Kids' Railway on a Roll

MT
Dressed in a crisp, blue uniform with military stripes on the shoulders, Dmitry Sinitsin expertly lets off the brake in the locomotive and checks the temperature and pressure gauges. Picking up the radio, he informs the station that the train is ready to depart.

He looks like any professional engineer doing his job. There is only one major difference.

"Dima" is only 17 years old.

This is Dima's sixth year working on the Moscow Children's Railroad in Kratovo, a village about 40 kilometers outside the city. He has been operating the locomotive for five years, and is planning a career with the railroad when he graduates from high school.

"I've always been a railroad fanatic," he said.

The Children's Railroad, which is celebrating its 70th year in operation, transports passengers from its Yunost Station to Kratovo Lake, a popular spot for rest and relaxation. Since it was constructed in 1937, the railroad has transported more than three million passengers.

Children from ages 11 to 16 perform all the duties associated with the railroad, including that of engineer, attendant, flagman and stationmaster. Older youths, such as Dima, often stay to help instruct the younger children.


Vladimir Filonov / MT
Yegor Nikolayev driving the train on the children's railroad, where all duties are performed by children aged from 11 to 16.


"It's such a unique enterprise, where children can feel like adults," said Marina Kozina, head of the Children's Railroad. "They can make their dreams reality here."

However, the railroad is no game. The children have to undergo a five-year training period. Studying under railroad specialists, they spend three years studying theory and two years actively practicing the art of working the railroad.

Kozina said participation on the railroad is open to all children, who are able to study at no cost. She herself began working on the railroad when she was a schoolgirl in 1972. She has been the director of the railroad for 17 years.

A refreshing change from the stark gray of the nearby Moscow railroad, the Children's Railroad is a splash of color in the Kratovo forest. The station, a pale yellow building with a red-shingled roof, is surrounded by a matching yellow and red metal fence. The locomotives are a gleaming blue and red.

The decision to construct the children's railroad was made at a 1935 meeting of Young Pioneers, inspired by the example set by Tbilisi children who built the first such railroad in 1935. Guided by experienced railroad workers, the children began building the railroad in the summer of 1936.


Vladimir Filonov / MT
The railroad takes passengers to Kratovo Lake, a popular rest and recreation spot.
Almost one year later, on May 2, 1937, nearly 3,000 people gathered at the station, hoping for the opportunity to ride the very first train to leave from the platform.

The railroad has been in operation since that time. It stopped only during World War II, when several of the young railroad workers left for the front.

"From Soviet times to the present day, this has been a place where all children, without exception, can come and get valuable training in modern technology," Kozina said.

Though the pursuit is a serious one, there is time for friendly competition. Every two years, children come from railroads across the former Soviet Union to determine who has best mastered their craft.

In one of the contests, a glass of water is placed on a table in the one of the train's cabins. Engineers must race to their destination without spilling a drop.


Vladimir Filonov / MT
Marina Kozina, head of the railroad.
Leonid Uvarov, 15, works as an attendant on the railroad. Bent over a computerized map of the train route, he checked to make sure everything was running according to schedule. He, like Dima, plans a career with the railroad.

"I just like it here," he said.

In 2005, the railroad underwent major renovations, thanks to a generous donation from the Moscow railroad administration.

When the issue of renovating the railroad arose, the administration consulted the most knowledgeable sources: the children themselves. Construction workers listened to the children's ideas, and fulfilled 90 percent of them.

Though Kozina said she appreciated the generosity of the railroad administration, she acknowledged that some self-interest was involved as well.

"They knew that these children are the future of the railroad," Kozina said.

To reach the railroad, take a train from Kazansky station, near Komsomolskaya metro station, to the Otdykh or Kratovo platform. During the summer, the train runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily except Monday and Tuesday; check current schedule on the Internet site www.dzd-ussr.ru or by phoning (49646) 3-62-89.