Outstanding railway workers of Ukraine: Sergey Witte

While working on the Odessa railway, Witte introduced new methods of traffic control, achieving an effective organization of the transport of Russian troops during the Russian-Turkish war. Sergey Witte was the first in the Russian Empire to figure out how to increase the efficiency of using steam locomotives.

In the rating “Outstanding Railway Workers of Ukraine” conducted in 2009 by the editorial office of the Magistral newspaper with the help of Ukrzaliznytsia, Sergey Witte took the honorable second place.

Outstanding railway workers of Ukraine: Sergey Witte

Serge Witte was born on June 17, 1849 in Tiflis in the family of an official who served in the apparatus of the Caucasian governorship. His father, Julius, a member of the governorship council, was the director of the department of lands in the Caucasus. After the abolition of serfdom, the Witte family lost contact with the land and belonged to the category of “service” nobility, whose livelihood was the state payment.

Witte spent his childhood and adolescence in the house of his uncle, General Rostislav Fadeev, a famous military historian and publicist. Witte was educated at home and passed the final exams at the Chisinau gymnasium as an external student.

In 1866, Witte entered the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics in Odessa at the Novorossiysk University. After graduating, in 1870, Sergey intended to remain at the Department of Mathematics. However, his mother and General Fadeev reacted negatively to this desire. Their main argument was that it was “not a noble affair.”

Uncle persuaded Sergey to work in the office of the Governor-General of Odessa while studying at the university to prepare for the defense of an academic degree. The meeting at the governor was attended by the Count Vladimir Bobrinsky, who was then Minister of Railways. Count Bobrinsky persuaded Witte to start a railroad career.

Then Sergey Witte planned to go to St. Petersburg and take an exam there for obtaining the specialty of a railway engineer. However, Count Bobrinsky was categorically against this. He said that he turned to Witte precisely because he is not a railway engineer and may lose the value of a person with a higher and mathematical education, a person who has just graduated from university and is not “infected” by any corporate, narrow spirit of a specialist. He suggested that Witte spend six months for a practical study of the railway service in order to independently complete all positions, starting with the lowest, thereby thoroughly familiarizing himself with the railway service. Sergey agreed and started working on the railway.

Witte began to study the service, passing it gradually, studying all positions related to the service of exploitation. So Sergei worked in station, freight and ticket offices, then studied the service of the assistant to the station chief and the station chief, then the controller and traffic inspector; then he held positions in various stations where freight or passenger traffic predominated. After going through all these stages, Witte became the head of the office.

At the beginning of the reign of Emperor Alexander II, the principle of state-owned operation of railways began to be viewed negatively. Kazennaya Nikolaevskaya and the operation of the Warsaw railways were transferred to the Main Union of Russian Railways. Therefore, the government sought to transfer the Odessa railway to a private society.

At that time in the south, the largest Society was the “Russian Society of Shipping and Trade”, the director of which was the captain of the 1st rank, the aide-de-camp of His Majesty Nikolai Chikhachev, a member of the State Council and future naval minister. Negotiations began on the transfer of the railway into the hands of the “Russian Society of Shipping and Trade” and, finally, the transfer was carried out.

Chikhachev immediately offers Witte to head the Odessa railway, but Sergey was not a communications engineer, so the ministry could not approve him for this position.

Remaining in the post of the head of the movement office, Witte, in fact, was in charge of the railway, and another person was the nominal leader. It was impossible to achieve special results in this way, because the entire technical railway part did not obey Witte, but the operational part obeyed. This went on for several years and during this time more than one leader has changed. Chikhachev tried once again to present Witte as head of the railway, but the Ministry of Railways remained unwavering.

In 1877 the Russian-Turkish War broke out. At this time, Chikhachev, already an admiral of His Majesty’s retinue, was appointed chief of the Black Sea defense, and therefore had to temporarily leave the post of director of the Russian Society of Shipping and Trade, then Sergey Witte became the head of the Odessa railway, subordinate to the Commander-in-Chief of the active army, Great Prince Nikolay.

After the war, the Odessa railway was connected with the Kiev-Brest and Brest-Graevskaya – this is how the Society of South-Western Railways was created.

In 1879, Sergey Witte headed the operational department of the South-Western Railways. While working on the Odessa railway, Witte introduced new methods of traffic control, achieving an effective organization of the transport of Russian troops during the Russian-Turkish war. Witte was the first in the Russian Empire to figure out how to increase the efficiency of using steam locomotives. Previously, the locomotive was in motion as long as the crew was efficient. And when the driver was resting, the locomotive was idle (the so-called European system of operating steam locomotives). Sergey Witte, without waiting for permission from the capital (due to the need to transport troops to the front as soon as possible in the conditions of the Russian-Turkish war (1877-1878)), began to change teams of drivers after a certain period of time, and the steam locomotive began to work continuously, idle only if repair or oil change (the so-called American system of operating steam locomotives).

Witte paid much attention to the development and technical equipment of the Odessa port. Has earned a reputation as a managerial administrator.

The book “Principles of Railway Tariffs for the Carriage of Goods” published in 1883, brought him fame in financial circles (later it was reprinted twice in augmented form).

Witte was the first in Russia to apply loans for grain cargo. These and other innovations made it possible to raise the net income of the railway from 470,000 rubles in 1880 to 13,000,000 rubles in 1889.

Subsequently, Sergey went a long career, reaching such positions as Minister of Railways of the Russian Empire (1891-1892), Minister of Finance of Russia (1892-1903), Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Russian Empire (1905-1906). Count Witte died on February 28, 1915.

Railway magazine “Railway Supply”

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