Samarkand Railway Station

Samarkand, Uzbekistan | C.1888

Photo Credit: Anton Panin

Five minutes until departure. Conductors stroll through the cabin as passengers take their seats, baggage is rammed into overhead compartments, and a ticket-holder who had the hardest time getting here huffs and puffs their way on board. This is the inevitable choreography that plays out daily on the high-speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent.

Following the path and legacy of the ancient Silk Road, rail was brought to Uzbekistan in the late 19th Century. Constructing railways throughout central Asia to increase their military strength, the Russian Empire created a network of lines including the legendary Trans-Caspian railway. Stretching a little over 4,000 miles connecting Tashkent to the Caspian Sea, the railroad became a vital economic stimulus and transportation resource for the entire region.

Building upon this massive achievement more than a century later, the Uzbekistan Railway opened a high-speed rail line connecting its two largest cities, Samarkand and Tashkent—after only five months of construction. Operating at speeds up to 155 mph, trains “fly” passengers through over 214 miles of track, cutting a journey that was once five hours into a two-hour breeze. The first of its kind in Central Asia, the successful rail line has spawned neighboring states such as Kazakhstan to invest in similar projects.

Bringing the old Silk Road into the 21st Century, the boarding and departing of these rail-riding speedsters are now a normal part of the minutiae of Samarkand Railway Station. However, one best not be late for their departure, as there’s no running after this train.

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