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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Virtual Trip on the Trans-Siberian

Google / For MTGoogle's virtual Trans-Siberian train approaching the far eastern city of Chita, in a screen grab from the website.

As the carriage rounds a lazy bend and speeds toward the town of Slyudyanka — a shade over 5,200 kilometers from Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Railroad — the vast expanse of Lake Baikal finally, gradually, comes into view. Its azure surface glistens in the dawn sun as the train rushes eastward, hugging the coastline of the world’s deepest lake, then passing a group of workmen who raise their shovels in greeting.

At this point, it is apparently customary to break out the vodka and smoked herring and toast to the health of one’s fellow passengers. But the ritual may be a tad excessive when sitting in front of a Mac in downtown Moscow.

This latest ambitious project from Google, in cooperation with Russian Railways, aims to bring the legendary train ride — minus the fish and the backache — to within a mouse-click of desk-bound adventurers in any part of the world. By clicking on a spot on the map, virtual passengers can skip ahead to any section of the Trans-Siberian and watch mountains, steppes and far eastern villages flash by in high definition.

Or hop off to explore towns along the way with presenter-turned-guide Yelena Abitayeva. The bubbly Yevropa Plus DJ took a month off to prospect for oil in Tyumen and chant Buddhist mantras in Ulan-Ude, in what is, incidentally, a rare example of the Internet giant, Google, putting a human face on one of its projects. Also scattered along the route are spectacular pictures of Russian landscapes from photographer Anton Lange.

The simulated clickety-clack of wheel over jointed track can become monotonous after a while, so there is the option to listen to an audiobook of the appropriately epic Leo Tolstoy classic, “War and Peace” (in Russian), but even the 1,400-page tome won’t last the entire journey.

Over the course of a month of filming, 150 hours of stunning daytime footage were shot from the window of a Trans-Siberian train, covering some 9,000 kilometers of railway track and passing through seven time zones, 12 regions and 87 towns and cities.

“This project is very special to us,” said Konstantin Kuzmin, marketing director for Google Russia. “We want to demonstrate how unusual and fascinating Russia really is and how much it can offer to a devoted tourist. We hope that this project will become the starting point not only for virtual but also for real trips across Russia.”

The journey into the heart of Russia cleverly showcases the latest technical advancements of Google’s hosted applications, such as “geo-tagged” video that allows the trip to be plotted on a map in real time, and the recently introduced YouTube support for 1,080 progressive-scan, ultra-high-definition video.

In its own way, the project also mirrors the formidable ambitions of Google, currently in a pitched battle with its top-ranked rival Yandex, to conquer Russia’s lucrative search engine market.

Go to www.google.ru/transsib for a Trans-Siberian virtual journey in Russian. An English version can be found at www.google.ru/intl/ru/landing/transsib/en.html.