The construction of the railway from Irkutsk to Cape Baranchik (port Baikal) on Lake Baikal was conducted from 1896 to 1900, costing a total of 3.47 million rubles. By this time also the road from Sretensk was completed and up to Mysovaya on the east shore of Lake Baikal. With the purpose of establishing a through railway connection, before the Circum-Baikal was finished, it was decided to link the shores of the lake with a railway ferry. The trains were carried on special ice breaker-ferries "Baikal" and "Angara". In the cold winter of 1903/04 when the ice breakers were not strong enough to break the ice, a railway line was laid on the ice, and the cars were drawn by draft animals.
Meanwhile, the construction of another section of a road, supposed to connect a gap in the Siberian railroad, was carried out. Its east fragment, from Mysovaya to Kultuk, passing along the flat southern coast of the lake, did not cause disputes. The greatest complexities were caused by the section meant to connect Irkutsk and Kultuk. A group of researchers under the direction of the professor Ivan Mushketov studied four variants of passage of the railway on this section:
According to the results of the work of mountain engineering parties, on June 29 1889 the committee on a construction of the Siberian railway chose the first and third variants from these four initial proposals. From 1899 to 1900 final survey work was down, and the engineers preferred to lay the line along the lake shore. Despite the complexity of the shore, which consisted of a rocky ridge with abrupt slopes, towering above the waters by 270 to 400 m, calculations showed the economic efficiency of this variant.
The final decision on the line was made by the committee on the construction of the Siberian railway on June 22, 1901. The cost of construction of the given piece of road was 52.52 million rubles. The transportation engineer Boleslav Cavrimovich was appointed the construction director.
Workers began construction on the most complex section, from Slyudyanka to the Baikal station, only in the spring of 1902, with the aim of finishing it by 1905. The original plan required the construction of 33 tunnels, at a cost of 5.3 million rubles, a retaining wall for 3.7 million rubles, and viaducts for 1.6 million rubles. With regard to the possible negative impact caused by the lake water, the minimum necessary height of the track route over the water of Baikal was calculated to be 5.33 m. Technical conditions during the arrangement of the double-track sections fixed the bandwidth of the roads at 14 pairs of trains per day.
Owing to the lack of a flat shoreline all the materials (with the exception of stone mined at the site) were brought by water to the site of construction (by barge during the summer, by animal-drawn carts in the winter). The complex terrain of the rocky shore compelled the builders to lay the majority of the route in tunnels or on artificial shelves cut out of the rock; the sides of the railway were strengthened with retaining walls. The workers, already suffering under the hot summers and harsh winters, were required to carry out the majority of the construction by hand.
Every kilometer of the road required the expenditure of about one wagon of explosives. Earthwork was carried out in volume, approximately equal to 400 wagons. Embankments amounted to 28.7% of the length of the road, cutting, to 71.3% (with a great deal in rocky soil). The upper construction of the railroad ways had to be made heavier, using more powerful track and increasing the number of ties. Because of the difficult terrain the minimum radius of the turns was reduced.
The onset of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 caused an acceleration in railway construction. From 1901 to 1902 about 9 thousand workers were employed on the railroads, while in 1903–1904 the number rose to 13.5. The main efforts were focused on the construction of the railway line itself; therefore, the development work on stations and towns in the path of the road did not take place. Work trains began to circulate on the railway on October 1, 1904 and on October 29, 1905 the road was brought into permanent operation. The length of the railway in its final form from Baikal station to Mysovaya was 244 versts (260 km). The aggregate value of one kilometer of the Circum-Baikal railway was about 130 thousand rubles (compared to 93 thousand rubles on the other legs of the Trans-Siberian Railway).
Initially, only one track was built; from 1911 to 1914 the construction of a second track was undertaken, which increased capacity of the Circum-Baikal to 48 pairs of trains a day. In this stage of the construction of bridges and other engineering structures reinforced concrete was introduced as a new material. As part of these works, considerable attention was paid to the construction of stations and station towns. On the section from Baikal to Slyudyanka alone ten stopping points were set up. Measures have been taken to improve traffic safety and protect against landslides.
During the revolutionary events of 1917 and the subsequent civil war the Circum-Baikal was the scene of intense fighting, as evidenced by the mass graves of victims of those events. The Red Army, retreating from the Czechoslovak Legions, blew up the Kirkidaysky tunnel (№ 39, past Slyudyankoy on the way to Mysovaya) on July 23 1918. The tunnel was later restored, but there was no movement on the road for almost 20 days.
In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, the villages were actively developed, and homes, barracks for the troops, and power plants were built.
From 1947 to 1949 an electric transfer railway from Irkutsk to Bolshoy Lug to Slyudyanka was built, noticeably shortening the distance compared with the Circum-Baikal branch line. The main route of the Trans-Siberian Railway was therefore transferred to the new section.
In 1950, construction on the Irkutsk hydroelectric plant was begun. In connection with this, the part of the Circum-Baikal railroad from Irkutsk to the town of Baikal that passed along the Angara River was disassembled and in 1956 flooded during the filling of the Irkutsk reservoir (only remnants of dams remained on the shore of the Angara near the town of Baikal). In the end, a modern, "dead-end" route of the Circum-Baikal (from Slyudyanka-2 to Kultuk to Marituy to Baikal). The railway lost its strategic importance, the number of trains on the road dropped sharply, and security was withdrawn from the tunnels and bridges.
Because it was no longer needed, the second track of the Circum-Baikal was disassembled. In the early 1980s, some even proposed the closure of the road or construction at its location of an automobile highway. The villages along the road gradually deteriorated, and people began to abandon their houses. Virtually the only means of communication with the heartland for the residents of these places was the rarely running diesel locomotive, and later a locomotive connected Slyudyanka, Kultuk, and Baikal (Port Baikal is linked to the village of Listvyanka on the opposite shore of the Angara by an automobile ferry).
The results of further studies of the rocks along the road showed that they were not as robust as the initial surveys had expected. Moreover, the work associated with the construction of the railroad (particularly the work using explosives) led to the formation of numerous cracks in the rocks below. Having recognized this danger, the authorities agreed on the construction of retaining walls, the stripping of the hillside, and other measures. In some places dangerous sections were rerouted with new tunnels.
Nevertheless, in spite of the work to prevent natural hazards, landslides were a frequent and dangerous phenomenon on the Circum-Baikal, often leading to crashes and interruptions in roadwork. For example:
In 1936, the Marituiskaya section was built for safety purposes. It was one of the most complicated sections of railway in the country. In 1939 on the Western Siberian Railway the Travelling Machine Station was built, which was carried out by anti-landslide workers (including even rock-climbers). The levelling and clearing of dangerous slopes has continued until this day.
Among other natural phenomena, mudflows and floods had a negative influence on the Circum-Baikal traffic safety. The greatest activity in this respect occurred on the river Slyudyanka, which runs into Baikal near station 1. On July 29 1934 a mudflow on this river had catastrophic consequences, carrying off in its wake several apartment houses and covering the station with a thick layer of silt and sand. In 1960 the mudflow on Slyudyanka again washed away train tracks and destroyed a series of dams. Powerful downpours in 1971 caused the strongest floods, which led to the destruction of several bridges and tunnel entrances, as well as a the foundations of a track on the Circum-Baikal (the interruption of traffic lasted almost a week). Another unusual natural phenomenon occurs on the south side of Baikal: the deposition of ice sometimes causes a several-meter heap of ice blocks on the coast, covering the railways with ice.
In 16 years alone, from 1932 to 1947, 721 collapses occurred, of which 502 were without consequences for the railway, 201 closed off a single stage and disturbed the top structure of the railway, and 18 caused train-wrecks and the destruction of the embankment. According to the data of the Eastern Siberian Engineering Service, between 1930 for 1984 about 1200 collapses and mud-flows were recorded. Besides this, about 500 cases of falling of separate stones caused damage to the railway and a rolling-stock. Engineers described trips on the Circum-Baikal as exciting but dangerous.
In the present day the Circum-Baikal Railway is the name of an 89-km–long branch covering the route Slyudyanka-2–Kultuk–Maritui–Baikal. Four stations are currently in operation: Kultuk, Maritui, Ulanovo, and Baikal, with one section of double track at 137 km. The Cirucm-Baikal contains thirty-eight tunnels for a total length of 9063 m (the longest of them, a tunnel through cape Polovinnyj, is 777.5 m long). There are also 15 stone galleries with a total length of 295 m and 3 ferro-concrete galleries with apertures, 248 bridges and viaducts, and 268 retaining walls. The Circum-Baikal has no equal in Russia as to the richness of engineering constructions. The tunnels and stone galleries of the Circum-Baikal are unique in that they were constructed atypically and have not been reconstructed the next years, conserving the initial plan of architects and engineers of the beginning of the century.
The kilometers on the modern Circum-Baikal are traditionally measured from the Irkutsk sorting station, which until 1934 was the administrative border between the Tomsk railway and the railway after Baikal. The Baikal station is thus located 72 km from this point of readout, and the Slyudyanka-2 station, at 161 km.
In the 1980s and 1990s, measures were begun to reconstruct and strengthen the railway. In the early twenty-first century, normally one train a day (a diesel locomotive and two cars) runs on the railway. The duration of the trip from from Slyudyanka to the Baikal station is four hours and forty minutes. The inhabitants of the roadside settlements call the train a передача, or "transfer", reflecting the value of this transport for the supply of necessary articles such as bread, salt, matches, vodka, and tobacco. Another name given to the train is мотаня (so called because the train rushes or мотается between stations). In addition, tourist trains periodically pass along the Cicum-Baikal, including steam locomotives and retro-style cars. Tourists can also rent handcars.
With the decision of the Irkutsk regional council on December 21 1982, the section of the Circum-Baikal from Baikal station to Kultuk station was declared an architectural and scenic reserve (it is now part of the Baikal National Park) and put under the state protection. Beginning in the early 1980s the tourist potential of the Circum-Baikal Railway has started to come into its own (the stations, however, were used to a limited degree since the railroad's inception as areas for dachas and recreation). A series of tourist areas are in operation ("Taiga" at 134 km, "Sensation" at 102 km, "Coniferous" at 98 km, "Retro" and the "Silver Key" at 80 km.
Along with actual railway sights, tourists on the Circum-Baikal route are attracted by the numerous nature sanctuaries, including the rocky formations such as "Белая выемка". In the settlements along the Circum-Baikal, especially in Maritui, a number of early twentieth-century in the modernist style are preserved.
The following establishments are also located on the Circum-Baikal:
The 100th anniversary of the railway was celebrated in autumn of 2005. For this event the Baikal station was reconstructed, in which an exhibit was opened, devoted to the Circum-Baikal. The Sludyanka station was also rebuilt.
|159||159 km stop||Kultuk|
|154||154 km stop||154 km settlement|
|149||149 km stop||Angasolsky village|
|139||139 km stop||Sharyzhalgai village|
|138||Sharyzhalgai stop||Lokomotiv Voluntary Sports Society|
|137||137 km stop||VSZhD Rest stop|
|134||134 km stop||134 km village|
|129||129 km stop||Balkan village|
|120||120 km stop||Maritui settlement|
|119||Maritui station||Maritui settlement|
|110||110 km stop||Poloviny village|
|107||107 km stop||Ponomareva settlement|
|106||106 km||Ivanovka settlement|
|102||102 km stop||Shumikha village|
|98||Ulanovo station||Khvoiny Tourist Center|
|80||80 km stop||"Retro" Tourist Center|
|80||79 km stop||"Silver Key" Tourist Center|
|74||74 km stop||Baikal settlement|
|72||Baikal station||Baikal settlement|