Russia's once longest narrow-gauge railway: godforsaken but still in use

In 2005, Alapaevsk train depot established Russia’s only narrow-gauge “train-car church.” On Sundays it visits remote villages that do not have churches (Yelnichnaya, Strokinka, Beryozovka, Muratkovo, Kalach), where a priest holds services for local inhabitants.

In 2005, Alapaevsk train depot established Russia’s only narrow-gauge “train-car church.” On Sundays it visits remote villages that do not have churches (Yelnichnaya, Strokinka, Beryozovka, Muratkovo, Kalach), where a priest holds services for local inhabitants.

Sergey Poteryaev
Alapayevsk narrow-gauge railway is one of the largest narrow-gauge railways in the former Soviet Union. The locals appreciate it because for them it is a vital artery.

Alapayevsk narrow-gauge railway (ANGR) is one of the largest narrow-gauge railways in the former Soviet Union and anywhere in the world. It has a track width of 750 mm. The head office of the railway is located in the town of Alapayevsk, Sverdlovsk Oblast, approximately 1920 km from Moscow.
The relatively small Ural town of Alapayevsk is located 150 km from Yekaterinburg. But it is far from ordinary. It is home to many places of interest, including an old steel works from the 19th century, the Trinity and St Catherine's cathedrals, and the house-museum of composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who spent his childhood there. And it was in Alapayevsk that some of the Tsar’s relatives were martyred during the terrible events of July 1918.
The history of the road begins in 1898, much earlier than the appearance of the first standard-gauge railroad. The road runs along the Alapayevsk-Mugai route (now dismantled) and belonged to the Frenchman Araminas Illero, the owner Alapayevsk Iron Works.
Construction began in 1894. All work was done by hand, with only the occasional use of horse traction and dynamite. Peasants were forcibly mobilized from the surrounding villages, and hundreds died from overwork and disease.
The years rolled by, the government changed, and so too did the direction of the road — in all senses. It began being used for timber trucks and later diesel locomotives. In the 1970s, more than 1 million metric tons of timber alone was hauled each year. The rolling stock included almost every type of equipment produced domestically.
Back then, the track ran to a length of almost 600 km. For a narrow-gauge line, that is a record, except perhaps for the Sakhalin railroad (but at 1067 mm it is not strictly narrow-gauge). Since it was first put into operation, the length has been reduced to 234.
At the beginning of the 1990s, timber companies went bankrupt and disappeared altogether. The transportation of timber ground to a virtual standstill. Villagers along the ANGR became jobless, and gradually the railroad began to be dismantled. The number of passenger trains fell to four a week.
Despite today’s relative stability, the ANGR survives on regional subsidies. Although the road is still active, its days as a main conduit of freight cargo are over. These days it primarily carries passengers. People travel to various regional institutions.
In an average year, the narrow-gauge railroad transports around 20,000 people. After that, the road is used to deliver mail, pensions, products, and first aid. The narrow-gauge railroad will continue to operate for as long as the railway links exist and villages remain deprived of roads for motor vehicles. People appreciate “Narrow” (as it’s known) because for them it is a vital artery. In most localities, it is the only link with the “mainland.”
In 2005, Alapaevsk train depot established Russia’s only narrow-gauge “train-car church.” On Sundays it visits remote villages that do not have churches (Yelnichnaya, Strokinka, Beryozovka, Muratkovo, Kalach), where a priest holds services for local inhabitants.

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