The idea of the construction of the railway with the prospect of further access to the Bering Strait, and the ability to connect to Alaska appeared during the reign of Alexander II.
At the end of XIX – early XX century there was a wide range of projects and ideas associated with the construction of the railway in the circumpolar towards Arkhangelsk – Obdorsk – Yakutsk with its extension to Chukotka. This line could be the addition of the Northern Sea Route (NSR).
The first draft of highway in the direction of Indigirka Bay – Salekhard – Turuhansk – Yakutsk – Okhotsk was proposed in 1907. For the first time this highway along the Trans-Siberian was officially presented on the map-scheme of perspective development of the railways of the USSR, approved in 1924 by the Council of Labor and Defense.
The Salekhard-Igarka Railway, referred to variously as 501 Railroad, Railroad of Death, Road of Death, and Dead Road, was a project of the Soviet Gulag system that took place from 1949 to 1953. It was part of a grand design of Joseph Stalin to span a railroad across northern Siberia to reach the Soviet Union’s easternmost territories.
The track of Project 501 was supposed to run 1,263 kilometers through the tundra, connecting Salekhard, on the Arctic Circle and at the mouth of the giant Ob River, to a deepwater port at desolate Igarka on the Yenisei River. His ultimate aim was to extend this polar railway – far to the north of the Trans-Siberian route – some 3,474 kilometers to Chukotka in the extreme east of Russia. In the other direction, Project 503, it would be linked to European Russia.
Construction of the Salekhard-Igarka Railway began in the summer of 1949 under the supervision of Col. V.A. Barabanov. The 501st Labor Camp began work eastward from Salekhard, while the 503rd Labor Camp pushed westward from Igarka. Plans called for a single railway line with 28 stations and 106 sidings. It was not feasible to span the 2.3 km Ob River crossing or the 1.6 km wide Yenisei River crossing. Ferries were used in the summer, while in the winter the trains spanned the river on ice with specially strengthened crossties.
At any one time, there were 120,000 prisoners working on the track, and in this hell on earth, the slave labour was carried out by women as well as men.
In the summer came bogged terrain, diseases, and the pestilence of mosquitoes, gnats, midges, and horseflies. On the technical side, engineering problems included construction across the permafrost, a poor logistical system, and tight deadlines compounded by a severe lack of power machinery. As a result, railway embankments slowly settled into the marsh or were eroded by ponding. A shortage of materials also affected the project.
After Stalin’s death, a grand building was originally conserved, and then stopped, except for a few small areas. After construction (Decree of the USSR 895-383ss of 25 March 1953) of the wealth taken out, but the basic machinery and equipment remained in place, remove them was not profitable.
The project was quickly destroyed by frost heaves and structural failures arising from under construction. At least 11 locomotives and 60,000 tons of metal were abandoned, and bridges have decayed or burned down. However, the corridor’s telephone network remained in service until 1976.
At present, the road is a picture of all conceivable kinds of destruction. The name “Dead Road” could not be more accurately describes its current state – the remains of the track, crumbling mound, the rusting remains of locomotives and wagons.
Abandoned Salekhard-Igarka Railway coordinates :
Salekhard : 66°31’53.81″N 66°36’49.68″E
Igarka : 67°27’41.15″N 86°36’27.02″E