If you are planning to visit Lake Baikal, you are advised to get acquainted with a unique engineering monument – the Circum-Baikal Railway or Krugobaikalka in short as it is usually called. This railway branch with a length of 85 km, being a section of the Trans-Siberian Railway
in the past, runs along the south-western shore of the lake connecting the Town of Slyudyanka
and Port Baikal
Initially, the Circum-Baikal Railway was longer: 260 km from Port Baikal on the western shore to Mysovaya (today it is the Town of Babushkin) on the eastern shore. The eastern section of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Slyudyanka-Mysovaya) still belongs to the East-Siberian Railway (ESRW). After the construction of Irkutsk Hydropower Station on the Angara River (1956), Port Baikal
became a dead-end siding because a section of the railway (the Irkutsk-Baikal branch) was flooded. Before damming, the railway ran along the left bank of the Angara River to Irkutsk. The Circum-Baikal Railway was the only link in the Trans-Siberian Railway. The name “Circum-Baikal Railway” or “Old Railway” is attributed only to the western dead-end section.
The Circum-Baikal Railway has lost its strategic importance. However, being one of the world’s most beautiful railways with unique engineering constructions it has become an architectural-landscape reserve. Picturesque cliffs along the narrow Lake Baikal coast harmonise with the stone masonry of retaining walls, tunnels and galleries, bridges and viaducts that have been considered engineering technical art. This art monument is more than hundred years old.
In 1891, the Tsar Alexander III issued a decree on the construction of the Great Siberian Railway named as the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Committee of the Siberian Railway founded in 1892 had to choose routes, find sponsors and control the construction and other activities. Nicholas, an heir to the throne, subsequently the Emperor Nicholas II was the Chairman of Committee. According to the project, the railway was divided into 7 sections including the Circum-Baikal Railway. The construction of the Circum-Baikal Railway started in 1902. This railway section appeared to be the most costly: efforts, complexity of work and costs. Rocky relief of the coast with abrupt slopes affected the choice of the route. The major part of the railway line was laid in tunnels or on artificial shelves cut out of the rock; the sides of the railway were strengthened with retaining walls. The aggregate value of one kilometer of the Circum-Baikal railway was about 130 thousand rubles (compared to 93 thousand rubles on the other sections of the Trans-Siberian Railway). The threat and onset of the Russian-Japanese war speeded up the construction of the railway. The first trains began to circulate in September 1904. In mid October 1905, the road was brought into permanent operation. Initially, only one track was built; from 1911 to 1915 the second track was finished. The Circum-Baikal Railway that was called “the golden buckle of the steel belt of Russia” linked the Trans-Siberian Railway around Lake Baikal and its active exploitation started.
Nowadays the Circum-Baikal Railway is included in the List of Historical-Cultural Heritage Sites as a monument of architecture. It represents almost everything what the experience of the world railway construction has gained. The route Slyudyanka-2 – Kultuk – Marituy – Baikal crosses about 40 tunnels with the total length of 9,063 km, 16 stony galleries (295 m), about 470 culverts, including bridges, viaducts, pipes and flumes, as well as 250 retaining walls. This complex is unique due to the elegance of engineering and architectural constructions that are harmonically match the shoreline of Lake Baikal and have been well preserved.
The Circum-Baikal Railway is an active monument. One diesel locomotive with several cars runs back and forth (from Slyudyanka to Port Baikal). The local people call it “yo-yo back and forth” (motanya) or “transfer”. Its main function is to provide the citizens of the roadside settlements with all necessary articles: it is possible to transport both a cow and matches. This kind of transport is also popular with tourists. The travelling time is 4 hours 40 minutes. Moreover, special tourist trains with comfortable cars run from Irkutsk making stops in the most interesting places.
The route of the Circum-Baikal Railway abounds in numerous archeological (ancient sites) and natural (“Rookery”, “Marble of Port Baikal”, “Shaman Cape”, “White Groove”, “Slyudaynskiye Lakes and many others) monuments. Botanical and zoological, geological, engineering and archeological complexes are taken as integrated natural-cultural ensembles.
Summer is the hot tourist season. Campsites, sports and recreation centres that are ready to offer more comfortable conditions are located along the Circum-Baikal Railway:
- Boarding House “Nadezhda”, 71 km, Settlement of Baikal, Molchanova Valley;
- Guest Yard “Yakhont”, 74 km, Settlement of Baikal;
- Holiday Camp of Fenina, 74 km, settlement Baikal, Shchelka Valley;
- Guest House “Serebryany Klyuch” (Silver Key), 80 km;
- Holday Camp “Elektrosvyaz”, 80 km, Bolshoy Baranchik Valley;
- Holiday Camp “Khvoinaya” (Coniferous), 98 km (the former station Khvoynaya);
- Holiday Camp “Shumikha”, 102 km, Settlement of Shumikha;
- Holiday Camp of East-Siberian Railway, 137 km, Sharyzhalgay-3 Valley;
- Children’s Sports Camp “ Sharyzhalgay”, 138 km;
- Alpinist Camp of Irkutsk Regional Alpinist Federation “Angasolka”, 149 km, Settlement of Angasolka.
It is important to know for those who are going to hike!!!
You have to bring with you:
- good footwear for hiking on crushed rock along the railway;
- a flashlight for examining tunnels and galleries in order not to encounter unpleasant surprises: holes, sleepers across the track, etc.;
- first-aid kit (first-aid posts are located in Settlements of Baikal and Kultuk);
- foodstuff (shops are only in these settlements; the distance between them is over 80 km; there is a shop at 149 km in Angasolka);
- insect repellent (ticks, mosquitoes, blackflies, wasps, etc.);
- the most important thing – you should be careful.
One should remember that the railway is active and there is train traffic. It is very dangerous to climb mountains: the rocks here are loose and constantly crumble, as well as the slopes of the railway crumble easily. It is advisable to go down to the shore following the path. Lines of electric power transmission on concrete posts along the entire track of the railway are under high voltage and not insulated. Besides ticks, venomous snakes inhabit this area.