THE IMPERIAL TRAINS
Nicholas II

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Emperor Nicholas II on board the Imperial Train

These pages are maintained by Royal Russia and Gilbert's Royal Books.
© 2004-2010. All Rights Reserved.

© Article researched and written by Valentina Tenikhina


The abdication of Nicholas II, one of the most momentous events in the history of Russia, took place in an unusual situation and in a casual place, during the Emperor’s travel from the General Headquarters to Tsarskoe Selo. The carriages of the train, where the abdication was signed, became the mute witnesses of the tragedy of Russia.

In 1929 the two carriages, used as a bedroom and dining-room, were transferred to the Peterhof Museum as having exclusive historical significance and being of indubitable interest from the point of view of their technical design.

Emperor Nicholas II, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the Tsesarevich Alexis dining in the Empress' carriage

After the crash of the Imperial train at Borki in 1888, Alexander III ordered to build two new trains—one for travels abroad and one for travels within Russia. Before the completion of their construction, the so-called temporary train was made up of repaired and newly equipped carriages. It was used by Alexander III and, after his death, by Empress Maria Feodorovna. The design of the train, its materials and facilities envisaged a special, heightened system of security. To ensure comfort, the newest technical achievements of advanced European countries were taken into account, studied and used. The interiors were remarkable for their lavish décor. The walls and furnishings were upholstered in stamped leather and varicolored silks; the floors were covered with carpets; the furniture of red beech and satinwood was decorated with carving and elaborate inlays.

The train served as a model for the creation of a seven-car train for travels within Russia and intended for the heir apparent Nicholas Alexandrovich (the future Nicholas II). It was built in 1894-96 in the Main Car Workshops of the Nicholas Railway Line. And although the train was designed to accommodate the family of Emperor Nicholas II, already in 1896-97 it was supplemented with three more carriages produced at the Warsaw Railway Workshops. Subsequently the make-up of the train was repeatedly altered, old carriages were replaced with new ones and their interior décor underwent changes. In 1902, the train consisted of ten carriages: a sleeping-car, a saloon car, carriages intended for children, the grand dukes, and the Emperor’s retinue, as well as carriages for railway servicemen, a kitchen, servants, luggage and workshops. Later the eleventh carriage used as a church was added.

The Saloon-Car on the Imperial Train

Table with ink-pot, Saloon-Car

The carriages of the train were painted blue; the seams were decorated with gilding; all wooden parts were made of Indian teak. The carriages had the chased ormolu coats-of-arms between the windows. The walls and furnishings were upholstered, mainly in English cretonne with plant ornaments; silk fabrics and leather were amply used. The panels, ceilings and furniture, made of polished oak, walnut, white and gray beech, maple and Karelian birch, were covered with linoleum and carpets. The carriages intended for the Imperial family were particularly comfortable. They were provided with everything necessary for convenient life and fruitful work.

Originally a bimetallic bath (of copper outside and silver inside) was installed between the studies of the Emperor and the Empress. It was made in Paris and had several reflectors at the sides, to evade the splashing of water when the train moved. Later the train interiors were upholstered and provided with furniture in the Art Nouveau style produced by Robert Meltzer.

The Dining-Car on the Imperial Train

The family of Nicholas II used this train to travel over Russia, to Moscow and to the Crimea. On replacing its bogies the train could be shifted to narrower tracks. During the war a shorter version of the royal train was used. The aide-de-camp Colonel Mordvinov recalled: “The Imperial train was not large. In its center was the Emperor’s carriage, with his bedroom compartment and study, and next to it was, on one side, our retinue carriage of eight compartments and, on the other, a dining-car with a compartment for receptions. Further on there was a kitchen with a buffet, a carriage used by a traveling military office; the last service carriage was occupied by railway engineers and the head of the railway line where the train was to go.” The royal train was accompanied by another one intended for the retinue, which followed it with an hour interval.

The sleeping-car incorporated the studies of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, dressing compartments with wash-basins, compartments of the lady-in-waiting and of the valet, and a wardrobe. The Empress’s compartment had a bed with carved decorations suspended on belts as a hammock. The compartment was separated from the study by a screen of blue silk with a flower pattern. All the draperies, the bedspread and the upholstery of armchairs and chairs were in blue silk with matching patterns; a carpet on the floor had a design of flowers and leaves against a birch green ground. The furniture was of Karelian birch and cedar. The richly carved desk was upholstered in gold-stamped leather; on the desk were a silver writing set of twelve articles, a lamp, a blotting-pad and a paper-case; numerous family photographs and icons adorned the walls.

The Private Study and Sleeping-Car of Emperor Nicholas II

The study of Nicholas II was provided with furniture of Karelian birch and beech upholstered in brown leather. On the table, also upholstered in gold-stamped leather stood a bronze gilded writing set of twelve objects. Books, magazines, maps, albums and photographs were also kept there. The study was illuminated by gilded bronze sconces; the floor was covered with a cherry-colored plush carpet.

The carriage used for meals and receptions consisted of the two sections: the dining-compartment itself with a small buffet for snacks, where people gathered for meals and tea, and the compartment where headquarters assemblies and receptions were held.

The Private Study and Sleeping-Car of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna

The décor of the dining compartment was sustained in warm brown tints; its furniture was made of bright polished oak, the chairs were lined in brown leather and fastened with copper nails, the tables and the mirror shelves were covered with brown cloth and the floor with a grayish-blue carpet; the satin curtains were of the same color. The dining compartment was lit by two bronze chandeliers with ball-shaped shades of frosted glass and table lamps. The walls of the dining compartment were decorated with a portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and the icon of The Vernicle in a silver mount with enamel decoration.

The saloon had soft mahogany furniture in the Art Nouveau style. The walls, sofas, armchairs and chairs were lined in striped pistachio curtains; a plush carpet on the floor had a checked design. The saloon was illuminated by bronze sconces mounted on the walls and table lamps with silk shades. The interior was embellished with porcelain and glass vases, a clock of black marble and coloured stone, an ash-tray of red stone and Dutch porcelain. A portable crystal ink-pot with a silver cover stood on one of the tables; a special table was intended for various games: dominoes, chess, draughts, bezique, etc.

A smiling Tsesarevich Alexis standing on the platform in front of the Imperial Train

It was in this carriage that on 2 March, 1917 Nicholas II announced to Alexander Guchkov and Vasily Shulgin, the envoys of the State Duma, about his decision to abdicate taken the day before. “It was a large saloon-car”, Vasily Shulgin recalled. “Green silk at the corners. Several tables. . . The Sovereign took a seat by a small rectangular table placed up against the green silk wall. Guchkov sat on another side of the table. I sat near Guchkov, diagonally across from the Tsar. Baron Fredericks was opposite the Tsar. . . I don’t remember exactly when the Tsar stood up and went to the next carriage to sign the act. About a quarter past eleven the Tsar again entered our carriage—he had several small-format leaves in his hands. He said: ‘This is my abdication act, read it. . .’ There were the words ‘The General Headquarters’ on the main leaf and ‘The Chief of Staff’ on the right-hand one. The signature was put in pencil.”

After the carriages were given to the Peterhof musem, they were placed in the Alexandria Park, by the diverging avenues not far from the highway. The décor of the carriages has survived practically intact and when they became museum objects some articles were even added from the Lower Dacha. Near the carriages a platform and two wooden structures were built in which an exhibition was mounted dedicated to the history of the train, the war of 1914-18 and the details of the abdication and fate of Emperor Nicholas II and his family.

The carriages of the royal train were destroyed during the War of 1941-45, but some memorial objects kept in them have survived in the stocks of the Peterhof Museum Complex .

After the Revolution, several cars of the Imperial Train were given to the Peterhof Museum Complex and placed in the Alexandria Park

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