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Railroads - 1888-1904 - Orenburg-Tashkent Railway

Transcaspian and Orenburg-Tashkent RailwaysPrince Hilkoff laid two great railways in Asia — the Trans-Siberian and the Orenburg- Tashkent. By 1888 the idea of joining Tashkent to Orenburg had been formed, and Mr Curzon ventured to prophesy that it would be made. Notwithstanding the absorbing nature of their occupations in Manchuria, the attention of the Russian Government was given to the speedy completion of the Orenburg-Tashkent Railway, and money was found for it. The Orenburg-Tashkent section was built from both ends. Work began on the northern section in the autumn of 1900, and many miles of permanent way had been constructed before, in the autumn of 1901, a start was made from the south. The line from the Tashkent north reached the sea of Aral in October 1903, while that from Tashkent was completed by 27 September 1904, although the system was not opened to general traffic before the midsummer of 1905.

This vast railway development had no commercial pretensions. It was been built for purely military purposes, and ws sufficiently equipped with stations and sidings to carry 12 pairs of trains per diem. The significance of this fact is easily understood. For the first time direct connection was established by this line between European Russia and her Southern Turkestan garrisons. Its strategical and military value was very great for the purpose of concentration on India, should circumstances make such action expedient. The Russian armies in Central Asia can be reinforced by two railway routes—the one from the Caspian, the other from Moscow. If it was true in 1888 that the relative positions of England and Russia had been greatly modified to the former's disadvantage, it was still more true since the Orenburg Tashkent line had been called into being.

The railway journey between Petersburg and Orenburg covers 1,230 miles; and between Orenburg and Tashkent the distance is 1,200 miles, the latter line having taken almost exactly four years to lay. The possibility of extending it further in the direction of India via Samarkand, Shirabad, Termes, and then through Anderabad to the Hindu Koosh, and pushing through there to Cabul and Peshawur, or, in other words, a trunk line from Orenburg, via Tashkent, Samarkand, and Termes, to Peshawur, would make the shortest cut from the Indian market to European Russia, and it might attract the East India transit traffic.

Originally communications between Orenburg and Tashkent were maintained along the post-road, led from Aktiubinsk across the Kirghiz steppes via Orsk to Irghiz, and thence through Kazalinsk to Perovsk, where the road passed through Turkestan to run via Chimkent to Tashkent, a journey of nineteen days. In addition to the galloping patyorka and troika—teams of five and three horses respectively — which were wont to draw vehicles on the post-road, and the more lumbering Bactrian camels, harnessed three abreast and used in the stages across the Kara Kum Desert, long and picturesque teams of camels bound for Orenburg caravans anci carrying cotton and wool from Osh and Andijan, silks from Samarkand and Khiva, tapestries from Khokand, lambs' wool, skins, and carpets from Bokhara, and dried fruits from Tashkent, annually passed in almost endless procession between Tashkent and Orenburg from June to November.

The Trans-Caspian Railway, commenced by Skobeleff in 1880, and gradually carried forward by Annenkoff to Samarkand, supplanted the once flourishing traffic of this post-road, along which the local post was for some time the sole movement. This new line did not exactly follow the old post route, but from Orenburg, which was the terminus of the railway from Samara on the Trans-Siberian system, it crosses the Ural River to Ilensk on the Ilek, a tributary of the Ural. From Ilensk the metals run via Aktinbinsk and Kazalinsk along the Syr Daria Valley via Perovski to Turkestan, and thence to its terminus at Tashkent. Direction From Orenburg the line, four versts from eroa the station, crosses the Ural River by an iron bridge 160 sagenes (1 sagene=7 feet) in length, running from there southward to Iletsk, a sub-district town of the Orenburg Government and 72 versts from Orenburg itself.

The country in the neighborhood of Tashkent, as seen from the railway, presented the picture of a bountiful oasis. For 20 versts there was no interruption to a scene of wonderful fertility. Market gardens, smiling vineyards, and fruitful orchards, not to mention cotton-fields and corn-lands, cover the landscape. This abundance is in a measure due to careful irrigation and to the excellent system for conserving water which has been introduced. In support of it 113 specific works were completed, each of which—and the giant total includes water-pipes by the mile and innumerable aqueducts—was a component part of that scheme of irrigation by which life in Central Asia alone is made possible. Apart from the requirements of the countryside and the interests of the town and district of Tashkent, the needs of the line have been carefully studied with a view to political developments.

A very interesting problem in the construction of the section from the 433rd to the 802nd verst was the provision of water. A special commission was sent out from St. Petersburg to Kasalinsk for the purpose of solving this important question. The principal operation in the construction of the Orenburg-Tashkent R., the Northern portion, was successfully carried out in this respect by the engineer A.I. Ursati. From the station of Orenburg to that of Karagandi twenty-four stations were supplied with water by conduits, the total length of the pipes being about 120 versts. In 1904 similar work was done between Altuin and Baskara, the pipes running over a distance of 140 versts. Besides the ordinary railway reservoirs containing each 8 cubic sajens (1 saj. = about 346 cubic feet) every tenth station will be provided with a stone and cemented or concreted reservoir of 150 to 300 cubic sajens capacity. The water was obtained from neighboring lakes and streams.

One English observer opined that "Its potentialities may be gathered from Russia's success in massing men in the Far East, judging from which she should be able in the course of a few months to place 400,000 men on the Afghan frontier, and keep them at full strength during a long war. This revolutionary change in Central Asia admittedly places a tremendous weapon and an equal temptation in the hands of the War Party in St. Petersburg; and we may be sure that the German Emperor, who has constituted himself Russia's military adviser, misses no opportunity of rubbing in to the "Eastern neighbour" the immense advantage of transferring the struggle in the Far East, which can only end in disappointment and humiliation, into Central Asia, where India would be dangled as the prize.... it is perfectly plain that we have not made adequate provision to deal with the problem raised by the completion of the Orenburg-Tashkent railway. Those who are engaged in endeavouring to inflame the populace on the subject of the Cheap Loaf, not a few of whom would doubtless be willing to surrender India without striking a blow, may be interested to learn that at this moment India happens to be the principal granary of the British Isles."

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Page last modified: 15-08-2012 15:10:53 ZULU