Еhe summer of 1953 was the time of making large-scale plans for the future. The international situation was favorable for optimism: the economic crisis that started in the US in 1929 spread over the whole capitalist world. Any engineers and rank-and-file workers from Western countries started to arrive at communist construction sites. M0sc0w grew quickly: as compared with 1912, its population grew by one million two hundred thousand people. All of them had to eat and drink, to have accommodation, to be transported to and from work and, what was most important, to have jobs.
On 15 June 1931 a CPSU Central Committee Plenary Meeting adopted a resolution that stipulated construction of new residential areas, power and heating stations, metro, and a water supply canal to connect the Moskva river with the upper reaches of the Volga river. Later on, the plan was adjusted: the canal was to be used not only for water supply, but also for carrying cargo and passengers with the help of wonderful vessels to be built specially for standardized dimensions of water locks and overall guaranteed dimensions of the navigable channel.
As long as the canal performed two functions simultaneously, the new vessels had to be what is now called ‘ecologically clean’: they were not pollute river water. Therefore, there became a need to arrange new shipbuilding capabilities in several cities of Russia, to introduce most yup-to-date technologies – all that to be completed by 1937.
In addition to vessels for the canal, other civil vessels were required, for instance, tankers that would be bringing Baku crude oil to a huge refinery in Kapotnya (then called Cracking Plant No. 413). With this end, a shipbuilding and repairing yard was built and launched in Moscow, the existing shipbuilding plants in the Volga area were dramatically expanded and new ones were built.
During implementation of the first and the second five-year plans, from 1933 through 1941, Russian shipbuilding yards built 884 self-propelled river vessels and 440 towable vessels, around 70 industrial ships, over one thousand motor boats. At the same time, large-scale river infrastructure was constructed, the flagship of which is the Northern River Boat Terminal in Moscow (1937).
Civil river fleet and infrastructure has made tremendous input into economic development and logistics during the World War II as well as into the post-war reconstruction. Later, when the United deep-water transportation system of the European part of Russia was being created, the river shipbuilding industry was being established alongside with it as part of the unified government program of the country development.
In this context one should not indulge in allusions that in severe 1930-s there were no such things as confrontation between departmental or regional interests. Technical discussions could easily turn into political ones, search for an optimal solution of a complex issue could turn into a search for a saboteur. Hence, high rates of growth had their high price.
It may seem that those events of the past have minimal relation to present-day life. However, it takes only to walk along the banks of the Moskva river to see that the past is still with us (and in some cases, again with us). The Northern River Boat Terminal was degrading for many years, but now it makes a brilliant display. Water level in the Moskva and embankments and jetties designed with the account of the water level result from solutions made in 1930’s.
Many vessels that can be seen from the Kremlin towers are often real witnesses of bygone eras. M-88 is one of them. It is 69 years old; it was built at the Moscow shipbuilding and ship-repairing yard in 1952 pursuant to Project 554 (‘Moskvitch’, a.k.a. as ‘M’). All in all, 283 such vessels were built at the Moscow shipyard, and a total of over 500 were built throughout the USSR. Now 25 ships of that type operate on the Moskva river, however they now bear more exotic names (from ‘Alina Tango’ to ‘Yunga’). The M-88 has a long work history: first, it operated in Gorky, then in Syzran, and entered the Moscow water space only in 2020.
When the M-88 operates on its route, it makes a stop at the Zaryadye Park. At the same jetty the Moscow government installed a dummy of a future Moscow water bus. So far it is just a dummy on a pontoon: visitors can only see its interior design and believe bare word that it will operate on electric batteries. However, the Moscow Mayor has made a serious statement that tunes in to the spirit of the time: alongside with electric buses that have replaced trolleybuses in the Russian capital, with new models of trams and metro trains, Moscow plans to launch up-to-date river transport exactly in 2022, when the M-88 will celebrate its 70th birthday. It has been announced that, at first, 20 water buses will be cruising from Kiyevsky Railway Terminal to the district of Fili, and from the Avtozavodsky bridge to the district of Pechatniki (that, for the time being, will not compete with the M-88 that operates near the Kremlin). And who can tell what will happen next?
Personally, I like the exterior of the M-88 more than that of the incomprehensible dark object installed on the pontoon, likewise, many buildings of Stalin’s Empire architectural style look more awesome than modern glass and concrete box-like buildings. Nevertheless, there is the other side of the coin: new vessels should comply with limitations imposed by life in a big city. The city should get cleaner – to provide fresh air for breathing, it should get quieter to provide tranquility, it should get safer and more comfortable so that its inhabitants do not intend to flee to other cities and countries. With regard to the above three parameters, the M-88 will most likely concede to the future electric water bus and, after that, will remain just a monument, hopefully operational.
The initiative of the Moscow government is a vivid example of how current customers imagine up-to-date shipbuilding. Naturally, not every area has economic conditions for establishing onshore infrastructure for such vessels, not every city and region can afford such vessels, not every region will have an effective demand for them. And more important, far from all regional governments have enough time to study the issue (even Moscow could address the issue only this year – 15 years after shutting down the last municipal river transport route in the city). Of greater importance is that they have come to understand that the industry cannot be left unattended.
Like the suburban railway train makes no sense without rail tracks, like the bus is ineffective without adequate motor roads, the river transport is not viable without large-scale well-designed infrastructure, without well-developed shipbuilding and ship repairing industries and without proper maintenance of current hydrotechnical facilities and construction of new ones. The same is true about the marine fleet, but wit that regard the state policy is more prominent and bears fruit. The Northern Sea Route, is in fact operated by a single company that resolves large scale problems comprehensively and with vision for the future, and orders vessels and develops infrastructure pursuant to that vision. With regard to rivers, the situation is more difficult, and we much more often witness, and will keep on witnessing in the foreseeable future, splendid heritage of the bygone eras. One would prefer to more often see what our era will leave to future generations.
«The capital intends to provide itself with up-to-date river electric transport.» Alexey Rakhmanov