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Railroads - 1946-80 Postwar Period

The Soviet Union had over 83,000 miles of railway track, of whichover 20,000 miles were electric. This system handled from 66 to 85 percent of the freight traffic and 50 percent of the passenger traffic in the Soviet Union. Railroads were the principal means of transporting military hardware from the USSR. Rail transport also may be used to carry fuel from rear areas to the fmnt.

One of the major tasks to which Soviet logistics planners addressed themselves in the early 1970s was the accelerated development of a logistics infrastructure better able to sustain sweeping conventional operations. Many of these rear service preparations are associated with that component of strategy Soviet planners term strategic deployment and more specifically the discipline within strategic deployment, "preparing the theater of strategic military action." Theater preparation encompassed a broad spectrum of engineer, signal, line of communication, and other preparations for conducting large-scale combined-arms operations. The logistic aspects of these preparations consisted of major programs designed to establish logistic reserves of all types of supplies throughout theater areas, with particular emphasis put on pre-positioning in Eastern Europe ammunition and POL stockpiles capable of supporting many weeks of operations.

While most major Siberian cities are located along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, many smaller settlements are only accessible during the winter months, when the region's many unpaved roads are frozen. By early 1960, U-2 missions had helped establish that actual deployment of missiles in the USSR was proceeding at a very slow pace. U-2 photography also showed that most combat positions for Soviet missiles were located along the Trans-Siberian Railroad; US experts concluded that the early Soviet ICBMs were so heavy and cumbersome that they could be moved only by rail.

During the postwar recovery period, the railroads played a key role in rebuilding the national economy, in both the industrial and the agricultural sectors. To enable the railroads to carry out assignments, improvements had to be made in traction equipment, rolling stock, roadbeds, stations, yards, and traffic control equipment. New diesel-electric and electric locomotives were produced, and heavier rails allowed increased axle loads and train speeds. Automatic block signaling systems also contributed to higher speeds and better traffic control. Electrified lines were slowly extended. Although the Fourth Five-Year Plan (1945-50) provided for the restoration of damaged rolling stock and rail facilities, the Fifth Five-Year Plan (1951-55) emphasized new construction. The plan's goals were severely underfulfilled, mainly in production of freight cars, trackage, and other equipment, but freight turnover was 57 percent above plan. This achievement was made possible by increased train loads, higher operating speeds, more efficient loading and off-loading procedures, and higher labor productivity. The higher speeds and higher number of average daily runs of locomotives hauling freight were made possible by growing numbers of diesel-electric and electric locomotives coming into service.

At the urging of CPSU first secretary Nikita S. Khrushchev, in the late 1950s electrification proceeded on some high-density passenger and freight lines. Khrushchev gave priority to railroads in the Ural Mountains area and to those connecting the Urals with southeastern and central European areas and with Siberia and other eastern regions. By the end of 1960, the railroads had a network of 125,800 kilometers of lines, some 13,800 kilometers of which were electrified.

The development of virgin and fallow lands began in conditions of a very poorly developed and extremely weak network of roads in the virgin areas, only 100,000 volunteers from all regions of the former USSR were transported to North Kazakhstan in the shortest time, and 120,000 tractors, 10,000 harvesters and another agricultural machinery, sowing, construction and other materials. At the same time, the development of previously unused lands began in the Altai, Krasnoyarsk Territory, Novosibirsk and Omsk regions, and in Orenburg region. All this complicated the work of transport excessively, but thanks to the skilful leadership of the ministry and BP Beshchev, all tasks were completed on time.

Beginning in the early 1960s, the railroads experienced a period of prosperity. Freight traffic grew rapidly, by 59 percent between 1961 and 1970, while passenger traffic increased by 50 percent. New equipment improved labor productivity. More electric and diesel-electric locomotives entering service, combined with improved tracks and roadbeds, increased net train weights and speeds. In the late 1960s, as the growth of net train weights and speeds leveled off, train density--the number of trains moving on a given track--increased, thus allowing further increases in freight carried. Nevertheless, in the early 1970s train productivity continued to grow, but at declining rates. By 1975 the railroads reached their limits in terms of traffic density and train speeds and weights. Subsequently, the railroads strained to satisfy the demands of the national economy. Between 1977 and 1982, the total tonnage of shipments stagnated, increasing only from 3.723 billion tons originated to 3.725 billion tons originated. Other indicators dropped--such as the average daily distance traveled by locomotives and cars, and speeds--the result of ever increasing track congestion. Additional factors contributing to poor railroad performance in the late 1970s and early 1980s were a deteriorating labor discipline and a decline in the quality of repairs and maintenance.

In 1976 - the last year of the work of B.P.Beschev as minister, the shipment of cargo reached 3,637 million tons, which is more than 8 times higher than the postwar figure of 1946, and the turnover for the same years increased by 9, 8 times. The Soviet railways, with 11% of the world's length of the railway network, carried out more than half of the world's freight turnover.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2018 12:54:35 ZULU