The International Steam Pages

Riding the Retro Train

The following article by Marina Kamenev appeared in the Moscow Times of 18th October 2007 - thanks to Henry Posner III and Caspar Bielok for noting this). If any readers can provide a 'steam orientated' personal account of this journey I will be happy to post it. From some pictures I was sent by Colin Young who saw the train very suddenly, it seems that the steam power is in the form of the classic Russian L class.

"When the tracks dip down to the coast of Lake Baikal, and the view is overtaken by shades of blue, days spent submerged in the gray of the capital dissipate. This is often considered the best part of the Trans-Siberian Railroad trip, but for those who are not so keen on being cooped up on a train for about a week, there is an easier, old-fashioned way to sit and enjoy the landscape of Baikal without leaving the comfort of your retro-style cabin. 

The Retro Train, a steam-powered locomotive, traverses the most visually stunning part of the Trans-Siberian trek in just over a weekend, replete with a guide telling the history of the construction and of the area. Food is included, and the Baikal Cruise trip can be done in rain, hail, snow or shine. And the price is reasonable. 

The 1953 train has a bright blue circular face with a red star, and while it has been fashioned with modern comforts such as air conditioning, heating and radios, it has old-style classic decor, right down to the teal uniforms of the train attendants. 

At times the railroad tracks go so close to the shores of Lake Baikal that Retro Train passengers feel like they're on a ship. 

The water views are framed by green velvet curtains with golden tassels. Tea with bread, cheese and salami is offered as soon as you step into the room.

Passengers board at Irkutsk on Friday night, from there the train goes to Slyudyanka, then Kultuk, stopping for a break at Maritui. In the morning, it stops at Polovinni for a picturesque tour of the area before heading to Lake Baikal, where the tracks run so close to the water that it seems more ship than train. 

At Port Baikal, passengers are told the history of the area and can walk around the world's largest fresh water reserve before hopping back on the train. The journey then continues to Ulanovo, Kirkirey and Slyudanko, with guides telling passengers about the area, the history of construction and the locals.

Travelers who ask nicely are able to enter the engine room, and watch the attendant pile coal into the giant furnace. A heavy lever is pulled and grey smoke escapes from the chimney on the side of the train, making a loud sound."

Marina Kamenev / For MT

Rob Dickinson