What is it
The Baikal–Amur Mainline (Baikalo-Amurskaya Magistral’), also known as BAM, is a 4,300 km long railway line that uns north and parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railway, crossing Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, some of Russia’s least hospitable lands.
It was built primarily for military reasons as a strategic alternative to the Trans-Siberian, which runs quite close to the Chinese border and was hence considered more vulnerable. The project was initiated in 1930 and, at least till 1953, its construction was largely operated by Gulag prisoners, including Germans and Japanese war prisoners (it is estimated that around 150,000 people died in the process). After Stalin’s death, works came to a halt and were restarted in 1974 under Brezhnev, to be completed in the late ’80s.
The BAM splits from the Trans-Siberian at Tayshet, about 700 kilometres west of Lake Baikal and passing it from its northern tip at Severobaikalsk. It the crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure and reaches the Pacific Ocean at Sovetskaya Gavan. The line is not fully electrified and mostly single-tracked. There are 21 tunnels along this line and more than 4000 high bridges, so one thing you can expect from it is stunning landscaped and amazing views of Lake Baikal.
While it costed billions of rubles, the BAM is significantly underused, and very few foreigners ever use it. Hence, contrary to the cities along the Trans-Siberian, which have developed through increased train traffic, the towns along the BAM have remained virtually unchanged and seem to belong to a land forgotten by time.
So, if you want to check out some really out-of-the-way placed, immersed in stunning nature, the BAM is the best way for you to get there!
Tips: while the line officially starts at Tayshet, the best way to integrate the BAM on your Trans-Siberian trip is from Severobaikalsk, which is reachable from Irkutsk (either by train, bus or ferry), and either get off at Komsomolsk from where you can head to Khabarovsk and rejoin the Trans-Siberian to Vladivostok, or ride till Panino, cross the Tatar straight to Sakhalin, and then head on to Japan.