minerals that until then had not been exploited. But thanks to the railway the works in the mines would soon start.

In 1891 the works for the construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad were started. During thirteen long years, two teams of workers, departing from Cheliabinsk and Vladivostok respectively, worked hard to advance the tracks towards each other, struggling with the difficult reliefs and laying bridges upon turbulent rivers, such as the Volga, the Obi, the Yenisei and the Amur. On the frozen taiga they built the new tracks which, at the arrival of spring, would be fully buried when the thawing turned the soil into a spongy mud. The two mountain ranges that surrounded Lake Baikal were an almost unsurmountable obstacle for the continuation of the works, and because of this five years of obstinate efforts were necessary to perforate the forty two tunnels that the line required.

Soviet steam train
Russia put into practice a policy of standardization for its locomotives and, as a result, during the 1920s and 1930s more than two thousands of machines of the type SU were built.

Also in that time it was started the project for the construction of a more direct line which crossed Manchuria, but the Boxer Rebelion and the Russo-Japanese War demonstrated that, from a strategic standpoint, this solution was not viable; thus, the line was reallocated to pass by Khabarovsk, from where it turned towards the south, and it was not completed until 1917, just before the Russian Revolution of October.

The Trans-Siberian, luxury train presented by Nagelmackers in the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1900, which had a library, a gymnasium, bathrooms, a sumptuous restaurant and sleeping cars for eight passengers only, could no longer travel across the Empire of the Tsars, but during its brief career it had offered to its passengers such a refined comfort that it was comparable only to that of royal cars.

Then, after the October Revolution, the Soviet Goverment removed the superfluous refinements and set a system of three classes: "hard", "soft" and "international comfort". From that moment, the austere wooden wagons would be used for transporting to that region, until then nearly deserted, the thousands of men and women that shortly after would erect factories in places where only wolves marauded and cities in the places where the primitive nomads had installed their camps.

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