Mr. Lothrop to Mr. Bayard.
St. Petersburg , May 31, 1888. (Received June 15.)
Sir: On the 27th instant, being the anniversary of the coronation of the Emperor Alexander III, the Transcaspian Railway was opened formally to Samarcand with great ceremony—an event of no common importance to Russia, and even to the world. And it may well stir the dullest imagination when we read that the crowning ceremonies were at the tomb of Tamerlane.
This road is 1,350 versts in length—about 900 miles. It crosses the Amou-Daria (the classic Oxus) by a bridge of great length, the construction of which has delayed the completion of the road for some months.
This work is principally a military road. It has been built and is controlled and operated by the minister of war. At present it is little more than a skeleton road. It is deficient in stations and rolling stock. But the great fact is accomplished. It opens the door into the great field of Central Asia. All things requisite to its efficiency will in time be added to it. Though a military road, its political, economical, and commercial uses and results will not be inconsiderable.
It brings Russia near to its coveted cotton fields, from which so much is hoped. It has already set in active motion measures for the restoration of the old magnificent system of irrigation, which has fallen into dilapidation and disuse. One of the old irrigating canals is said to have been 100 miles in length. All successful cultivation of this region is dependent on irrigation, and a great increase in the production of cotton [Page 1407] seems to be confidently expected. This is really a matter of great importance.
The importation of cotton into Russia in 1887 is said to have been 10,000,000 pouds (the poud being 36 pounds), costing 96,000,000 rubles, and constituting 30 per cent. of the entire imports of the Empire. And it is mentioned with great pleasure by the public prints that the production of cotton in Turkestan rose last year to 500,000 pouds, being double of that of any previous year.
It must not be supposed that the Transcaspian Railway is likely to rest at Samarcand. Beyond lie Taschkend, Ferghana, and Semiretch, which the Russian journals describe as “the richest provinces of Central Asia, abounding in water and inviting colonization and culture.”
As these lie in the direct path of the interest and the ambition of Russia, the early extension of the railway may be confidently anticipated.
At the same time the project of the construction of the great continental railway across Siberia to the Pacific is agitated with increased interest.
It is said that explorations of the line will be begun this year.
It hardly seems probable that the available resources of the Empire will permit the rapid prosecution of this gigantic undertaking, but it is a work which is necessary to the security and welfare t)f the Pacific possessions of Russia.
Its construction is therefore only a question of time.
I have, etc.