Difference between revisions of "Baikal-Amur Mainline"
Latest revision as of 07:50, 18 September 2018
Baikal-Amur Mainline (Russian: Байка́ло-Аму́рская Магистра́ль bigh-KAHL-uh uh-MOOR-skuh-yuh mah-gee-STRAL’) or BAM (БАМ)  is a railway line that crosses Russia, running parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The BAM splits from Trans-Siberian Railway at Tayshet, some 700 km west of Baikal lake, and passes the Baikal from the north at Severobaikalsk. It then goes parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way to the Pacific Ocean. You can expect great landscapes, admirable views of Baikal lake and a lot of high bridges and tunnels.
The railway was built primarily for military reasons as a backup to the Trans-Siberian, which runs quite close to the Chinese border. The first stage, from 1930 to 1953, was built largely by Gulag prisoners, including German and Japanese prisoners of war, and an estimated 150,000 people died in the process. Work halted due to Stalin's death, but started again in 1974 as a Komsomol project, this time "with clean hands only" (in Brezhnev's words). The line was officially completed in 1984, although actual work continued until 1991.
Try and get a bottom bunk when you buy your ticket. It is also useful to print out the timetable from the website as it shows the stations and how long the train stops for. This information is also on the wall in the passage but it is handy to have your own. The trains are very punctual. You will be provided with a towel, pillowcase and 2 sheets shortly after boarding. There is a rolled up mattress and pillow, usually stored on the top bunk. The provodnitsa keeps the toilet clean and will lock it before stops at main towns as the toilet empties straight on to the track. Toilet paper was always provided. Boiling water is available from the samovar in each carriage. Take your own mug and spoon. There isn't always a restaurant car but the provodnitsa has instant noodles for sale. There isn't always food available for purchase at the stations, so make sure you stock up before you travel. You will need a good supply of tea bags, coffee and soup. If there is a restaurant car, it is bright and clean. Prices are higher than in the towns but that is to be expected. Most trains have 2 power points in the passage but one train did not have any at all. There are no power outlets in the carriages. Rubbish bags are not provided in the carriage so take along your own plastic bag. There is space underneath the bottom bunk to store your main bag. It seems to be an unwritten rule to fold up your linen, roll up your mattress and take your rubbish to the bin at the far end of the carriage when you are about to arrive at your destination. Few Western travellers use this rail line but you can still get by with basic Russian. It is useful to be able to read Cyrillic.
While Tayshet is the official starting point of the BAM, most travelers coming from Western Russia start their journey at Irkutsk, the nearest large city. Irkutsk is on the Trans-Siberian and has trains and, in the summer high season, ferries across Lake Baikal to Severobaikalsk.
The BAM terminates at Sovetskaya Gavan on the Pacific Ocean, but most visitors opt to stop at Komsomolsk and head from there to Khabarovsk in order to rejoin the Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok, another option is ending the BAM trip on Vanino and cross the Tatar strait to Sakhalin where you can continue your journey to Japan.
For most of its length the BAM is single track. It is also not fully electrified. BAM was a huge Soviet project, and workers from all parts of the Soviet Union were brought to construct it. While traveling on the train pay attention to station buildings. Often they symbolize (in their architecture) the region from where the building crew came. Many of these workers married and stayed there, so you can find settlers from distant parts of the former Soviet Union along the line.
A number of years ago, there were rumors about construction of a second track and another wave of workers came seeking work and remained. Since 2014 BAM is undergoing major renovation and extension with plans to make the mainline fully double track and electrified by 2025.
Sometimes trains stop at turnouts in remote locations to let trains from the other direction pass. There are a few passenger trains going from Moscow all the way to the Pacific; however, there are many local trains, with the main "traffic" being wood transports from the Siberian forests.
Stations and notable landmarks
Taishet to Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal to Tynda
Tynda to Komsomolsk
Komsomolsk to Sovetskaya Gavan
It is a bit of a lottery as to who you share the carriage with and they are not gender specific. There are many workers travelling on the train. Your main bag is safe under the bunk. Keep your valuables on your person.