Brief History of Russian Rail
Because Russia has such extreme geography and weather conditions, the first transportation systems were not easily developed. River travel was the preference for hundreds of years but was difficult and lengthy, as the rivers in Russia freeze anywhere from four to seven months a year and are sometimes too shallow in the summer months.
Most roads began as sand on dirt and were too muddy to use in the summer or too covered in snow during the winter. The first paved road system was built from 1817-1834 but was also unsatisfactory for all types of travel. Then along came a form of travel that would solve all of Russia's transportation blunders: railways.
The first Russian rail was a tramway built for mining industries from 1763-1765. In 1810 a railway of 6,000 feet was built for mining transport but was only used in the summer. When the first Russian Railway system was approved, it was not recognized as very valuable or profitable. It took many years for the Russian government to understand the value of rail and to be assured that it would be beneficial to the state.
It was proposed by an Austrian engineer -- Franz Anton von Gestner -- to build a Russian railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow. But von Gestner offered a smaller trial railway in order to prove the value of creating a whole system of railways.
The trial railway was built first from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo in the year 1836 and was completed in October of 1837. In the beginning, horse power was used on this two mile long railway, and was later replaced by steam power.
Though railway systems had already become useful in western countries by this time, Russian authorities were still skeptical of its value. von Gestner knew that Russian rail would work well during many severe weather conditions and would make transportation of goods much more efficient, as he proved through his trial railway between St. Petersburg and Tsarkskoe Selo. After this, he was able to get enough funding for the railway from St. Petersburg to Moscow and it was completed in 1851.
In 1891, the idea for the longest railway in the world was born. This is now known as the Trans-Siberian Railway. By 1916, a Russian rail taking cargo from Moscow to the far east of Russia - Vladivostok - was ready. This was valuable for the economy and the agriculture of Russia because it was the first satisfactory and reliable route irrespective of most weather conditions that connected the east to the west.
Today a train from one end to the other can take anywhere from 12 days to 25 days or more. The Trans-Siberian Railway is still the longest railway system in the world and though foreigners often enjoy the trip, it is mostly used for domestic travelers and carries 30% of Russia's exports.