Russia's Railway Advance into Central Asia: Notes of a Journey from St. Petersburg to Samarkand


George Dobson (1850‒1938) was the Russian correspondent for the Times of London for more than 25 years. In the spring of 1888 he became the first Englishman to travel the newly-opened Central Asian Railway to Samarkand. He reported on his journey in a series of long letters that appeared in the Times in the fall of that year. Russia's Railway Advance into Central Asia: Notes of a Journey from St. Petersburg to Samarkand contains the texts of those letters, expanded and rewritten, as well as new content. Dobson interweaves the account of his journey with detailed descriptions of the towns and cities along the route and discussions of terrain and climate, the history and peoples of the region, and Russian policy and objectives. The concluding chapter provides much interesting detail on the railroad as a feat of engineering, one that involved the transport of masses of construction materials across the Caspian Sea by steamer, the inland transport of these materials by camel, and the overcoming of such challenges as language barriers and difficulties in communicating with locally recruited workmen, the hot climate, diseases among the workforce, the death of workers from sunstroke and thirst, high winds and drifting sands, and the threat of attacks on the construction crews by marauders. This chapter also includes much information about the costs of the construction and how they were financed. The book contains three maps in the first quarter of the book, some photographs, and an appendix that gives the different rail routes to Samarkand from Saint Petersburg and other Russian cities as well as from European cities such as Paris, Cologne, and Berlin. The fastest route from Paris to Samarkand was by rail to Odessa via Vienna, by steamer across the Black Sea from Odessa to Batumi, and by rail from Batumi to Baku and then to Samarkand. This route took 10 days, 10 hours, and 9 minutes; other routes took as long as 13 days to complete.

Last updated: September 30, 2016