Saturday, April 6, 2013

Transmongolian Railroad and the Diorama Illusion

Two people have made a 4 minute "travelogue" of their 7,500 mile train trip from Beijing to Moscow using the video capability of one of the DSLRs.    A large part of this journey is on the Trans Siberian Railroad of course.

Few rail lines can compete historically with the Trans Siberian Railroad. (1) It was built starting in 1891 and started from both ends to meet in the middle. Started by the Czars and completed just before the Bolshevik Revolution, the railroad connects Petrograd (St. Petersburg, Leningrad) and Vladisvostok, the longest railroad in existence.   Of course, St Petersburg was the capital of Imperial Russia at the time and Vladivostok was their relatively ice free port on the Pacific Ocean.

You can start to see the diorama effect / illusion in this picture

The Trans Siberian Railroad is famous for opening up Siberia, for the role it played in the Russian Revolution and the Civil War, in World War 1 and World War 2.  If you saw the movie Reds (1981) with Warren Beatty, it features prominently in that.     When Moscow nearly fell to the Germans in the winter of 1941, it was the secret transfer of the armies of Siberia to Moscow in a triumph of logistics that stopped the Germans and threw them back in one of the great battles of history.

With John Reed on the Trans Siberian Railroad 

For those who are considering a trip on the Trans Siberian Railroad, here is a humorous link in something called "Wikitravel":

A friend of mine who has been on this train says that by the end of trip you realize that train travel is not all that romantic if they do not clean out the latrine cars often enough.

At Chita, one can turn south and connect to a train that goes to Beijing.

Its 4 minutes long, its very interesting, and the music is great.

But what I find very interesting is that I keep seeing the so-called diorama illusion when I watch it.  The diorama illusion is the illusion that something that is life size when photographed a certain way looks as though it is a model.   The classic examples of these were Viewmaster photographs of something small.   It has to do with a shallow depth of field.

Here is a Wikipedia page on the topic:

In general the digital cameras have a more shallow depth of field because they are using lenses that have smaller focal lengths.  Why it is we associate the shallow depth of field with the illusion of a model I do not know.

An article about the film (use Google Chrome and it will translate it for you):

Wikipedia on the Trans Siberian Railway



1. Perhaps one of the very few that might compete with the Trans Siberian is the legendary Berlin -Baghdad Railway which played a role in WW1 and is no longer operational.


  1. Hi Global Wahrman,
    Enjoyed your writing about the trans Siberian train. The most fascinating experience I had on this train from (only) Beijing to Ulan Bataar was that they lifted up the car up in the air while the passengers were still in --- in order to change its wheels. To accommodate the different gauge of rails between China and Mongolia!

    Actually, now I remember they will give you a choice to either stay inside or outside. (But you cannot go in and out during the wheel change!) ANyway, I regret I stayed inside. I could have seen more if I was outside... it took a long felt almost like 4 hours but maybe 2 hours in real.

    Another interesting thing I noticed was the food car. Each country provides their own food car. Every time they cross boarder, they change food car. (or maybe was just staffs and food only?) it's like going to a different restaurant. Chinese food car was the best in terms of food variety.

    Re: music in the movie: throat singing? nice.


  2. I am amazed that they are able to change the undercarriage of the car for the different gauges, or that they would choose to do so. Its very amusing actually. I love the idea of the different food cars, one could imagine several different food cars simultaneously to give options for cuisine. My problem with these things is that after about 12 or 16 hours, I get tired of the experience and want a break. Thanks for commenting, please keep doing so.