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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Development of Automotive Transport

In 1910 a railroad car factory in Riga began producing the first passenger automobiles and trucks in imperial Russia. Under the Soviet regime, automotive transportation developed more slowly than in western Europe and the United States. As early as the 1930s, problems of poor road infrastructure, shortage of spare parts, and insufficient fueling, repair, and maintenance facilities plagued automotive transportation. Some manufacturing plants were set up with Western help.

During World War II, automotive production concentrated almost exclusively on trucks and light, jeep-like vehicles. Their chassis were also adapted for armored cars and amphibious and other types of military vehicles. During major battles and operations, automotive transportation carried needed troops and matériel to the front. While Leningrad lay besieged (1941-44), trucks, driving over the frozen surface of Lake Ladoga, brought in about 600,000 tons of supplies and brought out over 700,000 persons. During the entire war, Soviet automotive transport carried over 101 million tons of freight in support of military operations. A sizable portion of the Soviet vehicle fleet was provided by the United States as part of the lend-lease agreement.

Since 1945 Soviet authorities have continued highway construction, so that by 1987 the public road networks, which excluded roads of industrial and agricultural enterprises, amounted to 1,609,900 kilometers, of which 1,196,000 kilometers were in the hard-surfaced category--concrete, asphalt, or gravel. Nevertheless, about 40 percent of this category of roads were gravel. In addition, there were 413,900 kilometers of unsurfaced roads.

The road network varied in density according to the geographic area and the industrial concentration. Thus, the Estonian Republic had the highest road density while the Russian and Kazakh republics had the lowest. The latter republics, however, contained vast, economically underdeveloped and sparsely populated areas. Overall, the European portion, excluding the extreme northern and Arctic areas, had the densest road network, particularly in areas having concentrations of industries and population (see fig. 19).

In 1989 many roads were not all-weather roads but rather were unimproved and unstable in bad weather, especially during thaws and rains. Except for 25,000 kilometers of all-weather surfaces, all rural roads in the European and Central Asian parts of the country, as well as all roads in Siberia and the Far East, were little better than dirt tracks. Trucks, carrying light loads (fewer than four tons) and traveling at low speeds, broke down frequently. These roads caused delays in shipments, high fuel consumption, and increased tire wear. In marshy and permafrost areas, unsurfaced roads were usable only when the ground and rivers were frozen, from about November to May. Russians have coined a word, rasputitsa, to describe the time of year when roads are impassable. Repair and refueling facilities along rural roads were rare or nonexistent. Nevertheless, in rural areas, roads were the prime arteries for shipping farm products and bringing in the required equipment and supplies. Poor road conditions were a major factor in the Soviet Union's serious agricultural problems, particularly the one of perishables spoiling before they reached the market. Rural populations relied on bus transportation over poor roads for essential access to urban areas.

Data as of May 1989