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Stalin's "construction of the century", railway ruins of Salekhard-Igarka
Stalin's "construction of the century", railway ruins of Salekhard-Igarka

The historical ruins are mesmerizing. In a vast country and ruins are endless. One of these monuments of our recent history stretches for hundreds of kilometers along the Arctic Circle. This is the abandoned railway Salekhard - Igarka, which is also called the "Dead Road".

Sleep of reason

It was built by prisoners from 1947 to 1953 under the veil of complete secrecy. The first information leaked at the end of the Khrushchev thaw, and in the early 80s a group of railway history lovers organized three expeditions to the abandoned track.

We saw it for the first time near Salekhard in the sunset light - rusty, twisted rails leaving in both directions, half-rotted, sagging sleepers. Small mounds of dusty sand, which in places weathered so that some links of the path floated in the air. Silence and lifelessness, so unusual for a railway, made everything look like a dream.

"Dead Road"

"Radio Liberty" Our days

At the beginning we took the poles with planks nailed on top of the roadsides for road signs, but they turned out to be the gravestone "monuments" of the prisoners. Sometimes many mounds with such poles formed cemeteries. According to the figurative expression of one of the researchers of the history of the road, several people lie under each of its sleepers.

From a helicopter, from a height of 100-250 m, the path looked like a yellow strip, with an endless ladder of sleepers winding along the tundra, jumping over rivers and bending around hills. And along - the squares of camps with lopsided towers in the corners. We were told that even the guards standing on the towers sometimes shot themselves, unable to withstand the local melancholy and horror.

Tundra slaves

The development of the North with the help of railways was an old dream of Russian engineers. Even before the revolution, projects were being developed for a highway through Siberia and Chukotka to America. True, then no one imagined that forced labor would be used to fulfill grandiose plans.

"Dead Road"

"Radio Liberty" Our days

After the war, Stalin continued to transform the country into an impregnable fortress. Then the idea arose of transferring the head port of the Northern Sea Route from Murmansk to the interior of the country and building a railway approach to it.

At first, the port was supposed to be built on the coast of the Gulf of Ob near Cape Kamenny, but the construction of a railway line with a design length of 710 km, having reached the Labytnagi station on the banks of the Ob opposite Salekhard in a year, bogged down: it turned out that the sea depth was insufficient for large ships, and the swampy tundra did not give even build dugouts.

It was decided to move the future port even further east - to Igarka - and build the Salekhard - Igarka railway line with a length of 1260 km with ferry crossings through the Ob and Yenisei. In the future, it was planned to extend the line to Chukotka.

In the GULAG system, there was the Main Directorate of Railway Camp Construction, which numbered more than 290 thousand prisoners alone. The best engineers worked in it.

There were no projects yet, surveys were still underway, and echelons with prisoners were already reaching. On the head sections of the camp route ("columns") were located after 510 km. At the height of construction, the number of prisoners reached 120 thousand. At first they surrounded themselves with barbed wire, then they built dugouts and barracks.

In order to poorly feed this army, a waste-free technology was developed. Found somewhere abandoned warehouses of dried peas, pressed over the years into briquettes, in which mice made holes. Special women's brigades smashed briquettes, cleaned out mouse droppings with knives and threw them into the cauldron …

In 1952, one of the sections of the road was inaugurated

Each laid sleeper from Salekhard to Igarka cost several lives

Thirty years later, the tundra has almost swallowed up evidence of a Stalinist construction site.

Permafrost and bad weather were spared while the metal of the doors of the camp punishment cells

The "Sheep" that has served its time is overgrown with northern birch forest

Five hundred-fun building

People of the older generation remember the expression "five hundred-fun building." It came from the numbers specially formed in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of two large construction departments - No. 501 (Obskiy, which covered the western half of the highway from Salekhard to Pur) and No. 503 (Yeniseiskiy - from Pur to Igarka). The head of the latter, Colonel Vladimir Barabanov, became the inventor of the credit system, which somewhat reduced the terms of the labor camp shock workers.

"Five Hundred-Merry" is a typical example of a pioneer construction project with light technical conditions: the steering slope (the maximum slope for which the composition and weight of trains are designed) is 0, 009%, the minimum radius of curves is up to 600 m, and on temporary bypasses - up to 300. The line was designed as a single track, with sidings at 9-14 km and stations of 40-60 km.

As our expeditions showed, the rails were used extremely light (weighing about 30 kg per running meter) and various, brought from everywhere. We found 16 types of domestic rails, including 12 pre-revolutionary ones. For example, manufactured at the Demidov factories in the 19th century. There are many foreign ones, including trophy ones.

"Dead Road"

In several bridges, there was a German wide-shelf I-beam, which was not produced in the USSR. In some areas, the rails are sewn to the sleepers without linings. There are also connecting plates made of wood. It turns out that the path was unique in its weakness already at the time of construction.

Forgotten Museum

From Salekhard to Igarka, 134 separate points were planned - the main depots were set up at the stations Salekhard, Nadym, Pur, Taz, Ermakovo and Igarka. At the stations Yarudey, Pangody, Kataral, Urukhan - reverse. The traction arms (the distances that trains travel without changing the locomotive) were designed for medium-power freight locomotives of the Eu type and were obtained with a length of 88 to 247 km.

The estimated weight of a conventional train was 1550 tons at an average speed of 40 km / h, the throughput of 6 pairs of trains per day. The equipment, together with the prisoners, was brought in on ocean-going "lighters" from the north along the big water. After the "death" of the road, it was more expensive to take out something from isolated areas, and there remained a kind of museum of the then technology of the camp railway construction.

"Dead Road"

We found the remaining rolling stock in the Taz depot, on the bank of the river of the same name: there were 4 steam locomotives of the Ov (Sheep) series and several dozen two-axle freight cars and open platforms. Due to its simplicity, unpretentiousness and low axle load, "Sheep" have been constant participants in wars and great construction projects for more than half a century.

And these hard workers, red from rust, standing on the rickety paths, are also valuable because they "jumped" 50 years later without any alterations. Four more "Sheep" remained in Yanov stan and in Ermakovo. A locomobile, the remains of Stalinets tractors and ZIS-5 vehicles were found in the eastern section.

Buried money

Most of the work, including earthwork, was done by hand. The soil, which turned out to be unfavorable almost along the entire route - dusty sands, permafrost - was transported in wheelbarrows.

Often, its whole trains went into the swamp, like into a hole, and the already built embankments and excavations slid and required constant backfilling. Stone and coarse sand were imported from the Urals. And yet the construction progressed. By 1953, out of 1260 km, more than five hundred were ready.

"Dead Road"

"Radio Liberty" Our days

And this despite the fact that funding was carried out at actual costs, without an approved project and estimates, which were presented to the government only on March 1, 1952. The total expenses were supposed to amount to 6.5 billion rubles, of which 3 billion were the costs of previous years.It was assumed that the through traffic to Igarka will open at the end of 1954, and the line will be put into permanent operation in 1957. However, the documents were never approved.

After the launch of the Salekhard - Nadym section, it became clear that there was no one and nothing to carry along the new road. The construction was supported only by Stalin's directive, which had not been canceled by anyone, and as soon as the leader was gone, it was terminated by a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR of March 25, 1953. In a matter of months, the road became deserted: the prisoners were taken to the Urals.

They also tried to take out equipment (for example, rails from the Ermakovo - Yanov Stan section), but they simply abandoned a lot. Everything was written off, except for the telephone line, inherited by the Ministry of Communications, and the Chum-Labytnangi railway line, which the Ministry of Railways took into permanent operation in 1955. And the road is dead.

After the discovery of large reserves of oil and gas in the North, a new stage of its development began. But the railway came to Urengoy and Nadym not from the west, not from Salekhard, but along the meridian - from Tyumen through Surgut.

It turned out to be practically impossible to use the remnants of the "Dead Road": the new lines were built according to different technical conditions, more straightforward, and there was absolutely no need to fit into the winding sections of the "Stalinist" route even where it passed alongside.

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