The International Steam Pages

Moscow Retro Steam 2013
Trip to the Space Village / Star City

Harvey Smith was based in and around Moscow off and on from 1997 to 2014 and has now moved to St. Petersburg. Apart from this report he has also posted information on other attractions in Moscow and the rest of Russia, there are links at the bottom of the page.

Harvey Smith writes:

Sunday 24th February 2013  has to be the best day out I have had in Russia. It was organized by Retropoezd (Link dead by May 2023) and the price was 2500 roubles per head (GBP 50 or USD 75)

The trip was to the Space Village / Star City (there's no exact translation of the Russian, Zvezdny gorodok). It is 1 hour out of town to the North East. It is now the not so secret cosmonaut training centre, not that it was ever very secret.

To digress, I had been to the “village” before but never inside the training centre. I had been walked through to the residential part by a good friend. The residential part lies outside secure area in a less secure area which is still fenced off. My friend has his family dacha next door. It lies in a forested area. So I had seen Yuri Gagarin’s monument, and the outside of his apartment from outside. When the Russians send a person to space they ritually place flowers on this Gagarin monument. I had also seen the pleasant lake with the fine houses especially imported and built for the American astronauts who came to Russia to train for the Apollo Soyuz Project in 1972. It really makes you realize what a complete farce the Cold War actually was. The Americans were living and training in the most “secret” centre in all of Russia and had their own imported American houses to boot!!!

To get back to the trip, we met at 08:45 at Yaroslavski Station on the same platform used for the Trans-Siberian expresses. Simply look for the kilometre post at the end of the platform. Although at -15C we could not miss 2 huge plumes of steam pouring from not 1 but a tender to tender double-head of 2 class L 2-10-0 locomotives (numbers L-2344 and L-3653). These are fine beasts. 4200 were built between 1945 and 1955. For those who like the look of American locos then you will probably love Class Ls. The design took a lot from US design practice. They were stockpiled in the 1960s in huge numbers in reserves. Many are still reserves, many are plinthed and a few are in museums. They may be the most preserved locomotive in the world. They are 2-10-0 and are the last of the Russian Decapod designs. They are related to the Chinese class QJ locomotives. The Class L design was stretched and the Soviet Class LV 2-10-2 design was the result. The QJ was a copy of the Class LV with smoke deflectors reminiscent of the Soviet Class P36. Otherwise the Class LV and the Class QJ are essentially the same. So you could say the Class L was the Chinese QJs shorter and older cousin.

The journey out was smooth owing to the combined 4 cylinders of the 2 class Ls. We were entertained by a knowledgeable and friendly guide called Alexi who is a railway enthusiast, and a very enthusiastic one at that! I had seen the carriages before on my trip around the Moscow ring railway nearly 3 years earlier. In addition to historical photos on the walls of the carriages, the carriages now sport A3 photos of various Russian steam locos on the ceiling above the luggage racks. Alexi used these to good effect as he explained some of the history of Russian steam loco design. He also pointed out items of interest such as the rocket factory we passed. Across the roofs of the factory I glimpsed the top of a rocket now plinthed as a memorial. Alexi even pointed out small details such as the shadow of the steam locos and smoke on the fresh white snow. We were also treated to plenty of whistle blowing as we passed non-stop through stations and over numerous level crossings.

We arrived at the once secret platform in the woods. But before we walked to the space centre we were treated to a good display of steam as the locos drew away. In the Russian sub-zero temperatures steam really bellows. The drivers did their best to make as much steam blow in every direction possible. We were then led to the space training centre through the woods. The path is lined with various Soviet era monuments. If you take a translator I suggest asking the translator to translate some of the statements on a few monuments. I find the contents interesting. They give some idea of the communist mind set. We were split into 2 groups. The training centre is VERY impressive. It contains some fantastic facilities. We saw a planetarium with 9000 stars. It used to train the cosmonauts in navigation. You can only see 3000 stars from earth. We also saw a swimming pool with a space station in it for space walk training. Then there was a mock up of the MIR space station, a mock up of the international space station and Soyuz training capsules. They also showed us a huge centrifuge. They use it to train cosmonauts for G-forces. The arm weights 305 tonnes. The centrifuge was built more than 30 years ago and despite this fact it does not appear in anyway dated, quite the opposite in fact. Inside the end of the arm the cosmonaut sits in a sphere which rotates him in 3 dimensions as the entire thing is swung around. Apparently Nasa do not possess a centrifuge that can do this so the Russians regard theirs as the best in the world.

Before we set off back to Moscow we were treated to another steam display with the 2 class Ls approaching from a distance doing their best to let off as much steam in all directions as possible. The journey back Alexi again entertained us with more facts about steam locos. Tea and refreshments were served and souvenirs were on offer. The arrival back at 15.00 was a great photo opportunity. One of the loco drivers very kindly let me get a photo in the cab of L2344 posing as the driver. I also took the opportunity to get my photo with both the Trans- Siberian kilometre post and L3653 over my shoulder, which was definitely one for the photo album. 

Finally, “Thank you” Retropoezd and Russian Railways for a great day out. Oh and “Thank you” to the good old CCCP for preserving so many Class Ls in reserves.

Rob Dickinson