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Railroads - 1980-89 - Late Soviet Period

During the 1980s important new railroad construction was under way in the Arctic regions, Siberia, the Far East, and the Caucasus. Thus, the Urengoy-Yamburg rail line was being built to serve the Yamburg natural gas deposits north of Urengoy. In the Pechora River area, a line from the town of Synia, on the Moscow-Vorkuta road, was being extended about 120 kilometers to the Usinsk oil fields. Plans were made for a 540-kilometer spur from Labytnangi, southeast of Vorkuta, to the gas fields at Bolvanskiy Nos on the Yamal Peninsula. The project has been hampered by summer thaws. Engineers laying the rail line resolved the problem by insulating the strips of marsh along the track, thus keeping them in a continuous state of permafrost. In the Caucasus area, a new electrified line, almost 200 kilometers long, was planned from Tbilisi through the Caucasus Mountains to Ordzhonikidze. Plans called for the Caucasus Mountain Pass Railroad to shorten by 960 kilometers the distance for trains from Tbilisi to Ordzhonikidze via Armavir. Several tunnels, totaling forty-two kilometers, and numerous bridges have been planned. Originally scheduled for completion by the year 2000, the project was being stalled in 1989 by environmental groups. A 450-kilometer rail line from Makat, in the Kazakh Republic, to Aleksandrov Gay, in Saratovskaya Oblast in the Russian Republic, was started in 1984 and was nearing completion in 1989. It was projected to cut over 1,000 kilometers from the route between Central Asia and Moscow.

In 1982 the railroads had an estimated 1,856,000 freight cars. The fleet consisted for the most part of four-axle (two bogies) cars of sixty-two- to sixty-five-ton capacity. Nevertheless, sixaxle (three bogies) and eight-axle (four bogies) cars of 120- to 125-ton capacity were increasing in numbers. These high-tonnage cars raised train weights without extending train lengths. Maximum axle-loads ranged from twenty-three to twenty-five tons. In 1989 all cars were equipped with automatic couplers and brakes, and over half had roller bearings. New freight cars were designed for maximum speeds of 120 kilometers per hour, but normal operating speeds were limited to 90 kilometers per hour at full load and 100 kilometers per hour when empty.

In addition to the basic types of freight cars--boxcars, hoppers, gondolas, and flatcars--the inventory included specialized types for transporting specific cargos, such as automobiles, dry and liquid bulk materials, grain, perishables, and materials under pressure. Several types of cars transported passengers. Depending on train sets, their passenger capacity ranged from 384 to 1,484. Long-distance and international trains were composed of compartmented cars, sleepers, and dining cars. New cars were designed for maximum speeds of 200 kilometers per hour. Most of the passenger rolling stock was of foreign manufacture, primarily from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

In 1983 recovery from the slump started when managers reduced traffic congestion and made train and other operations more efficient. Use of electrically synchronized double and triple engines made running heavier trains possible and reduced traffic congestion.

In the late 1980s, railroads carried a larger share of freight and passengers longer distances than any other transportation system in the Soviet Union. In 1986 railroads transported 3.8 trillion ton-kilometers of freight, or a 47 percent share of all freight carried by all systems. At the end of 1986, the railroads reached a length of 145,600 kilometers, of which 50,600 kilometers, or almost 35 percent, were electrified.

In 1989 the most important lines carried heavy freight and passenger traffic and were electrified. Among them were lines linking industrial areas, maritime ports, and foreign countries. Also, major population centers were interconnected and linked to vacation areas. Lines with steep grades, as in mountainous regions, were often electrified.

The railroads had about 7,000 marshaling yards, of which 100 were of major importance. Computer technology has gradually increased the efficiency and quality of train handling at the yards, many of which had centralized hump release controls and automatic rolling speed devices. Such automated procedures as checking a train's weight and composition, as well as modernized communications facilities, have sped train formation and dispatch and provided yard management with advance information on the composition of arriving trains. Nevertheless, in the mid-1980s classification yards were unable to process efficiently the required number of trains.

Automated signaling equipment and devices helped improve traffic control and train safety, although the latter remained a problem in 1989. Some 20 percent of track lines were under centralized train control. This enabled the railroads to increase track capacity substantially, particularly over long distances. In 1989 more than 60 percent of the network was equipped with the automatic block system, which regulated distances between trains, as well as with automatic cab signaling.

Electric and diesel-electric locomotives were the basic categories of traction. Within these categories were about twenty versions of electric locomotives and about twenty-five versions of diesel-electric locomotives. In 1981 some 1,377 electric locomotives and 6,870 diesel-electric locomotives were in mainline freight service. The self-propelled ER 200 train set operated on limited-schedule service on the Moscow-Leningrad line in the mid-1980s. Composed of traction units at each end and between three and six married sets of powered cars, the ER 200 had a maximum speed of 200 kilometers per hour and was the Soviet counterpart to French, Japanese, and American high-speed trains.

The freight railways of the USSR had no equal in the world. The average freight density was more than 5 times higher than that of the US roads, about 6 times in the FRG and France, and 15 times in England. Annually, 4-5 billion rubles were allocated for the development of the material and technical base of railway transport in the USSR.




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