Big Red Train Ride - The TransSiberian Railway

Big Red Train Ride - Eric Newby

Moscow, January 1977. Eric Newby and his wife Wanda board The Russia, at Yaroslavl station, at the start of its near 6000 mile transsiberian train journey to the Far East Pacific coast of Russia. The train would traverse seven time zones and take eight days to get there.

In the Soviet Union of the 1970's foreigners were only allowed to stop over at Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Khabarovsk. They were not allowed to visit the Pacific naval port of Vladivostok at the end of the transsiberian rail line.

By the time it reaches the Pacific it is seven hours ahead of Moscow time; but it has observed Moscow time throughout, as have the clocks on all the stations along the route. The journey for a Soviet citizen takes seven 24 hour cover the 5810 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, where it arrives soon after noon on the 8th day. For foreigners, who are not allowed into Vladivostok...[they] have to go to Nakhodka, the only Soviet port facing the Pacific that is open to them...the distance is 5900 miles...eight 24 hour days which includes a stopover from day 7 to 8 at Khabarovsk on the Amur River. (The Big Red Train Ride - Chapter 1)

The Russia, known as Train No. 2 in the timetable, left Moscow daily for Vladivostok at 10.10am. Train No.1 is The Russia from Vladivostok to Moscow. The train had 15 passengers cars and a restaurant car. Their two-berth compartment was one of nine in the only soft-class two berth passenger carriage on the train. 

The Newby's travelling companions were Otto, a German Jewish photographer and Mischa a member of the Intourist agency who acted as their interpreter. Eric Newby recounts his experience of travelling on the transsiberian train by saying that:

The Trans-Siberian is the big train ride. All the rest are peanuts. (p. 9)

The Big Red Train Ride

Author - Eric Newby
ISBN - 978-0330308052
Publisher - First published in 1978 in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicholson .
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - BookFinder


Eric Newby died in Surrey, England, in 2006 at the age of 86.

Frank Partridge, The Independent (London) 28 October 2006 wrote in Eric Newby: Journey's end

In 1977, Eric and Wanda, plus an official guide and photographer, journeyed across the USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Brezhnev was in charge, the Cold War was on, and - being from the West - the Newbys were not allowed to reach the conclusion of the journey: the terminus, Vladivostok, was off-limits. Even so, the Big Red Train Ride chronicles a journey of nearly 6,000 miles in eight days. He and Wanda were harassed by the train conductor, delayed by red tape, and made ill by bad food and dodgy alcohol. They survived, of course, and Newby is at his most irreverent as he highlights the most ridiculous aspects of a failing experiment.

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This page was added on 25 January 2009.