Unified Deep Water System of European Russia (EGTC) is the system of inland waterways of Russia, linking the White Sea, the Baltic Sea , the Volga, Moscow, the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea. Guaranteed depth throughout the EGTC are not less than 4.5 meters, allowing passage through it, not only by river vessels and river-sea class, but many sea-going vessels, warships and even nuclear submarines (on the surface).
The Russian Empire at the dawn of the 20th Century was, in many respects, the most remarkable in the world. With an area of more than eight and a half million of square miles, and a population of no millions, it was larger than the whole of the British Empire, including India, Canada, and Australia, and was about seventy times the size of the British Islands alone. It was natural that the internal transport of such a vast territory should present problems of deep interest, and should tax the resources of the engineers that have been from time to time occupied with their determination. This was more than ordinarily difficult because of the vast distances to be traversed, and the inclement character of the climate, which practically sealed up navigation entirely over a great part of the Empire for about six months of the year. Happily, the Empire was provided with a very ample river system, having, indeed, longer and deeper rivers than any other country in Europe, which meant, of course, that water transport is available over long distances, without making any special or costly provision for that purpose.
The enormous distances over which merchandise has been carried in pre-raihvay times, throughout the Russian Empire is justly regarded as one of the most remarkable chapters in the history of transportation. For many years, large quantities of iron, salt, gold and silver, furs and skins, tallow, leather, marble and precious stones, in addition to the special products of China, were carried from the latter country to St. Petersburg, a distance of fully 2000 miles. The route adopted appears to have been by the Selenga to the Baikal Lake, and thence by the Angara to the Yenisey, where the merchandise was unloaded and carried overland as far as the river Ket. By this stream it was carried to the Obb, and thence up the Irtish and the Tobol, where it was again unloaded, and carried overland to the Tchussovaia.
The work planned and achieved by Peter the Great in the construction of canals was little short of marvellous. It was he who planned the grand scheme for uniting the Caspian and the Baltic with the Black Sea, by the junction of the Volga and the Don. It was he, also, who began the Ladoga Canal in 1718, although it was not completed until the reign of the Empress Anne. This canal, as constructed, connected the Volkof with the Neva in a navigation of 67^ miles, with a uniform breadth of 70 feet, and a mean depth of 10 feet in spring and 7 feet in summer. Peter the Great connected Astracan and Petersburg by the canal of Vishni-Volotchok, although the canal was afterwards considerably improved by the Empress Catherine.
The Baltic and the Caspian Seas were united in the early part of the 19th century by three different systems of canals – the first uniting the Neva with the Volga by Lake Ilmen and the canal of Vishni Volotchok; the second uniting the Neva with the Volga, by the Ladoga Canal, and by the canals of Tichwin and Sjas; and the third joining the same rivers by Lake Onega and the Maria Canal, which unites the rivers Wytegra and Kowspaga. The Baltic and the Black Sea, like the Baltic and the Caspian, were connected in the early part of the century by three different systems of canal communication.
The Soviet Union used an extensive inland navigational network, both natural (rivers and lakes) and man made (canals and reservoirs). The waterways enabled a variety of general and special-purpose river craft to transport the output of mines, forests, collective farms, and factories to domestic and foreign destinations. Some Soviet ships took on cargo at river ports located well inland and delivered it directly to ports on the Arctic, Atlantic, or Pacific oceans or on the Baltic, North, or Mediterranean seas. An inland passenger fleet transported millions of commuters, as well as business and pleasure travelers. Inland waterways were of prime importance to the economic viability of remote Arctic, Siberian, and Far Eastern regions, where they constituted the main, and often the sole, means of surface transportation.
The Volga River was the single most important inland waterway in the Soviet Union, accounting for over half the river traffic of the country. Navigation on the Volga system was enhanced by seven major dams constructed in the Soviet period. The Volga-Don Canal in the south provided a sea outlet through the Black Sea, and the Volga-Baltic Waterway in the north, and the Volga-Baltic Waterway in the north provided a sea outlet through the Baltic Sea.
Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the new regime decided first on reconstruction and then on expansion and modernization of the inland waterway system. The plan encompassed opening to navigation, or expanding navigation on, major rivers, particularly in the Asian part of the Soviet Union, and included new infrastructure ashore.
The Soviet system of forced labor camps was first established in 1919 under the Cheka, but it was not until the early 1930s that the camp population reached significant numbers. By 1934 the Gulag, or Main Directorate for Corrective Labor Camps, then under the Cheka’s successor organization the NKVD, had several million inmates. Prisoners included murderers, thieves, and other common criminals–along with political and religious dissenters. The Gulag, whose camps were located mainly in remote regions of Siberia and the Far North, made significant contributions to the Soviet economy in the period of Joseph Stalin. Gulag prisoners constructed the White Sea-Baltic Canal, the Moscow-Volga Canal, the Baikal-Amur main railroad line, numerous hydroelectric stations, and strategic roads and industrial enterprises in remote regions.
In the 1930s, two major canals were constructed: one connecting the Baltic and White seas, 227 kilometers long, with nineteen locks; the other connecting Moscow to the Volga River, 128 kilometers long. Both were built using prisoners, the first at a cost of about 225,000 lives. The Moscow-Volga Canal, built between 1932 and 1937, flows 80 miles from the Volga to the Moskva River at Moscow. By 1940 about 108,900 kilometers of river and 4,200 kilometers of man-made waterways were in operation, which allowed movement of 73.9 million tons originated of freight.
During World War II, most of the inland fleet was converted to landing craft for river-crossing operations. As a result of hostilities, inland navigation suffered losses in vessels, canals, and shore installations. The Fourth Five-Year Plan provided for the restoration of navigation on major waterways in the European part of the Soviet Union after World War II. It included repair of the fleet, construction of new vessels, and rebuilding and expansion of port installations.
In the 1950s, construction of the 101-kilometer canal connecting the Volga and Don rivers, also built using prisoners, brought all the major inland river ports within the reach of the Black, Baltic, Caspian, Azov, and White seas. The navigable length of the inland waterway network reached its peak of 144,500 kilometers in 1970. Thereafter, it began to decline as, on the one hand, distance-cutting reservoirs and canals were opened to navigation and, on the other hand, navigation was discontinued on rivers with a low traffic density.
By 1987 the length of inland waterways under navigation was reduced to 122,500 kilometers, exclusive of the Caspian Sea. Navigational channels were deepened, and canals and locks were widened. New waterways, including tributaries of major rivers, were developed in Siberia and the Far East. As part of that process, the ports of Omsk and Novosibirsk were expanded, and new ports were built at Tomsk, Surgut, and Tobol’sk. Equipment capable of handling twenty-ton containers was installed at Krasnoyarsk, Osetrovsk, and ports in the Yakutiya region. The most heavily navigated sections of Siberia’s Ob’, Irtysh, Yenisey, and Lena rivers were deepened to the “minimum guaranteed depth” of three meters.
Further development of navigation on smaller rivers in the Far East was begun in the early 1980s, and navigation increased on other waterways serving industrialized areas. By 1985 the Volga and Kama river locks had reached their traffic limits and required widening. To respond to increased demand and to replace obsolete vessels, 1,020 dry bulk and oil barges, 247 passenger vessels, and 945 pusher tugs, freighters, and tankers were put into service between 1981 and 1985.