Railways and Nickel

Railways were important in the early 1900s because of its extensive use in transporting various minerals, especially nickel in this photograph, along with transporting passengers across vast distances. In this picture, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii (right) had taken a picture with two pioneers that are in Cossack dress (left) which was taken in 1915. Prokudin-Gorskii had taken a tour of Russia (sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II) from 1905-1915 by using the railways where he took many of his pictures that had documented the culture and landscape surrounding the railways. This particular picture was taken near the Murmansk-Nikel Railway that was responsible for transporting nickel from a mine in Nikel (the Russians were original in their naming) to the port in Murmansk.  Murmansk is located in the northern portion of Russia that is above the Arctic Circle on the Kola Peninsula. 1181px-murmansk_in_russia-svg

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So far this railroad is still in production in Russia, transporting nickel and cargo between the two cities. However, Norweigian transportation groups such as the Kirkenes World Port Group wanted to link the railway to the Kirkenes–Bjørnevatn Line in order to reduce the congestion at the port in Murmansk.

Before railroads were considered a means of transportation, river ways and roads were used as the main transportation in Russia. Roads were useful during the Spring and Fall seasons but during the summer, roads were muddy and during the winter, roads were covered in feet of snow. River ways, especially the canal systems that were built in 1709 and under the reign of Peter the Great, were used to transport goods from the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg. These river ways gave boats access to the interior which increased the trade routes to and from Europe and the Mediterranean. However, the problems with the river ways were they could only be used from four to six months out of the year because of freezing and some river ways (such as the rivers around Moscow) were too shallow for barges to travel through during the summer. The solution to these problems? Trans-national railroads.

Despite all of the problems dealing with these means of transportation, railways were not accepted by Russian nobility. Railways were only considered to transport ore and minerals throughout Russia; however, the first extensive railroad system finished construction on October 30, 1837 where it transported passengers as well. Railroads made the industrial growth of Russia in the pre-revolution era possible and is still in great use in modern day Russia.



Westwood, J. N. (1964). A History of Russian Railways. London: George Allen and Unwin LTD.

6 thoughts on “Railways and Nickel

  1. You make an interesting point at the end of your post about the Russian noble classes opposing railway transport since it was considered primarily as a way to move materials and not people. This is particularly considering the practical 180 in attitudes toward the Trans-Siberian railway today. So many tourists suffer through the long ride, and it is even a popular bucket list item. Later on in the course, something similar pops up in response to Khrushchev’s corn campaign. Khrushchev really wanted to get Soviet citizens on board with corn production, but corn was perceived as food for livestock and not people. Maybe you might be interested in following these types of attitude shifts and cultural perceptions as we move along through the rest of the course.


  2. Well written article that provided extensive insight into the construction and societal implications of the railroad. In my own blog, I also briefly touched on the Murmansk railroad and its importance throughout the region. Your insight into the major ways of transportation prior to the railroad and the flaws that accompanied them raised the question in my mind for the resentment by the nobility. Very interesting side not as to where “nickel” originated from, I was not aware of that.


  3. I enjoyed this post, especially because I forgot how much the Russian winter plays an influence on many aspects, including as you mentioned transportation. Although railroads improved transportation and movement of goods year around, they also played a role in hurting the agricultural economy of Russia. With the addition of the railroad, many farmers lost land and also had less land for their animals to graze. This aspect coupled with a movement towards manufacturing frustrated the peasants, which eventually lead to them having a heavy influence on the Russian Revolution.


  4. Your post is very interesting. I did not realize that roads and waterways were the primary means of transportation prior to railroads. It is interesting that even with the issues with cars and boats, Russian elites were so against using trains, as they were only used for transporting minerals. I was unaware of this.


  5. I really enjoyed reading your blog post on the railroads in Russia and why they were essentially built. I would have never guessed that the nobles would not accept the roadways because they obviously made getting around so much easier since the roads could only be used in the spring and fall seasons and the rivers at most 6 months out of the year. I talked briefly about the railroads in my blog and in the town of Suzdal the merchants their begged for the Trans-national railroads to be built through their town and ended up not getting it because it went through another town so it was interesting for me to read that in some places the people did not want the railways.


  6. Your blog provided a detailed view on railroads. I learned a lot more about railroads than I previously knew. I really like how you also added a map to further your explanation. It is very useful in order to understand where Murmansk is located. I liked how you wrote about how river ways and roads were used as the main source of transportation in Russia before railroads were. It’s interesting to learn that railways were not accepted by Russian nobles. Overall, your post was very thorough and descriptive.

    Liked by 1 person

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