THE state of Russia's transport and communications has always been a test of her strength. In 1856 France and England would never have considered attacking the Crimea had Russia been able to reinforce armies on the Black Sea coast by rail from Moscow or St. Petersburg. According to General Kuropatkin, who commanded the Tsar's army in Manchuria in 1904-05, the Japanese would have been defeated had the Russians been able to speed up the arrival of reinforcements and supplies. While logistics certainly were not the only reason for Japan's victory, the fact remains that the Russians would have fought under much more favorable conditions if the single-track Trans-Siberian railroad had had a more solid roadbed, a few more looplines providing for greater train frequency and, last but not least, if communications had not depended upon ice conditions in Lake Baikal, which had to be crossed by ferry when the ice was not thick enough to support the rails and could not be crossed at all until enough ice had melted to make it navigable.[i]

The German archives and the testimony of imprisoned Nazis have given evidence that Hitler's initial war plan against Russia was based less on strategic considerations than on the expectation that the Soviet administration would be technically unable to prevent the country's disintegration under the impact of German military might and propaganda. The poor condition of the Soviet railroads, Berlin then thought, would make it impossible for the Red Army to manœuvre and to receive reinforcements and supplies.[ii] There is no other explanation for the German action in attacking in equal strength along a front extending from Finland to the Black Sea -- an operation unprecedented in the annals of military strategy.[iii]

Insufficient communications and transportation between the capital and the provinces account also for much of the former weakness of the Russian state's internal structure. The Tsarist Government's constant fear of revolutionary peasant movements or national uprisings in regions with non-Russian population were due largely to the inability of the central government in St. Petersburg to assert itself swiftly and effectively throughout the country and to keep check on what was going on in the villages of the interior and on the periphery.

The Soviet Government originally had similar difficulties. Development of radio, telephone circuits, aviation and long distance inland transportation were given an important place on its agenda. Significantly, nationalization of the railroads (most of which had already been owned and operated by the state under the Tsar), of inland shipping and of the merchant marine were among the first sweeping measures taken by the Soviet régime. From 1917 to 1919, individual industries were nationalized piecemeal, enterprise by enterprise. Only in banking and transportation did the Soviets immediately establish state monopolies.[iv] In the long-drawn-out party discussions about how Russian economy should be placed on a Socialist basis, all Bolshevik theoreticians agreed that government control of transportation was one of the fundamental means of socialization. Lenin stressed this point at the first Congress of Economic Soviets in Kharkov in June 1918. Nikolai Bukharin during the great party debate on the eve of the collectivization called the government monopoly of transportation one of the "commanding heights" from which the Soviets were able to direct the country toward Socialism. Under the first two Five Year Plans, A. A. Andreyev and L. M. Kaganovich, who successively took a hand in the reorganization of the railroads, expressed this view with even greater emphasis. In 1935, Stalin, addressing a conference of railway Stakhanovites, declared: "The U.S.S.R. would be inconceivable as a state without first-class railway transport linking its many regions and areas into one whole."

Without a swift restoration of long-distance transportation the Communist Party might have lost its monopoly of political power. The collectivization of the villages in 1930-32, which the Bolsheviks themselves have called the second Soviet revolution, would have been far more difficult had there not been the means of long-distance communication; against it the traditional lethargy and evasiveness of the old-time mujiks were of no avail.

Transportation occupied a prominent place in the three prewar Five Year Plans. From the Second Five Year Plan on, the total investment in transportation was greater than that in agriculture. The amount increased steadily from plan to plan:

1st Five 2nd Five 3rd Five
Year Plan Year Plan Year Plan
Actual Investments Actual Invesments Planned Investments
in billion percent in billion percent in billion percent
rubles of total rubles of total rubles of total
Industry 25.0 49.50 58.7 51.49 111.9 58.28
Agriculture 9.7 19.20 15.21 13.33 11.0 5.73
Transportation 8.9 17.62 20.7 18.16 37.3 19.43
  Total 50.5 100    114.7 100    192   100   
1 Planned investment.

In landlocked Soviet Russia, the railways are of greater importance than in any other country in the world and rank first among the various means of transportation. Their share in the total traffic burden increased much faster than that of inland navigation. From 1928 to 1937, the traffic volume of railways in terms of ton-miles rose from 63.8 billion to 243 billion; while inland shipping in the same period increased only from 15.62 to 20.2 billion ton-miles.

Rail transportation reached its prewar standards before industrial production was restored. In 1928, steel production regained its prewar level. In that year, rail traffic had risen from the 1913 figure of 48.3 billion ton-miles to 63.8 billion ton-miles, an increase of about 40 percent, while tonnage increased from 132.4 million tons in 1913 to 156.2 million tons. The slower tonnage increase indicated that the amount of commodities carried was only about 18 percent greater than before the war. The reason for the greater increase in terms of ton-miles was a longer average haul. This in turn was due mainly to the poor condition of shipping, which in 1913 had carried a much larger share of the country's long-distance transportation, and to new directions of traffic currents.

Political and psychological reasons also may have induced the Soviets to concentrate their attention on the railroads rather than on water transportation. No other means of transportation, and no other industry with the exception of power production and forestry, calls for such continuous long-range planning and is technologically and operationally so well suited for the administrative technique of a Socialist government.

The Five Year Plans added to the traffic load of the railroads. In his electoral address of February 9, 1946, Stalin stated that in 1940 the output of pig iron was four times as great as in 1913, of steel four and one-half times as great, of coal five and one-half times as great, of oil three and one-half times as great, while the amount of marketed grain increased by around 75 percent. In 1928 and 1935, these five commodities together accounted for more than half the tonnage carried by the railroads; in 1937, coal shipments alone amounted to 116.6 million tons or 86 percent of the total tonnage carried before the First World War.

At the same time distances increased as a result of the development of new heavy industries in west Siberia. Russia's main production centers always have been unfavorably located. Coal from the Don basin had to be shipped to Leningrad and to the Urals. Oil had to be distributed from Transcaucasia all over European and Asiatic Russia. Due to differences in climate and geological conditions, agricultural production and even such materials as wood and stone are unevenly distributed. Stone for construction purposes and for railway ballasting had to be shipped from the Caucasus and from the north to the black soil areas of the Ukraine. The north is dependent upon the south and Siberia for grain; while the south is practically without wood.

The efforts of the Government to open up new coal fields in the north and in Kazakhstan, to drill new oil wells closer to the Urals and to the Moscow area, to produce new and hardier types of seed-grain adapted to the northern climate, to replace crushed rock and wood by cement, and in other ways to change the transport geography of the vast and sprawling Soviet realm were only beginning to become effective before the war.

Transport facilities could not keep pace with this development. As a result, the railroads of the U.S.S.R. were heavily overburdened. Their traffic load per mile of track in 1937 was almost three times as great as in the United States (4,814,042 against 14,237,290 ton-miles in America). The average active haul per freight car was 86.8 miles against only 40.6 miles in the United States. At the same time, the Soviet railroads had a longer average haul (426.2 miles against 337 miles) and slower average speed per freight train (12.2 miles against 16.1 miles).[v] This extraordinary performance was achieved at terrific cost: accidents galore and a larger number of railway men per track mile than in any other country.

The Soviet railroads were the only major network belonging to the International Union of Railroads which never gave out accident and personnel statistics. Only relatively few accidents were reported in the press, but enough seeped out to indicate that conditions were disastrous.


No wonder that the Germans who kept a rather close record of Soviet transport developments were convinced that the Russian rail system would not be able to stand the additional strain of a major war. Their experts pointed to the fact that the Second Five Year Plan had not been fulfilled, that 6,835 miles of new track had been planned and only 1,871 miles actually built, that the plan had called for double-tracking of 5,903 miles and that only 3,106 miles had received a second track, that the automatic block system was to be introduced for 5,157 miles and that it had been installed only for 2,982 miles, that only 71.5 percent of the locomotives planned had been built, that only 17.4 percent of all cars were equipped with automatic coupling instead of 50 percent, and so forth.[vi]

The reasons for these shortcomings were two: 1, The first Soviet plans established tentative goals; they contained an element of propaganda, and even if they were not fulfilled they generally marked considerable progress; 2, in the particular case of the railroad section of the Second Five Year Plan, Soviet policy was changed in 1935 after Moscow's crack organizer L. M. Kaganovich, in the midst of a terrific crisis, had taken over the direction of the railroads: instead of working toward all-round extension and improvement, as originally planned, only a few new lines were built, while existing facilities on certain lines were strengthened and adapted to the use of heavy rolling stock.

These specially selected trunk lines became the backbone of the whole transportation system. The poor condition of the remaining lines was of secondary importance. The purpose of this new railroad policy was to connect the principal production centers, separated by vast expanses of thinly populated land, steppes, forests and deserts, at the expense of the transport facilities within the various regions. This change of plan saved the country from chaos.

Seen from the outside, the result was confusing. While the majority of the lines retained their light roadbed and were operated with old and inadequate rolling stock, the trunk lines handled a vast traffic with the heaviest and most modern equipment. Among these were the lines connecting Moscow with the Urals and with the Don and Donetz, and even more so the railroads between the Urals and the new industrial region of Kuznetsk, between the upper Irtish and the Yenisei in west Siberia, and between the Urals and the coal fields of Karaganda in Kazakhstan. In 1940 this development had gone so far that less than 40 percent of the total track mileage accounted for more than 75 percent of the total traffic. The heaviest traffic was located in the Don and Donetz area, in the Urals, in west Siberia and in the confines of Central Asia.

When the war broke out, most of these inter-regional trunk lines were in operation. In addition the entire Trans-Siberian had been double-tracked, and its northern parallel, which follows the Amur River and the Manchurian frontier at a distance of 200 to 300 miles, was under construction. In the last two years before the war, the Third Five Year Plan added a new feature, with the purpose of bringing new raw material bases closer to the main industrial centers so as to shorten the haul of such essential commodities as coal and oil, and to establish reserve routes in case the existing trunk lines should be cut.

Outstanding examples were: 1, the rail line from Kotlas on the Northern Dvina to the Pechora river (between the Urals and Archangel) whence coal produced from open seams was to be shipped to Leningrad, Moscow and Murmansk, which then depended for their coal upon the Don basin and Spitsbergen; 2, two new lines in Kazakhstan to facilitate shipment of coal and alloys from the Karaganda region to the Urals and to points in west Siberia, which hitherto had been supplied over much longer distances from the Ukraine and the Kuznetsk basin; 3, a new connection between the Murmansk and the Archangel railroads diverting traffic from Murmansk to a safer line several hundred miles east of the Finnish border; 4, a rail link between Baku and Astrakhan, enabling the Soviets to continue oil shipments from Transcaucasia to central Russia even after the Germans had severed the main line which swings westward along the northern foothills of the Caucasus in the direction of the Don.

None of these four railroads was ready in 1941; but construction work had been advanced sufficiently to complete them in record time during the war. Without them Russia might have lost the battle of transportation. It was won thanks to three improvisations:

In the first place, inland shipping, which the first two Five Year Plans had relegated to a secondary rôle, emerged in the summer of 1944 by the sheer willpower and resourcefulness of its personnel as a major factor in Soviet transportation. On July 15, 1944, a Moscow communiqué announced triumphantly that seamen of the Dnieper flotilla had conquered Pinsk, the Polish town in the center of the Pripet marshes. Over the Tsar's neglected east-west waterways, which had been practically closed during the inter-war period, large numbers of shallow-going transports and gunboats swarmed through the wood and swamp lands of Polesie, Nowogródek and Bialystok, the three northeastern provinces of Poland, in the direction of the Vistula, Niemen and Dvina. Instead of the grain and timber of prerevolutionary Russia, these waterways now carried soldiers and supplies.

Secondly, more than 300,000 motor trucks arrived from America and Britain. These, together with several hundred thousand Soviet-built motor vehicles, enabled the Red Army to roll from the Vistula to the Oder, long before its rail arm had managed to repair the thoroughly destroyed railroads of western Poland and to convert them to Russian broad-gauge.

Thirdly, the capture of more than 100,000 standard-gauge freight cars and locomotives in Bessarabia and Rumania made it possible for Russia's southern armies to move across the Carpathians and through the Danube valley into Hungary.

Little of this material is available for reconstruction. American and British trucks are worn out, and captured standard-gauge rolling stock cannot be converted economically to broad gauge.

Great damage was created by the war. The Commissariat of Transportation has announced that 40 percent of the total rail network was under enemy occupation. On many lines the retreating Germans used special engines to cut the rails and to break up the roadbed. It is reported that 32,560 miles of main lines and 11,500 miles of secondary lines were destroyed. Since the total mileage (including new construction during the war) was 66,000, the 40 percent figure released in Moscow must include sidings and tracks on marshaling yards. Also reported as destroyed are 2,323 large and medium bridges, 317 depots and 2,455 railway stations. Most of the rolling stock, however, was evacuated to the rear.

Much of the damage has been repaired with the same speed which characterized the restoration of railroads in areas under aerial bombardment. By August 1945 more than 30,000 miles of track were reported to have been restored, as were more than 1,900 large and medium bridges and 192 depots. However, these figures are so large that one must question whether the repairs are more than temporary.

The Soviet transportation system as it emerges from the war does not present a bright picture. Thousands of miles of track and innumerable permanent installations have been battered by four years of war and worn out by the demands of an enormous traffic load. There is a network of 65,000 miles of inland waterways, but only about 3,000 miles of canals actually in operation, many of them equipped with wooden locks and accessible only to small barges with a three-foot draught. The only important new waterway is the modern one between Moscow and the Volga. Before the war waterways carried altogether about 70 million tons of traffic, representing 20.2 billion ton-miles (1937) -- only 6.3 percent of the ton-mileage of the railroads. There are approximately 37,000 miles of surfaced highways, mostly second rate (against 1.4 million miles in the United States), some 130,000 miles of macadamized highway of inferior quality, and about one million motor vehicles of which, according to the latest official registration (1943) 890,000 units were trucks (against 4.7 million trucks in the United States). The prewar maritime tonnage totalled 1,300,000 gross tons (Lloyd's Register, June 1939), including a relatively large number of sturdy small and medium-sized freighters of fairly modern construction.

The main assets of Soviet transportation are: 1, the industrial trunk lines east of the Urals and between the Urals and the Volga -- the former handling a traffic as heavy as that in our principal industrial areas, with freight trains carrying 3,000 tons or more;[vii] the new rail line to the Pechora coal fields; joint use of the excellent Manchurian railroads; mass production facilities for rolling stock in the Urals and locomotive factories turning out large numbers of units of the heaviest type;[viii] 2, freedom of maritime and coastwise shipping; improved conditions of navigation along the Northern Seaway around Siberia, especially between the Yenisei and the North Atlantic, over which route, before the war, large quantities of wood were brought to Britain; and, 3, last but not least, several large automobile and tractor factories in the Urals and in the central area around Moscow, which in 1938 produced 210,000 vehicles a year, mostly trucks, and which have been extended considerably during the war.


Against this background the Soviets have drawn up their new Five Year Plan, covering the period from 1946 to the end of 1950. Although at this writing full details have not yet been released, the main features of the transportation section of the plan have been published in three authoritative and comprehensive studies in the official organ of the Planning Commission.[ix] The fact that the studies on the future of the railroads and of inland shipping bear the signature of the People's Commissars for Railroads and Inland Navigation gives them an importance which goes far beyond that of ordinary articles. Both studies have been referred to repeatedly by the Soviet press in connection with the new Five Year Plan. These surveys, plus data culled from various technical publications, give a picture of transport policies in the coming years and suggest their general political and economic implications.

The transportation section of Soviet Five Year Plans is in many respects more revealing than any other single section. Since the U.S.S.R. imports relatively little transport equipment from abroad, the route and vehicle production projects of the plan are a touchstone of the industrial capacity of rolling mills, machine building, electrotechnical and aluminum production -- to name only the most essential industries. Since most projects are broken down into regional sections, they also make it possible to indicate which regions are slated for the most intensive development: the surveys propose new rail connections or double-tracking of existing lines between two points, hard-surfacing of certain highways, building or extension of certain maritime or river ports, improvement of certain waterways, etc. Since the natural resources of most of these regions are known, the transport plan implicitly provides a key to the development of various branches of primary production.

At the same time, the traffic program in terms of tons and ton-miles, the choice of rolling stock and engines, the capacity and type of river barges and the power of tugs, and even so general a feature as the distribution of the total traffic volume among the various means of transportation, permit a fairly reliable forecast of the rôle allocated to the major raw materials and of the technological pattern of Soviet economy. To some extent the general transportation plan also anticipates future population shifts and population increases in various parts of the country. Other more specific indications of such shifts can be seen in urban and suburban transport programs, and in the relationship between truck and passenger car production.

According to the responsible heads of the Soviet Railway and Inland Shipping Commissariats the main features of the 1946-50 plan are as follows:

(1) The principal new railroad developments will be in European and not in Asiatic Russia. The greater part of the European network is to receive a heavier roadbed and stronger rails (on 37,000 miles of track). Existing lines to Soviet Baltic ports are to be connected and improved. Russian broad-gauge will not be extended beyond the boundaries of the U.S.S.R. -- an indication that the Soviets do not expect to coördinate their industries too closely with those of Poland and Central Europe. It is interesting to note in this connection that last August the Polish Government informed the European Central Inland Transport Organization that Poland would retain the standard gauge of four feet eight-and-one-half inches and that those tracks which temporarily had been converted to Russian broad gauge (five feet), such as the Warsaw-Berlin-Potsdam line, would be restored to standard.[x]

Improvements and extensions are provided especially for the central area between Moscow-Leningrad and the Don-Dnieper region in the west, and the Urals in the east, which is likely to be the mainspring of Russian strength. Rail connections between the capital and Jaroslavl, Gorki, Riazan, Volovo and Kharkov are to be strengthened. A more intensive traffic is foreseen on the Donbas (coal) -- Krivoi Rog (iron ore) lines, and between the Donbas and Stalingrad (manufacturing). The plan calls also for additional tracks between the Donbas and the Urals, and between the Donbas, Krivoi Rog and the Caucasus. The Molotov province, formerly Perm, on the western slopes of the Urals, is slated for considerable development.[xi] Here, trunk lines are to be built to Solikamsk on the upper Kama River (a tributary of the Volga), reported to have a potash plant, the largest of its kind in the world, and a number of other chemical factories. A trunk line is also planned to the metallurgical centers of Nadezhinsk and Bogoslovo in the northern Urals, about 100 miles north of Nijni Tagil; this in turn will be connected by additional tracks with the new coal center of Kizel and, by way of Kizel, with the center of heavy industries between Chelyabinsk and Sverdlov in the central Urals at the crossing of the main lines into Siberia. Several new marshaling yards are projected in this area.

Next in importance are the rail connections between the central region and west Siberia, Kazakhstan and central Asia. Emphasis is placed on the strengthening and partial double-tracking of the lines between the coal fields of Karaganda and the non-ferrous metal centers (nickel, copper) near there, and the Urals, west Siberia and Central Asia. The principal new lines to be completed in this region are a railroad connecting Karaganda with Lake Aral (new chemical factories) east of the Caspian Sea, and with the old trunk line from Moscow to Tashkent; a line from the coal town of Akmolinsk, northwest of Karaganda, extending between 200 and 400 miles south of the Trans-Siberian into the heart of the Kuznetsk basin, and beyond to the junction of Taishet, some 500 miles west of Lake Baikal where the projected northern Trans-Siberian branches off in the direction of the Lena River; and a line from Mointy, south of Karaganda and close to Lake Balkhash, to the city of Chu, on the Tashkent-Alma Ata railroad, where the Turksib swings northeastward into Siberia. The Mointy-Chu line will open a third direct connection between central Asia and central Russia and the Urals. Chu is the ancient terminal of the caravan route into northwest China.

These three new lines were under construction before and during the war and are to be completed during the period of the new plan. The principal development, however, will be between the central region (Moscow, Leningrad, the Don and Dnieper) and the western and northern Urals. The lines east and southeast of the Urals are likely to have a smaller share in the projected improvements, because they already have been strengthened substantially as the result of the eastward movement of industry.

(2) A vast railway electrification program extending over 15 years -- the largest project of this kind ever undertaken -- is the most significant and original feature of the new plan. While there are several schools of thought among engineers regarding the economies which can be achieved through electrification, it is generally held that if sufficient power is available, electrified railroads are advantageous wherever there is a regular traffic of high frequency. Electrification also is recommended for technical reasons in terrain with steep gradients.

The Russians as usual have made short shrift of the economic considerations which prevail under capitalist conditions, where every network has to balance its budget and generally cannot engage in long-range projects depending upon uncertain traffic developments. The principal motive of the Soviet electrification program is not operational economy for a particular network, but national efficiency, and increase of the country's industrial potential. Electrification permits more rational use of local power and fuel resources (peat, lignite, low-grade coal), avoids the use of high-grade coal from the Don and Karaganda basins for transportation purposes and offsets, partly at least, the unfavorable location of fuel reserves.

The lines chosen for electrification are those for which the Planning Commission expects high frequency traffic, mountain railroads and lines extending through regions in which the water supply is inadequate for steam locomotives. The latter point is of particular interest to the Soviet Union, for lack of water in desert regions and in the Arctic territories has made it necessary to equip locomotives with costly condenser installations; electrification also overcomes the disadvantage inherent in the chemical composition of water in the Caspian plains and in Kazakhstan, where the water has a high salt and sodium content which calls for special conditioning.

Electrification will first be introduced on single-track lines where high train frequency would otherwise require the laying of a second track. Only double-track lines with the heaviest traffic will be electrified. Altogether 18,600 to 21,700 miles of track are slated for electrification within the next 15 years, representing a total investment of approximately seven billion rubles, not including the cost of new power plants.

The trunk lines between the Urals and the Kuznetsk region, and the new lines from the northwestern slopes of the Urals to Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk, are the first to be electrified. Electrification is also planned for the railroad connecting Karaganda with Magnitogorsk. The trunk line extending from the Urals to the central region around Moscow by way of Kazan will be electrified as soon as the new great power stations on the Oka River are completed -- that is, in later Five Year plans.

Electrification of the Moscow-Leningrad line may be started toward the end of the present plan. Its purpose is to reduce the train time between the two capital cities. Energy is to be supplied by power stations using local coal, peat and water. The fact that the Leningrad-Moscow trunk line has been included in the electrification plan for the current five-year period shows that the Soviet Government expects the further growth of Leningrad as an industrial center and a port. The Donbas-Krivoi Rog lines, which carry heavy industrial traffic, are also slated for electrification during the current period. Later, electrification is to be extended to Kharkov and Rostov and to the line from Stalingrad by way of Dniepropetrovsk to Krivoi Rog, with connections to the metallurgical and machine building center of Zaporozhe.

A special electrification program based on local water resources is provided for the Caucasus. It will include the oil trunk lines extending into European Russia, the principal railroads of Transcaucasia, and the strategic line from Tiflis in Georgia to Leninakan and Erivan -- the capital of Soviet Armenia -- whence railroads extend into Turkey (Erzerum) and Iranian Azerbaijan (Tabriz).

Electrification of the Murmansk-Leningrad line is part of the long-range project, and will have to wait until the Soviets are ready to harness the great waterpower resources of the Finno-Karelian Republic. At the end of the 15-year period, electrification is to be extended to the mountain lines of east Siberia, to the Far Eastern end of the Trans-Siberian railroad, to the projected extension of the Far Eastern network to the mouth of the Amur River and to Okhotsk on the Okhotsk Sea. Eventually all the above projects are to be coördinated into a single system. This, however, is part of a larger plan which goes back to the great electrification program of Lenin.

An important feature of the present Five Year development is the electrification of the commutation systems of Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Kharkov, Minsk, Riga, Vilunis (Vilna), Rostov, Sverdlovsk and Novosibirsk. Electrified railroads for suburban traffic indicate expectations of swift growth of the city populations. It is significant that only one of these cities is located east of the Urals.

(3) Inland shipping will be improved considerably. Here again the main development is scheduled to take place in the central area. The Marie-Canal system between the Baltic and the Volga is to be turned into a large waterway. The Volga which, it is revealed, carried only 9,000,000 tons of traffic before the war (about one-tenth of the traffic of the Rhine and slightly more than one-fourth of that of the Mississippi), is to be transformed into one of the world's major inland waterways, navigated by barges with a carrying capacity of between 4,000 and 6,000 tons and tankers up to 12,000 tons. The Kama River which extends from the Volga basin to the western foothills of the Urals is included in this plan.

Less stress is placed on the waterways between the Dnieper and the Vistula; these are to be modernized, but will be made accessible only to ships up to 1,500 tons. This seems to suggest that the Soviets, for the next five years at least, are not planning to coördinate the ore-rich Ukraine and the coal-based heavy industries of Upper Silesia-Moravia into another giant combine comparable to the Kuznetsk-Ural group.

(4) Increased inland water transport is to absorb a large share of the liquid fuel traffic of the railroads. Before the war, Moscow and Leningrad received, respectively, only 13 and 9 percent of their petroleum by water; now they are to be supplied extensively by tanker barges and to be equipped with additional storing facilities for the winter months when the canals are frozen. Coal, wood, salt, fertilizers and building material, which before the war accounted for more than half of the total railroad tonnage, also are to be carried largely by water. The total traffic volume of inland shipping which was around 70 billion ton-miles before the war is to be doubled. This would bring it up to the present American traffic volume on rivers, canals and the Great Lakes. The projected increase in the volume of inland water transportation is relatively greater than that of the railroads.[xii]

(5) The waterway program also includes development of the Siberian rivers. This seems intended to boost the export of timber, processed wood and agricultural commodities, the latter two by way of Leningrad, and suggests that the Soviets intend to step up their rôle in international trade to take advantage of the world's rising demand for pulp and wood fiber as raw materials for the paper, plastics and synthetic textile industry.

(6) Maritime shipbuilding is to be increased on a relatively modest scale. By the end of the new Five Year Plan the Soviet merchant marine is supposed to be twice as large as before the war, or close to 3,000,000 gross tons (less than the prewar tonnage of France or Italy). The Baltic and the Northern Sea Route figure prominently in the maritime program, although shipping by way of the Black Sea with its well-developed harbors and rich hinterland may continue to be more important. The data on the maritime plan were released shortly after the conclusion of the treaty with China of August 14, 1945. The final plan may include special provisions for maritime shipping in the Pacific, now that ice-free ports are available to the U.S.S.R.

(7) Increased automobile production and highway improvement will promote regional traffic, which was neglected in the past at the expense of inter-regional communications. According to the new transport plan, the Soviet automobile industry in 1950 will turn out more than four times as many vehicles as in 1940, i.e. around 1,200,000 units, not including tractors and trailers for agricultural purposes. Capital investments in the automobile industry for the next five years will reach nearly 4 billion rubles.[xiii] In the past, passenger cars represented only about one-seventh of the total automobile production. Under the new plan the output of passenger cars is to become proportionally much greater. Definite figures have not yet been published, but according to a British press dispatch referring to the Soviet magazine Automobile Transport, one-third of the future automobile output is to consist of passenger cars. Four new passenger car models are ready for the assembly line.

On January 1, 1941, Russia had 890,000 trucks and buses but only 170,000 passenger cars. (In the United States there were almost six times as many passenger cars as trucks.) Automobile production is one of the youngest industries in the U.S.S.R. In 1930 Soviet factories turned out only 4,200 trucks. By 1937, production of trucks and buses had risen to 183,800, plus some 103,000 vehicles for agricultural purposes. Mass production methods were introduced in the early thirties under the direction of American engineers; Soviet trucks as well as passenger cars are even today very similar to American models. In the current year the output of automobiles is to be double that of 1945. Since last year's output is reported to have been 30 percent above that of 1939, the total for 1946 should be in the neighborhood of 500,000 units.

The plan calls for relatively small investments in highway construction. Yet more than 100,000 miles of highway are to be paved and several hundred thousand miles of dirt roads are to be made accessible to automobiles. Voluntary highway construction work of the kolkhozniks or members of collective farms, will supplement the program, as in the past. The highways which are to be paved are those connecting the principal cities of European Russia. Up to the war, the Moscow-Leningrad and the Moscow-Minsk routes were the model highways of the U.S.S.R. The highways from the capital to Kharkov and Kiev, and to Stalingrad, are now to be modernized, and hard-surfaced roads are to be extended into the new territories in the west to connect Moscow with Bucharest, Lvov, Warsaw, Kaunas, Koenigsberg, Riga and Talinn. For some of these projects the Soviets will be able to use the foundations of three highways which the Germans extended from Galicia and Rumania to Kiev, Dniepropetrovsk and to the foot of the Crimea.

The plan also provides for extensive highway construction in the Urals, especially in the Molotov province. Highway development projects in the Asiatic frontier area, near Frunze in Kazakhstan at the Soviet terminal of the caravan route into China, in the vicinity of the mountain city of Osh (where a caravan route crosses into Chinese Turkestan), along the southeastern shore of the Caspian Sea, and around Stalinabad (north of the Afghan border), seem to indicate that Moscow foresees trade developments in the interior of Asia, especially in western China, Iran and Afghanistan. Here military interests may also be at stake.

(8) Aviation is to be developed on a large scale. Data are less specific than for other means of transportation and, judging by previous plans, the complete program may not be published for reasons of national security. Premier Stalin's statement in his speech of February 9, that the Soviet aircraft industry has been able to turn out 40,000 planes a year during the last three years of the war, shows that there is a substantial industrial basis for further expansion. Before the war, in 1938, there were more than 70,000 miles of airline routes, very nearly as many as in the United States.

Air freight services in European Russia and west Siberia are likely to be confined to emergency shipments of spare parts and will be far less important than in other industrial countries. The U.S.S.R. has little need for swift transportation of high-priced perishable consumer goods. The main development of air transport will be for the purpose of opening up new or otherwise inaccessible areas in the thinly populated regions of Siberia and central Asia. Pilot services on the Northern Sea Route will also be expanded. In the Far East and in Arctic Siberia precious alloys, gold and furs are most likely to be moved by air. Except for the Asiatic territories, few provisions are made for large-scale regular passenger air services. The latter probably will be limited to passenger movements for administrative or scientific purposes, and special lines for foreign tourists and official visitors.


The U.S.S.R.'s transportation program for the next five years seems, on the whole, fairly realistic. Its technical aspects are bold and far-reaching. It assumes swift reconstruction of the invaded areas and further expansion of heavy industrial capacity.

From a political point of view, the transportation section of the new plan suggests that, for the next five-year period at least, the U.S.S.R. expects to steer a peaceful course. It apparently neither intends to withdraw into Asia nor to expand into central Europe. The transportation plan makes it clear that there will be no further large-scale industrial migration into Asia and that the nerve center of the Soviet realm is going to remain where it was before the war. There are no projects of maritime or overseas expansion, no provisions for new strategic railroads either in Asia or in Europe; some of the highway projects in central Asia may be motivated by military reasons, but no other aspect of the plan seems to be.

While many details have not been made public for reasons of security, the plan as a whole gives remarkable publicity to projects which in free-enterprise countries are neither conceived as broadly nor discussed publicly. The very fact that the Soviet Union, for reasons inherent in the managerial methods required by its centralized state economy, is compelled to draw up so complex a chart to guide its executives and engineers during the next five or ten years, is a promise of stability. Once the essential features of such a plan have been adopted, it is difficult to change them.

[i]cf. Squadron Leader Murray Harris, "Lifelines of Victory." New York: Putnam, 1942, p. 42.

[ii] Regarding the importance which the German General Staff attached to its railroad superiority, cf. Ernst Marquart, "Eisenbahnen im Dienst der Strategie," Archiv fuer Eisenbahnwesen, 1939, p. 915. On the weakness of Russian transportation, cf. Colonel Oskar von Niedermayer, "Wehrgeographische Betrachtung der Sowjet Union," Berlin, 1933, and Colonel Oskar von Niedermayer and Yu, "Sowjet Russland," Berlin, 1934; also Semenoff, "Wehrgeographische Studien," with a preface by Karl Haushofer.

[iii]cf. Major Erwin Lessner, "Blitzkrieg and Bluff." New York: Putnam, 1943, p. 198.

[iv] Paul Wohl: "Nationalization of Russian Banks," with a survey of the first nationalization decrees, Pennsylvania Law Review, 1927, nos. 5, 6 and 7.

[v] Methods of assessing American and Soviet railroad statistics are not the same. Comparisons therefore are only approximate.

[vi]Planovoye Khoziaistvo (Planned Economy), No. 6. Moscow, 1938.

[vii] Soviet railway traffic east of the Urals was described by a reliable and competent eyewitness, J. H. Potts, President of the British Union of Railwaymen 1939-41 in a report on his observations in Russia in 1942, published by the International Federation of Transport Workers, London. "There are huge marshalling yards everywhere -- all automatically controlled and many of them capable of handling 10,000 cars a day," wrote Mr. Potts. "In these yards the engines are controlled by wireless, with direct communication between the driver and the control cabin. The latest Russian locomotive -- the F. D. types -- can draw loads up to 3,000 tons at speeds over 30 miles an hour. They are fitted with condensers for travelling through waterless country . . ." An even larger type of locomotive, the AA type (Alexander Andreyev), hauling 1,400 tons at an average speed of 24¾ miles an hour and used for the transportation of coal from the Don basin, is described in the Railway Gazette, London, of November 10, 1944, p. 464.

[viii] According to the Soviet press, the rolling stock works at Nijni-Tagil in the Urals can turn out more than 100,000 cars a year. Production is reported to be on the assembly line. No other country has gone in for mass production of rolling stock. Between 1936 and 1944, the United States produced between 40,000 and 80,000 units a year. The Soviet figures probably are much too high. There seems to be evidence, however, that the output of the Ural works is very substantial, and the possibility of freight car production on the assembly line cannot be discarded.

[ix] I. Kovalov, People's Commissar of Transport and Communications, "Perspectives of Railroad Transportation," in Planovoye Khoziaistvo, 1945, No. 5; A. Galitzky and I. Libin, "Perspectives of Railroad Electrification" in Planovoye Khoziaistvo, 1945, No. 3; Z. Shashkov, People's Commissar of the River Fleet, "Basic Problems of the Development of River Transportation" in Planovoye Khoziaistvo, 1945, No. 4.

[x]The Railway Gazette, London, October 19, 1945, p. 385.

[xi] On the development and industrial potential of the Molotov (Perm) province, cf. L. M. Herman, "Next Phase in the Urals: New Plans and Potentials," Foreign Commerce Weekly, February 9, 1946, p. 5.

[xii] Professor V. N. Obratzov of the Academy of Science, according to Meshdunarodni Transport (International Transport), Moscow, November 1, 1945, estimates that the traffic volume of the Soviet railroads will increase from its present level of approximately 250 billion ton-miles to 734 billion ton-miles in 1960, which would be slightly below our traffic volume in 1944; for the same period he foresees an increase in the volume of inland water traffic to 178 billion tons. In the first of three five-year periods between today and 1960, inland water traffic, however, is to increase faster than railroad traffic.

[xiii] G. Osipov, "Postwar Development of the Soviet Automobile Industry," Information Bulletin of the Embassy of the U.S.S.R., Washington, D. C., February 14, 1946, p. 140.

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  • PAUL WOHL, author of "Rail and Road in Forty Countries" and articles and reports on Russian economic problems; formerly scientific adviser to the Central Land Transport Administration of the Soviet Government
  • More By Paul Wohl