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Road to Devil's Bridge

In Sakhalin for the transport of tourists they want to revive an abandoned narrow gauge railway

In Sakhalin, the investor plans to resume train traffic along the old Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk-Kholmsk line, built at the beginning of the 20 century and closed at the end of the same century. This destination promises to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region, but serious investments are needed to restore the infrastructure. At the initial stage, it is proposed to resume movement along the section where the railway track has still been preserved.

Road to Devil's Bridge
Photo: Pavel Usov

Japanese heritage

The railway between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Kholmsky was built in the 1920's. Almost immediately after the outcome of the Russian-Japanese war 1904-1905, the south of Sakhalin withdrew to Japan, the new authorities began to actively create a network of railway communications. First, movement along the eastern and western coasts opened, after which the question arose of connecting these lines. The economy demanded that the railway link the ice-free port of Maoka (now Kholmsk) with the administrative center of Toyohara (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk).

Laying the road was not easy. The builders had to overcome three mountain ranges and many rivers. 83 tunnels and 15 bridges were built on the 35-kilometer highway. The movement of trains here began in 1928, along the road settlements began to grow rapidly: Futomato (Chaplanovo), Osaka (Pyatirechye), Shimizu (Chistovodnoe), Nakano (Ozhidaevo).

In terms of operation, this was one of the most difficult sections on the entire island highway.

“For drivers, the Kholmsk-Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk section served as a serious school. Many curved sections of the path, steep slopes. It was especially difficult in the winter. Snow is piling under the brake pads, once it slows down, two - the snow turns into ice. You do the release of the brakes again, it should slow down, but it carries you. Imagine how you need to press the pads so that the ice melts, and they begin to slow down, as expected. This happened repeatedly on the pass section, ”said Yury Proselkov, a veteran of the Sakhalin Railway, a former head of the Vzmorye locomotive depot.

The Kholmsk - Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk line has long served for freight and passenger transportation. It began to lose its significance gradually - after the opening of the ferry with the mainland in the 1970's. When the ferry arrived on Sakhalin, the cargo was moved from the mainland to the local carriage, which was expensive. Then, having installed special jacking equipment, in Kholmsk they began to rearrange wagons with wagons designed for a narrow Sakhalin track. However, carrying mainland rolling stock through oversized Japanese tunnels was not easy.

“In order to increase the dimensions of the tunnels, as far as they could, they lowered the path, somewhere by 300 mm, but this was still not enough,” Yuri Proselkov explains.

Over time, all freight trains from Kholmsk went around - somewhat to the north, through the Ilinsk-Arsentyevka section, which connected both coasts of Sakhalin in the 1971 year. Towards the end of the 1980's, passenger trains ran mainly along the line Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk - Kholmsk. This road did not bring incomes, on the contrary, large sums of money were annually required to maintain a difficult section of the track. All this led to the fact that in 1994 the movement was closed there.  


Unforgettable old

Ideas to reanimate the movement of trains along the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk - Kholmsk section arose periodically, primarily for tourists traveling, since such an experience already existed.

“Shortly before the line was closed, there was a tourist retro train: a steam locomotive and several wagons. The Japanese came, among them were those who once served this site, ”recalls veteran railwayman Nikolai Chekrygin. - Of particular interest to tourists was the so-called Devil's Bridge - a unique denouement. The train first drove into the lower tunnel, made a semicircle and climbed out onto the hillside. Then he dived into another tunnel, crossed the bridge and went downhill, thus making a dizzying loop ”.

Now Rosa Khutor LLC, the operator of the ski resort of the same name in Sochi, decided to take up the development of a tourist route (the project was called Sakhalin Express). The company has not yet detailed their plans. In a recent interview with Interfax, the chairman of the board of directors of Rosa Khutor LLC, Sergey Bachin, said that the project is in the stage of reflection. In his opinion, Sakhalin Express has a chance to become a branded travel product by analogy with Glacier Express in Switzerland or Skyway in Alaska.

“This is an interesting historical railway with beautiful views. It goes through tunnels, passes and can become the backbone of the development of the tourism industry in the region, ”said Sergey Bachin.

To organize an end-to-end tourist route, a large investment is needed. Money is needed to rebuild the infrastructure: for the most part, the track has been dismantled, it is necessary to conduct an examination of the condition of abandoned bridges and tunnels, and also decide what rolling stock can carry traffic in this direction, since the service life of the last Sakhalin diesel locomotives of the TG-16 series operating on a narrow with a width of 1067 mm ends.

The Rosa Khutor company proposes at the initial stage to restore traffic from the Kholmsk station to the village of Chaplanovo, where the Devil's Bridge is located. There is still a route on this 24-kilometer section, and there is also a suburban connection on the six-kilometer stretch Kholmsk – Nikolaychuk.

Track for tourists

As noted in the government of the Sakhalin Oblast, great prospects are opening up for the island today in the light of passenger traffic. This year, a large amount of reconstruction of the region’s railway infrastructure to all-Russian standards was completed. Since autumn, the movement of trains along the 1520 mm track is carried out along the main length of the island highway.

Now they make a big bet on this type of transport, since it can be useful for the development of tourism in the region. Sakhalin Express could be another attraction for guests, especially from Japan.

Inbound tourism in the Sakhalin region shows a stable growth trend. In the 2018 year, the region was visited by 285 thousand tourists - compared with almost a decade ago, this is 1,6 times more. True, the growth driver is domestic tourism (in terms of the rate of increase in domestic tourist flow, Sakhalin is second only to Kamchatka among all regions of the Far Eastern Federal District), while the island has underused the potential to attract foreign tourists. In the case of the implementation of the plans included in the development strategy of the Sakhalin Region up to 2035 year, by 2024 year the tourist flow in the region may increase to 500 thousand people, and by 2035-th - up to 1,5 million.

However, for the development of tourism, not only quantitative growth is important, but also an increase in the decrease in the amount of funds that travelers leave on Sakhalin. If in 2015, about one 3500 rubles of paid services fell on one tourist in the region, then in 2018 the same indicator amounted to 2 050 rubles. To increase these numbers, it is necessary to offer guests attractive new tourist products, including such as a trip along the old railway, which serves as a kind of monument to the history of the development of the island region.

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