Work began at both ends, like our Transcontinental Railroad, and within 12 years, the line was in place except for 2 sections: crossing the great freshwater Lake Baikal and an 800 mile stretch through Manchuria (the Chinese Eastern Railway) which was in foreign territory.
In 1895, about 66,000 men, and their accompanying women folk and children, were engaged in building the railway. There were 36,629 navies, 13,080 carters, 5,851 surfacemen, 4,310 carpenters, 4,096 stone masons and 2,091 riveters.
The first train from Moscow arrived at Irkutsk (the Paris of Siberia) on 16 Aug. 1898. Before completion of the Circumbaikal loop, it was possible to cross the lake during winter by laying rails across the ice, some with tragedy (thin ice). After 1900, the Lake was crossed by an ice-breaking train ferry, the Baikal, which was manufactured in Britain, and reassembled on the lake shore by British technicians. But the threat of war with Japan (Russo-Japanese War of 1905) hastened the completion of the Circumbaikal loop, in order to move troops and supplies to the east.
The TSR line today starts at Yaroslavl Station in Moscow, across the plains of Russia, crosses the Volga (the longest river in Europe), and passes through the Urals. At the 1777 km post, is a simple white obelisk, onto which is carved “Europe: on one side, and “Asia” on the other, in Cyrillic of course. From there, the line reaches Yekaterinburg, then on to Omsk on the Irtysh River, Novosibirsk, where the bridge was completed over the River Orb in 1897, then Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk on the Angara River, not far from Lake Baikal.
From the southern shore of the lake, the first tunnel, and on to Ulan-Ude, where one line turns south to the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. The main TSR line goes through Chita, along the valley on the Amur River, and the Chinese border to Khabarovsk, then finally turning south to the fortress town of Vladivostok on the Pacific Coast (Sea of Japan).