by Ekaterina Serikova
Do you know where Siberia is located? Some Europeans feel that it is just “too far”. I would not exaggerate by saying that even Russians do not always know exactly where this region is located, assuming the periphery of it. However, it would have been even worse if in the 20th century the general governor of Eastern Siberia N. Muravyov- Amurskly did not start to build Great Siberian Way that connected central Russia with Siberia. This railway had significant influences on many areas’ development where it was built, while analyzing its impact on the development of Siberian region is of particular interest. The goal is to show how government infrastructure projects can give live to economy of a particular region, entailing certain extent of policy selectivity and a matter of history.
The project heavily affected the Siberian region in several aspects: industry development, trade, labor mobility, foreign investments, and international relations.
Siberia was a huge and well-endowed region, having huge reserves of coal and peat, more than 50% of the whole of Russia’s forest reserves, lots of gold fields, salt, and non- metallic minerals. Obviously, the Railway aimed to take advantage of these industries, which caused their rapid development. For example, the changes in gold industry was caused not only by increased gold extraction, but also by structural changes, such as the switch from manufactures to modern factories as well as technical renewing due to easier transporting of necessary inventory and hardware. Thus, despite the Russian-Japanese war, average yearly gold extraction in 1901-1910 was 2289 poods1, which is 127% higher than during the last decade of the 19 century2. Since the railway needed fuel, coal industry advanced a lot: by 1910 coal extraction already constituted 7% of total Russian coal extraction. Being mostly developed as “servicing” industry for the railway, coal industry growth also improved technological progress in other industries, switching them away from firewood usage. Other industries mentioned above were also raised significantly: salt, wood, and butter was exported heavily.
Obviously, such intensive industrial growth attracted huge capital inflow in the region. By 1912 a large net of trade places was already created: 60,000 retail shops, total trade in the Siberian part of the railway increased more than in 4 times in 1900-1913.
The Railway also led to the movement of labor to the cities located along the way, which can be explained by people’s expectations of higher wage and access to larger market. Consequently, the cultivation area was extended together with agriculture growth and increased specialization. 80% of all imports of agricultural machinery in Russia were sent to Siberia because there were huge amount of unused land and lots of labor that came because of the Railway. Later, these places became the largest and the most developed Siberian cities with the highest land rent – Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, which are still fundamentally important Siberian cities. The creation of large cities and movement of labor into them, however, caused demise of previously popular trade places, such as the Irbit fair that stayed more than 100km away from the Railway.
However, the overall impact of the railway was not as positive as it seems to be: many economists claim that the Great Siberian Way was the cause of making Siberia a “raw materials adjunct” for the whole of Russia. As we can observe, development of local industries was not symmetric, it mostly favored industries that were connected closely with the needs of the railway. For example, metallurgy died as fast as it was raised due to railway needs: smelting cast ironing was 540,000 poods in 1895 versus 150,000 poods in 19082.
Beside this, relations between Russia and China began to develop sharply: merchants from Siberia moved to China as well as a huge number of swindlers flowed into Siberia being attracted by high profits. The rise of local and international trade caused progress in banking sector: by 1912 there were already 106 bank offices in Siberia. However, they were mostly involved in trading finance instead of local heavy industry financing.
Being started from a local project connecting central Russia with Siberia, now Trans-Siberian Railroad is the largest international railway in the world that connects Far East with Western Europe, reaching 5,867 miles in length. For the country, it is also the source of income which has increased throughout the time together with increased international trade and railway’s capacity. After 100 years of existence, this Railroad can still offer perspective alternatives for the future: there is a plan of prolonging the Railway to Sakhalin Island over the Nailski Strait, which will connect Eurasia with Sakhalin3.
Trans-Siberian Railway demonstrates a dramatic support of successful government interventions in economic life and regional development. Despite policy selectivity favoring some particular places (cities along the railway), such interventions can be vitally essential for initial economic development of far regions.