Circum Baikal Tour Tourist Train travel report
The Baikal railway line is regarded as an amazing feat of railway engineering. The shore line used to be one solid cliff and they just blasted their way through it for 89km building 33 tunnels and over 200 bridges and trestles. Of the whole 9298km of the Trans-Siberian this 89km
The 89km Circum-Baikal Line was once part of the Trans-Siberian but not any more - the line from Irkutsk to Port Baikal was flooded when the Angara river was dammed.
stretch was the most difficult to build - it took 4 years and in the meantime passengers and train carriages had to cross the lake by icebreaker-ferries. This is all very exciting to train buff and engineers so when the Soviet Union opened up to tourist they were straight in there wanting to see the 424 engineering structures along the line. The result – the train now runs twice a week carrying tourists back and forth from Port Baikal to Slyudyanka..
Like I said its incredibly scenic. The train winds its away along the shore from bay to bay so there are constant views of ridges atmospherically disappearing away into the distance. Its only 89km but it takes us 9½ hrs. This is because we keep stopping to admire the various engineering feats. We all get off the train (via a step ladder as we are not at a station so there's no platform) wander down the tracks then gather round for a 10 minute lecture on a brick structure or a guided walk through one of the many tunnels with their distinctive arched shape. But very frustratingly the lectures are all in Russian and I am very ill
Our pamphlet does say “The tunnels and stone galleries of the CircumBaikal are unique in that they were constructed atypically and have not been reconstructed since, conserving the initial plan of architects and engineers of the beginning of the century (it was finished in 1904).” For our train buff friends, who keep demanding more train photos & info,the full list of what we apparently passed is at the end.
Anyway we're perfectly happy admiring the brick work as it is very aesthetically pleasing. But more excitingly what I like about walking along the train tracks is that I get to see all the wild flowers and butterflies up close and there are a lots of them in all shapes, colours and sizes – the flowers and the butterflies. The other track side attraction are a few old steam locos that you can clamber aboard and play at being the engine driver (while Edwin pretends he doesn't know me).
As well as all our continuous 15min stops we also get an hour lunch stop in a beautiful bay at typical scenic views we get as the train winds its way along the shore line
The Russian are all suddenly in their swim suits heading down to the lake where the macho males dive in, swim a few strokes then stride out in their best “I not at all cold or frozen” walk – like they are trying to impersonate Daniel Craig as James Bond. Typically, for Russia, there are a few enterprising locals there selling snacks and beer. Interestingly the pebbles on the beach are totally different to those at Listvyanka a few km away. At Listvyanka they were proper round beach pebbles, here they are really sharp, angular pebbles.
After lunch progress is a bit faster. Its already 5:30pm and the lighting is quite spectacular, illuminating the clouds as they creep over the mountains in the distance. There are some quite strange mist/cloud formations around. As we get closer to the end of the line we pass more and more campers. Just tiny little domed tents pitched right by the edge of the lake in splendid isolation – they almost look miffed as the train passes by and their seclusion is briefly disturbed.
The Circum-Baikal line finishes at Slyudyanka where we re-join the main Trans-Siberian track.
This is the line we came along a few days ago but its the most scenic stretch of the whole Trans-Siberian as it climbs up through the Primorsky mountains and there are spectacular views back over Lake Baikal. So its not exactly a hardship to ride the route again especially as there is the most spectacular red sunset.
So finally at midnight we arrive back in Irkutsk an make ready to re-board the Trans-Siberian and start heading towards Moscow. Despite it being a 16 hour day with 13 hours on the train it was well worth it for all those views.
The train buff info - we apparently passed
- 39 tunnels (only 38 in use) - total length 9km, longest 0.77km through cape Polovinnyj
- 15 stone galleries (only 5 are being used) – total length 295m
- 3 ferro-concrete galleries with apertures,
- 248 bridges and viaducts,
- 268 retaining walls.- total length 14km