How in the USSR created the most deadly in the world “ghost train”

Today, the cinema is made nostalgic for the culture and atmosphere of the 1980s. For some reason, few people remember that this was the time of the next escalation of the Cold War between the two superpowers. In 1983, the USSR shot down a South Korean plane with 269 passengers on board. In the same year, the Country of the Soviets was the first in the world to accept a “ghost train” for trial operation – a train with intercontinental missiles instead of passenger cars.


  • Very cold war
  • Nuclear missile on rails
  • Combat duty “ghost train”
  • Sawed and forgotten

Very cold war

The whole period of the Cold War is characterized by an insane arms race. It was during the confrontation of the USSR and the USA that the weapon became what it essentially remains today. Truly human fantasy knows no bounds when it comes to ways to destroy one’s own kind.

Image: Flickr

Thus, in the second half of the 20th century, both countries actively worked on special trains disguised as ordinary trains, but capable of launching nuclear warheads. The first question of creating such a train in the very beginning of the 1960s was America. In 1961, the Minetman intercontinental ballistic missile passed the first tests. Unlike its predecessors, she was not afraid of vibrations when moving and did not need to refuel before the start – the new product could not be better suited for basing on some moving platform. For example, right on the train.

Why precisely train composition? Because trains equipped with rocket launchers could be relatively easily and quickly dispersed throughout the country. Standard for that time, mine installations could not boast of such advantages – if they found their location, the enemy could easily destroy a dangerous weapon even before it came to alert.

Already in the 1960s, the American command was going to adopt 30 trains, each of which was to carry five “Minutemen”. We even managed to create a prototype composition! However, then someone came up with the idea to calculate the cost of the project … As a result, in 1961 he was instantly abandoned.

Photo: Flickr

The second attempt by the Americans to return to the creation of a combat railway missile complex (BZHRK) was made in the second half of the 1980s. Accurately based on the Soviet composition, known under the names of “Well done”, “Scalpel”, “ghost train” and “composition number zero”. The prototype was tested, but 1991 came, and the alleged rival against whom the machine was created suddenly disappeared from the list of possible enemies for a while. The need for a train disappeared, its creation was again recognized as inexpedient and unpromising.

But in the USSR, and later in Russia, the only BZHRK in the world really stood on combat duty and somehow stretched it right up to 2007. So what was the most deadly train in the habitable part of the Universe?

Nuclear missile on rails

The Soviet Union took care of the development almost immediately after the idea originated somewhere in the depths of the American military machine. In general, the beginning of the 1960s is one of the most intense periods in the history of the Cold War. Khrushchev just waited for his “Tsar-bomb”, plunging the United States into a stupor. But it turned out to be little sense from this bomb, because it was impossible to deliver it to the territory of the “sworn friend”.

Illustration: Pinterest

It became clear that it would still be necessary to bombard each other with the help of intercontinental missiles capable of carrying a nuclear charge. But another problem manifested itself here – all launch sites in the two countries were known. Hence, there was no point in stationary complexes. Then the rockets began to be hidden in the mines and installed on all sorts of mobile platforms – primarily on bombers and submarines. How can you not remember about the train? Moreover, no special hopes were placed on mine installations. Upon learning of the location of such an object, a conditional enemy could launch the Pershing-2 missile from Europe, which would easily destroy the mine along with its contents. To fly such a rocket for about eight minutes. Approximately the same amount was required only to open the hatch of a nuclear mine.

Despite the fact that the order “On the creation of a mobile combat railroad missile complex with a RT-23 rocket” was signed in 1969, the idea of ​​a carrier rocket was fully formed only by the end of the 1970s. The Yuzhnoye design bureau, headed by Vladimir Utkin, was charged with solving the most complicated task.

“The task was striking in its grandeur. In domestic and international practice, no one has ever encountered so many problems, ”the scientist later recalled. It was necessary to figure out how to place the heavy rocket in the car, to ensure safety, to check whether the railway bridges and the canvas would stand.

A sketch of what BZHRK could look like.

Vladimir Utkin himself headed the work of the team, which was to create a completely new rocket, as well as solve a bunch of problems that yesterday were not relevant. So, somehow it was necessary to place three rocket launchers in one train. The rocket at the same time should not weigh more than 105 tons, otherwise the canvas would simply not have survived.

They made a rocket for almost five years. The result was a three-stage RT-23UTTH (modification of the RT-23). The nozzles were first built into the engines themselves, which were located on the first stage. This was done in order to fit the gun in the car. With the same purpose had to use an inflatable fairing rocket. Okay, somehow fit the RT-23UTTH in the train, but how to start it so as not to damage the car and the tracks with a gas stream at the start?

For this they used a system of inclination. As soon as the rocket assumed a vertical position, it seemed to be pushed out into the air due to the pressure created in the enclosed space by the powder accumulator. At the same time, auxiliary engines were turned on, which bent the rocket at a certain angle. Only after that, already in the air, the main cruise engine was turned on, the jet from which, thanks to the angle specified earlier, did not harm the train.

Author photo: Alexey Kholodkov

At the same time, the team of Alexey Utkin, Vladimir’s brother, worked on a suitable missile-carrying train. Externally, he was not supposed to differ from the usual composition with refrigerated and passenger cars.

They say that even experienced railroad workers from a distance of 50 meters could not distinguish the “ghost train” from the standard train. Only a closer look could have noticed an increased number of axles and additional springs to compensate for the high load.

Three locomotives were responsible for the movement of the “train number zero”. In seven cars housed the command staff, in one – fuel. Nine more cars disguised as refrigerators concealed three launchers. Thus, there were three cars for one rocket: in one, the installation itself was located, and two neighbors were needed to distribute the load of heavy weapons.

Photo:  Medium

Combat duty “ghost train”

Trial operation of the first BZHRK began in 1983, however, full-scale field testing of the finished product started after a year and a half. At the beginning of 1985, the “ghost train” arrived in Plesetsk in the highest secrecy.

Before launching a real rocket from the car, a mockup of a full-scale and with the same weight was made. Cavity filled with sand, instead of fuel poured concrete. Then all this good two stoton cranes were loaded into the car – all in order to determine whether the RT-23UTTH would fit. The first launch of this rocket train took place in February 1985.

Author photo:  Alexey Kholodkov

The combat launch should look something like this. After the corresponding command, the train stopped at a given point on the route. Especially strong hydraulic jacks, relying on rails and sleepers, leveled the position of the car with a rocket. A special device tore off the contact network, at the same time the roof of the car was reclined towards the side, and the rocket was raised on a special hydraulic installation. Then the launch was carried out. On everything about everything it took about three minutes.

When tested, it was not without curiosities. The first launch was carried out in severe frost, and the train just rolled out of a warm hangar. As a result, frozen roof. I had to drive the entire train back to the hangar, warm up, change batteries. In addition, at times the embankment could not bear the weight of the train and sank.

It was possible to launch three rockets at once. In addition, due to the presence of three diesel locomotives, the train was able to split into three parts and, if necessary, make launches from different places. In just over three years of testing, the train traveled 400 thousand kilometers across the country in different climatic zones. During this time, launched 32 missiles. Through the city “composition number zero” passed at night, under the strictest guard.

Photo: Medium

In addition to combat tests, the train had to pass a series of tests for resistance to external influences. At the Semipalatinsk test site, the composition was subjected to electromagnetic radiation, experienced lightning protection and even resistance to explosions – a shock wave with a TNT equivalent of 1000 tons did not affect the performance of systems located half a kilometer from the epicenter of the explosion.

In 1987, the first “ghost train” took up combat duty. In total, 12 BZHRK and about a hundred RT-23UTTH missiles were created. The creators boasted that their offspring could not be found, and one rocket with a dozen warheads, 25 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, would be enough to empty some European country. And there is not far to America, because 23-meter 100-ton rocket can travel 10 thousand kilometers!

Sawed and forgotten

For several years, trains plied throughout the country. In each composition – at least 70 servicemen and not a single civilian, even the drivers were drivers. In the places where the trains are located within a radius of one and a half thousand kilometers, the Ministry of Railways specially modernized the railway tracks, replacing the rails with heavier ones and installing reinforced concrete sleepers instead of wooden ones.

Well, here it is – the success of the Soviet military machine. After all, no other country in the world was armed with “rocket trains”! However, the story BZHRK still ended ingloriously.

Dismantling “Well done”

In the early 1990s, even when all the “ghost trains” did not descend from the assembly line, the movement of trains was significantly restricted, in fact tying them to the place of deployment. Closer to the new century, the Scalpels began to be dismantled, which lasted until 2007. A little earlier, it was announced the removal of trains from combat duty. There are only two museum copies left – in Tolyatti and St. Petersburg.

Recently in Russia they started talking about creating a new type of BZHRK called “Barguzin”. We even managed to test the missiles intended for him. But a year ago, the Defense Ministry suddenly announced the closure of the project. Too expensive.

It seems that this is the main reason for abandoning a dozen already existing trains. This is not only about the maintenance of trains, but also about the paths subject to high wear. In addition, closer to the XXI century, it became obvious that with modern means of satellite reconnaissance it was impossible to hide such an installation, and even with three diesel locomotives in the set.

Armed with nuclear missiles, the trains turned out to be unnecessary luxury, and, moreover, extremely expensive to maintain. Well, maybe it’s for the best.

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