The Baikal-Amur Mainline (Russian: Байка́ло-Аму́рская Магистра́ль bigh-KAHL-uh uh-MOOR-skuh-yuh mah-gee-STRAL') or BAM (Russian: БАМ) is a railway line that crosses Russia, running parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The BAM splits from Trans-Siberian Railway at Tayshet, some 700 km (430 mi) west of Baikal lake, and passes the Baikal from the north at Severobaikalsk. It then goes parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way to the Pacific Ocean. You can expect great landscapes, admirable views of Baikal lake and a lot of high bridges and tunnels.
The railway was built primarily for military reasons as a backup to the Trans-Siberian, which runs quite close to the Chinese border. The first stage, from 1930 to 1953, was built largely by Gulag prisoners, including German and Japanese prisoners of war, and an estimated 150,000 people died in the process. Work halted due to Stalin's death, but started again in 1974 as a Komsomol project, this time "with clean hands only" (in Brezhnev's words). The line was officially completed in 1984, although actual work continued until 1991. While the military strategic function was thankfully never tested in earnest, the fact that it passes through even sparser populated regions than the Transsib, is not fully electrified (the Transsib has been electrified end to end since the 21st century) and has single track stretches have made it a comparatively low traffic line which is however important for local forestry and as a "lifeline" of otherwise hard to reach communities.
While Tayshet is the official starting point of the BAM, most travelers coming from Western Russia start their journey at Irkutsk, the nearest large city. Irkutsk is on the Trans-Siberian and has trains and, in the summer high season, ferries across Lake Baikal to Severobaikalsk.
The BAM terminates at Sovetskaya Gavan on the Pacific Ocean, but most visitors opt to stop at Komsomolsk and head from there to Khabarovsk in order to rejoin the Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok, another option is ending the BAM trip on Vanino and cross the Tatar strait to Sakhalin where you can continue your journey to Japan.
For most of its length the BAM is single track. It is also not fully electrified. BAM was a huge Soviet project, and workers from all parts of the Soviet Union were brought to construct it. While traveling on the train pay attention to station buildings. Often they symbolize (in their architecture) the region from where the building crew came. Many of these workers married and stayed there, so you can find settlers from distant parts of the former Soviet Union along the line.
A number of years ago, there were rumors about construction of a second track and another wave of workers came seeking work and remained. Construction didn't start.
Sometimes trains stop at turnouts in remote locations to let trains from the other direction pass. There are a few passenger trains going from Moscow all the way to the Pacific; however, there are many local trains, with the main traffic being wood transports from the Siberian forests.
Stations and notable landmarks
Taishet to Lake Baikal
- Taishet — western terminus, junction with Trans-Siberian Railway (0 km).
- Sosnovye Rodniki — minor timber port (129).
- Chuna (142).
- Vikhorevka — railway administration (269).
- Bratsk — major city, just off the line on a spur from the Anzebi station (282).
- Bratsk Dam — train runs across the dam.
- Vidim (463).
- Shredneilimskaya — on the Ust-Ilimsk reservoir (546).
- Zheleznogorsk-Ilimsky — mining town (554).
- Khrebetovaya — junction with spur to Ust Ilimsk (575).
- Kuta River (entering Lena Basin).
- Ust-Kut — Lena River port (715).
- Lena Vostochnaya (736).
- Zvyzdnaya (786).
- Kirenga (890).
- Kirenga River.
- Ul'kan (931).
- Delbichenda (1005).
- Baikal Mountain Tunnel.
- Daben (1014).
- Laike Baikal (1064).
Lake Baikal to Tynda
- Severobaikalsk — the principal town on the north side of Lake Baikal (1064 km).
- Four small tunnels along the lake.
- Nizhneangarsk (1104).
- Novy Uoyan (1257).
- Enter Severomuysk Mountains.
- Severomuysky Tunnel (1385-1400).
- Taksimo (1484).
- Muya River
- Shivery (1548).
- Vitim River.
- Kuanda (1577).
- Kodar — beginning of Kodar Mountains, tunnel (1664).
- Novaya Chara (1734).
- Khani — only BAM town in Yakutia, northernmost point on the line (1879).
- Olyokma River, into the Amur Basin.
- Tynda — at the junction with the partially complete Amur-Yakutsk Mainline (and the Yakutsk "highway"), which will eventually lead to far-flung Yakutsk, and the Little BAM branch south to the Trans-Siberian Railway (2364).
Tynda to Komsomolsk
- Bridge over Zeya Reservoir (2704 km).
- Bureya River Bridge (3205).
- Novy Urgal — junction with branch south to Trans-Siberian Railway (3315).
- Dusse-Alin Tunnel (3403).
- Postyshevo (3633).
- Evoron Lake (3697).
- Komsomolsk-on-Amur — biggest city on the BAM, junction with branch south to Khabarovsk on the Trans-Siberian (3837).
Komsomolsk to Sovetskaya Gavan
- Amur River Bridge (1734 km).
- Pivan (0 km — numbers restart here).
- Selikhin (51).
- Sikhote-Alin Mountains (95-340).
- Mongokhto (403).
- Vanino — easternmost station, small port on the Sea of Okhotsk, junction with branch to Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and the Trans-Siberian, and ferry to Sakhalin (441).
- Sovetskaya Gavan — small port, naval base, and terminus of the BAM, south of Vanino, rarely visited by travelers (467).