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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 06:18 GMT 07:18 UK
Russia marks Trans-Siberian centenary
centenary train
Banners were much in evidence for the big send-off
Russia has celebrated the 100th birthday of the Trans-Siberian Railway by dispatching a special centennial train from Moscow to Vladivostok.

Russian TV cameras recorded the unveiling of a symbolic marker-post for kilometre 0 of the world's longest railway at the Russian capital's Yaroslavl station, from which each Trans-Siberian leaves.

The simple monument reads 0 and 9,298 km - the distance to the end of the line in Vladivostok.

Go east in style

The special train, carrying dignitaries and journalists, is made up of carriages supplied by Russia's leading railway companies and offers passengers every comfort by local standards for the special, 16-day round trip.

You get all kinds of people; some sit impassively, some are happy, others share their experiences.

Attendant Oksana Bodar.

"Each has its own restaurants, its own bars, its own independent systems, like a world of its own," said train attendant Dina Yaroslavtseva.

And not just the carriages are first class - the train attendants had to win their places on the train in competition with their co-workers.

For the attendants, it is an interesting job, serving passengers across Russia's vast spaces.

"You get all kinds of people; some sit impassively, some are happy, others share their experiences," said one, Oksana Bodar.

Click here for map of railway

An extra perk this time may be the celebrations scheduled for stops along the route of the centenary train.

A royal dream

Hailed as the 20th century's biggest construction project, the railway was a pre-revolutionary success, completed despite the absence of "Soviet zeal," as one TV station recalled.

As well as spawning entire new towns and bridging Siberia's vast rivers, the new railway apparently even boosted the birth rate.

on-board service
The service on offer is no less than regal

The railway, which was planned under the tsars as far back as 1891, began operation on 9 July, 1901, although the final section of the line's current route was only completed in 1916.

Before its advent, the journey across Siberia could take half a lifetime, but these days it can take as little as six days.

"The track is not bad, but it is difficult terrain - there are lots of hills, mountainous places, rivers and streams, bridges and tunnels," train manager Viktor Zaidenberg said.

A line with prospects

Even now, the railway is developing its role as a link between Asia and Europe.

Orthodox priest
The train was blessed by both church and state

The proposed reconstruction of a rail link across the two Koreas may in turn lead to a connection to the Trans-Siberian, allowing freight to travel by rail from South Korea all the way to Europe.

The Russian Railways Ministry is looking to the 21st century too, with plans to develop a 48,000 km network of fibre-optic lines alongside the tracks.

The ministry says this will "create a unified information space" stretching from Poland to Japan.

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BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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