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Transferring wagons from the Sakhalin (Japanese) gauge to the Russian gauge at the Kholmsk Port

On the right track Russia’s Sakhalin finishes regauging railways the USSR inherited from Japan after WWII

Transferring wagons from the Sakhalin (Japanese) gauge to the Russian gauge at the Kholmsk Port
Transferring wagons from the Sakhalin (Japanese) gauge to the Russian gauge at the Kholmsk Port
Sergey Krasnoukhov / TASS

Russia’s Sakhalin Island has finished converting its last section of railway tracks that still retained the narrower track gauge inherited from Japan after the end of the Second World War. The project, which began in 2003, was near completion in the summer of 2019. Standardizing the railway is envisioned as step towards another major construction project for the region — a railway bridge connecting Sakhalin Island to the Russian mainland.

Russia’s Sakhalin Island has opened traffic on the reconstructed section of its Kholmsk—Nikolaychuk railway, the industry outlet reported on Friday, November 13. Prior to the reconstruction, this 8.4 kilometers (5.2 miles) of railway track was the last remaining section on the island to retain the 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) track gauge that’s standard in Japan. Now, all of Sakhalin’s railways have been converted to the Russian gauge of 5 ft (1,520 mm). 

From 1905 to 1945, the southern portion of Sakhalin island belonged to Japan. After the end of World War II, ownership of the Japanese half of the island was handed over to the Soviet Union, but at that point more than 700 kilometers of railway track had already been built there. Since the northern portion of the island only had about 40 kilometers of railway track — and the Sakhalin railway system was cut off from the rest of the USSR — the authorities decided to leave the narrower, Japanese gauge in place and continue to build tracks according to this standard going forward. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, the railway’s operational length exceeded 1,000 kilometers.

Converting the tracks to the Russian gauge standard began in 2003. The regional authorities attributed the change to the need to reduce operating costs, which were several times higher than the average due to the fact that freight cars that arrived on the island from the mainland via the Vanino—Kholmsk ferry had to be transferred to the narrower gauge. 

The main part of the regauging work was completed in the summer of 2019 and there was even a solemn ceremony to launch the new tracks. The acting governor at the time, Valery Limarenko, called the transition to the Russian gauge an important step towards the construction of a railway bridge to connect Sakhalin to the Russian mainland.

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Story by Grigory Levchenko

Translation by Eilish Hart