The Baikal-Amur Railroad
by A. Bates

A day's boat ride separates an overpopulated Japan, hungry for raw materials, from a Siberia that is empty of people but abundant in natural resources. Encouraging the extraction of Siberia's enormous resources made sound economic sense. With the eventual modernization of this area, Moscow would eagerly invite Japanese capitalists to invade
Komsomol members show support for the BAM at a Komosomol conference meeting.
Siberia. The possibilities were promising, but the desire to populate the Pacific coast was not entirely economics and demographics. The Soviet Pacific coast is washed partly by the Sea of Japan, an area of great strategic military importance and another reason to justify a new land transport artery. The largest of the four Soviet naval fleets and the one with the largest operating area is the Red Banner Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok. There had been a significant buildup of the Pacific Fleet in 1970's and 1980's because of the unsettled political situation in Southeast Asia, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the turmoil in the Persian Gulf region and the unrest along the eastern coast of Africa. The Soviet Pacific coast provides more direct access than European coasts to the open oceans. The major port complex of Vladivostok opens into the Sea of Japan, with four major straits giving egress into the Pacific. The second major naval port in the Far East is Petropavlovsk, on the coast of Kamchatka. Most of the Pacific Fleet's submarines are based there, where they have direct access to the Pacific Ocean. The decision was finally made to build the Baikul-Amur Railroad.
German and Japanese prisoners of war, as well as political prisoners serving in the Siberian gulag system also worked on the BAM.
The youth of the Soviet Union were called to the task, specifically the Komsomol. The Komsomol was the youth organization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and consisted of approximately 40 million members ranging from ages fourteen to twenty-eight. Soviet leaders planned the BAM was to be built in a decade, a goal which was set taking into account this "youth coefficient". The 17th Komsomol Congress declared the Baikal-Amur railroad to be the number one mammoth all-Union Komsomol undertaking. Much preliminary work lay ahead for geodesists, geologists, builders, aviators, taiga pathfinders, and engineers. It was necessary to anticipate the countless difficulties the builders may encounter while "in the field", and ruggedly reliable equipment was developed for work in permafrost (ground permanently frozen except for the surface soils that thaw when temperatures rise above freezing) and arctic cold. Newly discovered deposits were added to the maps, and energy supply centers were built. On April 27, 1974 the first contingent of young volunteers left Moscow for the Siberian taiga (the extensive, sub-Arctic evergreen forest of the Soviet Union). The Young Communists weren't the only workers who worked on building the BAM, countless political prisoners and prisoners of the war who were jailed in the extensive gulag system were also put to the task. The forced laborers were often transported along the BAM in secret cars which were attached to passenger trains, the passengers unknowing of the human cargo that was being transported along with them.
(continued next page)

Go to Main

Page 2 of 3

Copyright 2001 A. Bates. Click here for Terms of Use Policy applicable to this site.