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History

Irkutsk - Severobaikal'sk - Ulan- Udè

SEVEROBAIKAL’SK - A NEW TOWN

The name Severobaikal’sk is always related to the construction of the Baikal Amur Mainline (BAM). This is because the foundation of the town is due to the railway. During the Brezhnev-era, when the need for a second, northern Trans-Siberian Railway was born, one decided to make the Kap Kurla area a first central starting point for the railway project. To the west, one of the major tasks of the BAM was to reach Bratsk from two sides; to the east, the task was to reach the not yet existing town Tynda. One avoided intentionally the development of the village Nizneangarsk, located 30 km north of Severobaikal’sk, due to the morphology of the surrounding area. For the foundation of the new town a plateau with a solid ground was chosen that allowed further extensions and development of the town.
Severobaikal’sk should become the emporium for all logistic activities of the BAM. In 1974, the first group of volunteers, explorers, settlers and workers set-up their camp at this place. After 30 years of town history, Severobaikal’sk counts actually 27000 inhabitants. Before 1990, the town reached a maximal number of 35000 inhabitants.


[City map of Severobaikal’sk]
1 - Train station
2 - Marine port
3 - BAM-Museum
4 - Art Gallery
5 - Cultural Centre of the railway workers
6 - Church (under construction)
7 - Buryat Cultural Centre

The railway project BAM, finally terminated in 2002, was supposed to bring new hope and economic perspectives to the city and the whole region. The construction of the BAM was of major importance for the whole Soviet Union. That was why construction companies from all over the USSR were involved in the gigantic project. The town-partnership with St. Petersburg broke up in 1984, the official date of the BAM completion – only the names of two streets in the town remember that partnership. From this date, the privileged position of Severobaikal’sk in the USSR with its atmosphere of a booming town was destroyed. Many plans and projects were already cancelled during the Perestroika; the following change of market economy gave them the rest.
Nowadays the situation stabilizes. The completion of the BAM tunnel at Severomysk increases the capacities of the railway to explore the resources of central Siberia. Tourism becomes more and more important in the touristy underdeveloped northern Baikal. Trekking tours, ski and hydrothermal springs offer a large choice to individual tourists.
The town itself consists mainly of five to six floor high appartment houses made of concrete.


[Earthquake safe construction of concrete appartments]

Because the town is located in a seismically active region, one chooses a special type of construction for the buildings. A hexagonal ground plan of each individual module shows a high resistance toward earthquakes. Further, the houses have no balconies and the rooms have many corners. The city centre is surrounded by suburbs with very poor living conditions that were built in the early stage of town foundation as transitional lodgings – till now many people lived there for more than 25 years without perspectives to an improvement.


[Suburbs on the border of the city centre]

According to the age of its inhabitants, Severobaikal’sk is a very young town; the second generation is becoming adult by now. Ninety percent of the people are Russian orthodox and 10% Buryats.
Starting our city trip from the marine port, we came along the special styled train station and took the Lenin Avenue in the direction to the central market place.


[Train Station of Severobaikal’sk]


[Groceries on the main square]

Here you can find the towns’ Administration, the Cultural Centre and a shopping mall. Not far from here, the first church of the town is being constructed. On the border of the centre, the BAM and Ethnological Museum documents the history and the development of the BAM and the Trans-Siberian Railway. At the same time the museum informs visitors about the early Buryat settlers and archaeological founds in the northern Baikal area.


[Historic locomotive at the train station]

THE BAIKAL-AMUR MAINLINE (BAM)

The BAM is a railway line in Russia, traversing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East. The 3145 km long BAM runs about 400-700 km north of and parallel with the Trans-Siberian railway. The route of the present-day BAM was first considered in the 1880s as an option for the eastern section of the Trans-Siberian railway. BAM departs from the Trans-Siberian railway at Tayshet, then crosses Angara at Bratsk, proceeds past Severobaikalsk on the northern tip of Lake Baikal, crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure and finally reaches the Pacific Ocean at Sovetskaya Gavan on the Tatar Strait.
BAM was built as a strategic alternative route to the Trans-Siberian Railway, especially to the vulnerable sections, which are close to the border with China. The section from Tayshet to Bratsk was built in the 1930s. Most of the Eastern section was built during the years 1944-1946, mainly by the gulag prisoners, including German and Japanese prisoners of war, of whom possibly as many as 150000 died. In 1953, following Stalin's death, virtually all construction work on the BAM stopped and the line was abandoned for more than twenty years. In March 1974, Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev announced the new BAM project. In September 1984, a “golden spike” was hammered into place, connecting the eastern and western sections of the BAM. In reality, only one third of the BAM's track was operational at the time of opening. The railroad was finally declared complete in 1991! Although it operates along its entire length, it is little used, largely because of a lack of funds to maintain it.

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© B. Merkel, 30.11.2004 http://www.geo.tu-freiberg.de/studenten/Baikal_2004/baikalexcursion/history/sibiria/severobaikalsk.htm
 
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