Tikhvin Freight Car

Building Site Background

The UWC Rail Group continues the glorious traditions of Tikhvin machine engineering, which turns 60 years in 2023.

№18 2023

The UWC Rail Group continues the glorious traditions of Tikhvin machine engineering, which turns 60 years in 2023. For this memorable date, we have prepared a chronicle of events and talk about how the production in Tikhvin was born and developed. 

The beginning

On July 7, 1962, the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued a Decree on the construction of a specialized plant in Tikhvin with a capacity of 60 thousand tonnes of steel castings, 90 thousand tonnes of iron castings and 135 thousand tonnes of welded metal structures per year. The Tikhvin plant was to become the most powerful specialized enterprise not only in the USSR, but in whole Europe.

The design of the North-Western industrial giant was taken up by specialists from the Giprotyazhmash Institute (Institute for General Design of Heavy Engineering and Transport Equipment Plants – Editor’s note). The first concrete block in the foundation of the steel foundry shop was laid on July 7, 1963 – this date is considered as the birthday of the Centrolit Plant in Tikhvin, and, as history has shown, the starting point for development of machine engineering in the town.

The site of the future plant was then covered with a dense and swampy forest – one can imagine how difficult it was to build something on such soil. Mikhail Dudkin was appointed the first Director of the plant – a large scope of work fell on his shoulders as regards construction, ordering the equipment, and selecting and training staff. At first, the administration office occupied just two cramped rooms, but as the plant grew by leaps and bounds, and the town developed along with it.

The Tikhvin plant was to become the most powerful specialized enterprise not only in the USSR, but in whole Europe

Not far from the steel foundry shop under construction, a model site was placed in a hastily constructed wooden building. The work was performed without special equipment. As the scope of work increased, so did the need for the development of wood-modelling capacities. As a result, the shop was transformed from a plank shed into a modern, well-equipped woodworking building.

Construction of an additional railway line to the plant shop, 1966

Construction of an additional railway line to the plant shop, 1966

A true soul and tireless engine of all technical solutions and innovations introduced at that time was Pyotr Bronnikov, the first Chief Engineer of the Centrolit Plant. He took responsibility for setting up a temporary production of Tikhvin castings. It was essential for the functioning of the entire plant, including the opportunity for future moulders and steelworkers to have a “hot” practice. Two years before the launch of the first stage of the Tikhvin Casting and Metalwork Plant, the processing of castings from the Kirov Plant located in Leningrad had already been deployed. The colleagues from Leningrad provided their Tikhvin neighbours with all the necessary tools, chisels, and other technical assistance. Thanks to this, young and still inexperienced turners and machine operators, having processed about 400 tonnes of steel castings from the Kirov Plant, have learned a lot in a short span of time.

It should be noted that the plant, from the day the town of Tikhvin appeared on the map, began to be respectfully called “the source of skilled manpower”. For many leading specialists and top managers of town and regional enterprises, it has become a real school of life.

In 1967, a semi-automatic moulding line was tested – a unique system that had no analogues in the world at that time. It was served by only a few dozen people, while with the old method of production, about 600 would have been required.

Metal casting, 1967

Metal casting, 1967

The first facilities of the Centrolit Plant were commissioned in December 1967. The same year, the first suitable product, tractor casting, was obtained. That is how the glorious history of machine engineering in Tikhvin began. All participants in the events of those years had been proud for all their lives that a powerful production facility was built through their joint efforts and thus an important and ambitious government assignment was successfully completed.

Participants of the first melting process, 1967

Participants of the first melting process, 1967

On the upswing

In November 1968, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued the Decree “On the organization and construction of a Kirov Plant’s branch in the town of Tikhvin”. The enterprise had to take an active part in the production of powerful wheel tractors and the development of their mass production.

For the Centrolit Plant, 1968 was the year of upswing: the production of castings increased more than 4 times. In total, in the first year of its operation, the plant produced almost 11,700 tonnes of steel castings of more than 20 items.

The second important task in this period was the production of nonstandardized equipment. At that time, the mechanical repair shop was engaged in its production. It was thanks to the professionalism and efforts of its team that the new shell moulding line was completely manufactured. In January 1969, this production line was successfully put into operation.

Unusual orders. The Tikhvin Industrial Site produced not only products for transport machine engineering. In the 1970s, the shop for consumer goods produced meat grinders, dumpling mold makers, juicers, children’s swings, flower stands and other products.

Tikhvin meat grinder and dumpling mold maker

Tikhvin meat grinder and dumpling mold maker

Unusual orders. In 1975, the reflector mirror frame for a unique telescope with diameter of more than 6 m, which was then assembled in the USSR, and whose “rim” weighed more than 30 tonnes, was delivered from Tikhvin to Moscow by a special truck.

Workers of the assembly and welding shop brigade

Workers of the assembly and welding shop brigade

A year later, the first excavator bucket was manufactured. As soon as by the end of 1970, after the launch of the frame shop, each “Kirovets” tractor K-700, coming from the Kirov Plant assembly line, already contained more than 3 tonnes of components and units made in Tikhvin.

In June 1973, the first melting was carried out in the large iron casting shop. In the same year, a shop of nonstandardized equipment and a spring and heat-treatment shop were launched, where about 800 types of parts would be subsequently produced.

In November 1973, the enterprises of the Tikhvin Industrial Site became part of the plant manufacturing the famous “Kirovets” tractors and received a new name – Tikhvin Production Facilities of the Kirov Plant Production Association.

For the enterprise, it was not just a title change. Such a decision required a massive reshaping of the production processes to adjust them for the production of components and units for a new modification of the K-701 tractor. This turned a new chapter in the history of machine engineering in Tikhvin.

In 1974, the Tikhvin production facilities of the Kirov Plant were declared an All-Union top priority Komsomol construction project. Such an honorary title in the USSR was only awarded to super important construction facilities. Young people came to Tikhvin from all over the country. After the merger of production facilities, new spacious shops began to open at the Industrial Site, boasting the most advanced equipment, automation and mechanization facilities.

In 1975, the construction of a new shop for the production of couplings, shafts and gears began. That year was marked by the production of components and units for the 100,000-th K-700 tractor and the launch of the mass production of the next, more powerful K-701 model at the main production facility of the Kirov Plant.

In 1979, the 100,000-th tonne of iron castings was produced in the large casting shop. Preparations for the production of a new modification of tractors for industrial use, K-702, began. 

By the early 1980s, the enterprise, at that time still known as Tikhvin production facilities of the Kirov Plant, reached high financial and economic performance and finally established itself as a town-forming enterprise.

The market boosts demand

In the mid-1980s, the rapid process of Perestroika in the USSR (the general name for the reforms and new ideology of the Soviet party leadership, used to refer to changes in the economic and political structure of the USSR, initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in 1985–1991 – Editor’s note) changed not only the political but also the economic situation in the country. The transformations also affected the activities of the Tikhvin production facilities, which in the spring of 1986 received another new name – Transmash Plant of the Kirov Plant Production Association. The transition to a market economy required the team to independently solve the problems of longterm development and production of products demanded by the consumers.

Three-axle log loader manufactured by the Transmash plant, 1989

Three-axle log loader manufactured by the Transmash plant, 1989

The first particularly important product for the factory workers was a powerful machine with a huge load capacity and high cross-country capability – an articulated three-axle off-road dump truck equipped with a KrAZ body and a MAZ cab (Soviet brands of large-capacity trucks – Editor’s note). The story of its creation is worth telling.

It all started with a decision to launch an experimental site to manufacture original models of vehicles. Boris Pogonichev, an inventor and driver at a mining enterprise in Chukotka (a region on Russia’s Far North – Editor’s note), was invited to Tikhvin. He had previously made his name by singlehandedly assembling dump trucks based on the K-701M tractor platform.

Boris Pogonichev (on the left) and Alexei Golovin with their brainchild – a three-axle dump truck, 1989

Boris Pogonichev (on the left) and Alexei Golovin with their brainchild – a three-axle dump truck, 1989

To implement the experiment, he was allocated the necessary space in the metal model shop and assembled a creative team. It did not take too long for the result to appear. The complete dump truck went under its own power to Moscow and became one of the most unusual and promising examples of innovative technology presented at VDNKh (The Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy, the largest exhibition complex in Moscow, included in the 50 largest exhibition centers in the world – Editor’s note).

In the early 1990s, the plant managed to withstand the severe economic crisis that swept across the whole country, primarily thanks to the expertise of its specialists and their dedication to work. During this period, external orders accounted for about a third of production: up to 45% of the products were used to complete new special vehicles through inter-shop cooperation, and the rest was directed to in-house needs related to construction and reconstruction.

In 1993, Transmash began producing bogies for suburban electric trains manufactured by the Torzhok Carriage and Wagon Building Works.

Tikhvin workers also fulfilled export orders: for example, 100 sets of frames for timber flat cars were made for Finland in the shortest possible time. In 1995, under the license of the Austrian company Plasser & Therer, Transmash mastered and produced the country’s first ballast cleaning machine RM-80 UHR.

In 1998, the assembly of a prototype passenger high-speed train Sokol was launched in Tikhvin, the development of which had been carried out since 1993. This was the first high-speed electric train in Russia’s history with speeds exceeding 200 km/h. The train was supposed to be operated on the Moscow – Saint Petersburg route. Sokol is considered the starting point of the entire Russian highspeed rail project. In total, more than 100 organizations and enterprises of Russia took part in this work.

In the summer of 2001, Sokol passed acceptance tests, during which it set a speed record of 236 km/h. Upon implementation of this project, the Transmash plant was redesigned to manufacture railway products.

In the early 2000s, it completed an export order for Hungary for rail bus frames. In total, more than 160 items were produced.

The Sokol train exhibited in the Museum of the history of railway transport at the Riga station

The Sokol train exhibited in the Museum of the history of railway transport at the Riga station

By 2004, the Tikhvin Industrial Site launched the production of serial samples of a universal road machine and a wheeled bulldozer, and mastered the production of bogies for freight cars, as well as for passenger, mail, luggage and other locomotive-hauled railcars.

In 2007, the enterprise started the production of its own freight cars of four modifications: a gondola car with unloading hatches, hopper car, flat car, and solidbottom gondola car.

By that time, the construction of a brand new Tikhvin Freight Car Building Plant (TVSZ) had already begun on the Industrial Site. Its solemn launch on January 30, 2012, opened a whole new page in the history of Tikhvin machine engineering industry. TVSZ became the main production facility of the UWC Group manufacturing new generation freight cars. Today a railcar building cluster operates in Tikhvin with a total production capacity of up to 22,000 freight cars and 30,000 carsets of castings per year. About 8,000 people work at the UWC Group. A rich production track-record, proximity to regional industrial enterprises and research centers, a well-developed transport and logistics infrastructure, as well as UWC’s advanced technical and technological solutions – all of these were the determining factors for the Tikhvin Industrial Site to become the largest freight car building center in today’s Russia.

Tikhvin products are supplied almost all over the world. UWC product range includes more than 70 models and modifications of freight cars. UWC export projects have been of particular importance: their development has required mastering the standards of European and American railways. The enterprise manufactured articulated flat cars for Europe, hopper cars for Africa, and a variety of freight cars for Iran and Mongolia. Articulated tank cars have been approved for transshipment terminals in China. Projects for the supply of casting parts and freight cars to India are currently being developed. On the whole, UWC today is an universal global-scale manufacturer capable of developing and mastering the production of freight cars for any gauge according to any railway standards.

When preparing the article, the materials of Galina Smelova, local Historian and Director of the Musem of the History of the Enterprise (from 1987 to 2005), were used.

Elena Nikolaeva