For Boris Solomatin, a Moscow railway museum guide, steam locomotives are nothing short of time machines.

Escorting guests on a steam-hauled tour across the Russian capital, he talks about the red-wheeled engines as living creatures. "I'm happy that the machine is working; it must make its soul sing," he says.

The railway museum in Moscow is one of the largest in the country, exhibiting an array of 60 engines, cars and other equipment preserved in full working condition.

"A steam locomotive is a time machine that exists today, it takes us into the time of fire, coal and steam," Solomatin said.

He said he first saw a steam locomotive when he was 5, an image he could never forget. "A steam engine would arrive at midnight, and its bright headlight and red wheels were carved in my memory for the rest of my life," Solomatin added.

Alexei Vulfov, who leads an association of locomotive fans, also speaks of steam locomotives as much more than just old machines. "The beauty of their moving mechanisms is captivating and almost irrational," Vulfov said.

Across Russia's vast space, hundreds of fully functional steam locomotives have remained in storage since Cold War times, an asset seen as an essential safeguard in case of emergencies that could incapacitate diesel and electric engines.