Table of contents:
- Versions about the Stalinist motives of the grandiose construction
- Geography of work and inhuman conditions
- The main mistake of the project
- Death of the leader and the highway
Video: Why did Stalin build a railway in the permafrost zone and what came of it: Transpolar highway of the dead
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-24 13:10
Stalin is known for his passion for ambitious projects. His wildest ideas were to conquer natural forces. One of these plans was the infamous "piece of iron" cutting the heart of the Arctic. Immediately after the end of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR, still immersed in devastation, began the implementation of a grandiose project by the political prisoners of the Stalinist GULAG. In an almost uninhabited zone of the polar tundra, the construction of the Northern Railway, almost 1,500 kilometers long, has started.
It was assumed that this route would connect the European territory of the state with the Yenisei delta. But several years after the first work, tens of thousands of builders immediately left the road that had been built for more than one year. Thousands more remained buried in the permafrost of the West Siberian permafrost, along with billions of Soviet rubles.
Versions about the Stalinist motives of the grandiose construction
Alternative routes, like the Great Siberian Route, were developed by engineers even before the events of the 1917 revolution. Enthusiasts saw the first projects of a highway similar to the Trans-Siberian one in connecting Murmansk, the ice-free port of the Barents Sea, with the Ob River, Surgut, Yeniseisk, the northern coast of Lake Baikal with access to the Tatar Strait, which divided the mainland and Fr. Sakhalin. Of course, the revolutionary chaos and the Civil War that followed it did not dispose to the implementation of the largest project in terms of financial and labor costs. However, in 1924, the future Transpolar Mainline, officially called the Great Northern Railway in the documents, was already mapped to a diagram of the potential ramification of the railways of the Soviet Union.
But the true motives for building a railway in the arctic swamps are not fully known. Several versions have been put forward. According to one of them, Stalin, alarmed by the appearance of fascist submarines in the bosom of the Arctic during World War II, was in a hurry to lay a railway line to the future port. According to another version, he simply tried to connect nickel mines in the North with factories in the western part of the country.
Geography of work and inhuman conditions
In 1947, the construction of a railway between Norilsk and Vorkuta started - the official trajectory was designated as Chum-Salekhard-Igarka. According to the plan, the work was carried out simultaneously from both ends with the subsequent connection of both sections. The builders moved towards each other. At the same time, up to 80 thousand workers were employed at the facility. Most of the builders are political prisoners.
The project was not developed in advance, but already in parallel with the construction of campsites along the future route of the road, at the same time earthworks were carried out to fill the roadway, and the program was repeatedly corrected after the fact. The construction proceeded in the most difficult conditions: the construction site lacked even basic conveniences, for days on end the prisoners worked both in the winter arctic cold and in the summer swamp damp, surrounded by flocks of midges.
The workers did not even live in barracks, but in dugouts, which they themselves dug, or in tents that were not always heated with iron stoves. In each camp point, up to one and a half thousand construction-prisoners were kept. Construction in permafrost conditions was carried out practically by hand, there was no equipment. The connection between the builders and the administration was maintained by telephone and telegraph pole lines stretched by prisoners from Salekhard to Igarka along the proposed route. The only thing that the builders practically did not complain about was the food, which in terms of volume and quality was significantly superior to the camp food.
The main mistake of the project
The main problem with the construction of the unfinished Transpolar Railway was the haste with which it was being built. Now it is impossible to say exactly what contributed to such a rush. Some researchers even see in the planning of this railway track the preparation of the USSR and Yosif Vissarionovich himself for the Third World War. Whatever it was, but the resolution of the Council of Ministers prescribed the construction in lightweight technical conditions. Taking into account the most difficult northern permafrost conditions, the highway was being built at a gigantic pace.
Technologies of the 40s and the pace of construction lowered from above did not allow to properly equip the iron infrastructure. With the onset of spring in Western Siberia, the soil began to thaw, which, as expected, led to repeated and multiple deformations of the roadbed and all related structures. Significant sections of the road, made in previous seasons, have been constantly reconstructed. In parallel with the direct construction of the new road, repairs of the embankment, strengthening of the displaced roadbed and leaky bridges were continuously carried out.
Death of the leader and the highway
By 1953, a total of about 900 kilometers of the Northern Route was completed - most of the entire highway. But Stalin died on March 5, and a few days later the Council of Ministers issued a decree to stop construction work on the Salekhard-Igarka railway. An urgent evacuation of the entire labor force was organized, and along with this, all movable material resources were taken out. The rest was simply abandoned.
The transpolar railway, which was being built in extraordinary conditions at an amazing pace, was not needed by the Soviet Union. Despite the fact that billions of Soviet rubles were spent on the work, experts considered the conservation of the facility to be a more profitable outcome. There is no exact statistics on the deaths of builders at the construction site, so it is impossible to count how many lives this dummy object cost. The road, built more often without a project and without regard to the natural conditions of the north, actually grew on human bones. It was not for nothing that over time its official name was replaced with a more symbolic one - Death Road.
In general, the whole of Russian history is, in one way or another, a continuous episode of the development of vacant lands. The same applies to the most remote region of the Empire - Alaska.