The ultra-modern “Golden Eagle” train arrives at Tashkent railway station. The passengers alighting are foreign tourists from Australia, the UK, Norway and other countries – about 100 people in total – who are travelling from China to Moscow, via Central Asia. They are delighted with their “Silk Road Journey” program, a journey of many days which would once have been undertaken on horses or camels along a camel track, but which they can now experience in comfort on the modern railway express along the steel trunk railway of Central Asia.
It is no wonder, therefore, that on leaving the train many make their first stop at Tashkent’s railway museum which exhibits some of the astonishing technological advances of the Central Asian region.
This unique museum of railway equipment was opened on the 4th August 1989 in honour of the centenary anniversary of the Uzbek trunk railway and it is one of the largest museums of its kind in the world. Among the many interesting exhibits are thirteen steam locomotives, approximately twenty diesel and electric locomotives and avariety of other engines and mechanisms.These are all reasons why this Tashkent museum was included in the World Association of Technical Museums’ list.
The main attraction (for adults as much as for children) is an opportunity to ride on a mini-diesel TU 7-A locomotive with two carriages. The train is managed by Razikov Makhmud, an experienced mechanic. He agreed to take us on this fascinating excursion along the museum. For him these are not simply museum exhibits, but a part of his life and history.
He began his life on the railway aged 16 in the now distant urbulent days of 1942, and decided to devote his life to it. He became a mechanical assistant on steam locomotives and then a mechanic on diesel and electric locomotives. He retired about 25 years ago but did not want to stay sitting at home.
“Everything was boring, and it was only here that I met children and tourists,”Makhmud-aka recalls. “They ask questions and I tell them things and show them around and take them on the train…”
We are coming to the “Tsar’s carriage”, which is the sleeper carriage of the Nikolay II era, now full of exhibits, which tell of the construction and development history of the Central Asia railways.
How did all that start?
The second part of the 19th century was marked by the stormy beginnings and development of capitalism in Russia. It was important to find new markets for the sale of goods. The imperial interests of the Russia at that time reached to the east and the south but without the railway their plans could not be realized. Beginning in the early 1880s, the railway network required for this, which still exists today, was not finished until 1906 when Orenburg, Tashkent, Samarkand and Ashkabad were all connected. This enabled Europe and Central Asia to begin transporting goods between each other in an ultra-efficient mannernot seen before (see Timeline).
Then beganthe building of the Turkestan-Siberia railway and a whole network of regional railways soon followed. After the independence of Uzbekistan, the Uchkuduk – Urgench railwaywas built and the country is now preparing the new Guzar – Dehkanabad – Baysun line for operation.
With these developments the era of the “Great Steel Road” has begun, where thousands of tons of essential goods as well as traveling tourists from all over the world are transported, not by the old camel roads of the Great Silk Road, but by the steel railway.
Close to the entrance of the museum is the first exhibit – “Shkoda KCH-4-228” a 28-ton steam locomotive, small and neat, made in Czechoslovakia in 1949. The oldest steam locomotive is the OB. This series started production in the Kolomenski factory in 1901 and in Uzbekistan in 1914. Railway men fondly named it the “lamb”, probably for its accommodating character and easy nature. This “lamb” with a weight of 53 tons and speed of 55 km/hr is a real film star having appeared in no less than seven films, but most famously in “Elusive Avengers”.
There are also American steam locomotives such as the EA-2371, which was produced in the USA in 1944 by a Soviet design project and the DA-31-cargo-and-passenger diesel locomotive of 1945, produced by the “ALKO” firm (USA). Other “foreigners” include the Czechoslovakian steam locomotive ER-722, produced at the beginning of World War II in Prague (1939) and the trophy steam locomotive TE 5-200, which was captured from the Fascists in 1943 and then put to work in the USSR.
The history of World War II is also shown in two armoured trains that were made in Tashkent and waged war on the various “fronts,” led by an Uzbek crew. One of them is still kept in Moscow, although many feel that its native place should be in Tashkent’s museum.
Then there is the pride of the Soviet steam-locomotives – the last P-36, produced for the first time after World War II (1949-1956), which is why it was called “The Victory”. This is the best, most powerful and most modern passenger steam locomotive ever made. Weighing 178 tons and with a height of over 5 metres, its 3,070 horsepower engine enabled it to reach speeds of 125 km/h.It was the last in the great history of steam locomotives before the era of the diesel and electric locomotive, which are also well represented in the museum.
TIMELINE FOR THE CENTRAL ASIAN RAILWAY NETWORK
- 1874 – A Russian special commission discuss the building of the Orenburg-Tashkent railway
- 1880 – Pressure from the Russian Military Department forces the decision and the building of the Transcaspian military railway from the Mikhaylovski fort (later called Krasnovodsk, now Turkmenbashi) to Tashkent was given high priority. This would strengthen Russian influence in the region and secure the southern borders of the Empire.
- 1885 – The railway was directed to Askhabad
- 1888 – After building a highly complicated wooden bridge through Amudariya, the railway was directed to Samarkand. The rate of construction in very harsh conditions was considered unprecedented for that period. Mr.Annenkov led the building work and Mr. Makarov was responsible for supplies. All building materials, techniques and equipment were delivered from Baku by ferry across the Caspian Sea. This allowed transport to begin by the Transcaspian military railway between the Caspian Sea and Samarkand and strengthened the connection between Transcaucasia, Europe and Central Asia. But now a direct route from Central Russia to the south was needed.
- 1899 – The Samarkand–Tashkent part of the railway was finished and building was begun in the Fergana valley.
- 1900 – After twenty-five years and just before the turn of the century, simultaneous building of the railway began in Orenburg and Tashkent, each working towards each other.
- 1906 – After six years the building of one of the greatest network of railways was finished.Even today this network of steel trunk-railways connects Central Asia and Europe.