Train Travel in Russia

by Elena on January 17, 2011

Russian Train

Russian Train


Train Travel in Russia   

Travelling by train in Russia can be amazingly good fun with incredible views, some jolly company, and a fairly efficient way to cover large distances without much effort at all.  As with any trip, even in your home country, it is important to be aware of where your things are at all times and to have the relevant documentation to hand should you need it.  Obviously don’t assume that all of your fellow train-travellers are either potential pickpockets or available to discuss Russian history at length… common sense is, as always, best practice.   

Types of Train   

There are three main types of train for long-distance travel in Russia: the Firmeny which are the most modern, the Skory (express trains), and the Passazhirsky which are simpler passenger trains.  Costs reflect the level of comfort on each type of train, with air-conditioning and more modern bunks in the Firmeny compared to more old-fashioned facilities on the Skory and Passazhirsky.  Identified by lower, often single digit numbers the Firmeny offer more luxurious travel which may be an attractive option for longer journeys.  Skory trains usually have numbers from 11 and higher and the Passazhirsky are usually identified by three digit numbers.  The Passazhirsky often don’t have two-berth sleepers, with a more dormitory-like style in operation.    

First, Second, and Third Class Travel   

First Class (Spalny Vagon) gives you twice the room of Second Class (Kupé) and in some of the newest trains also gives you a private toilet, shower, and TV/DVD system in your compartment.  On Firmeny trains you may be able to buy tickets with or without service which usually means bedding and meals.   Kupé (Second Class)is the most common way to travel, and options are often available for service or no service included, two-berth and four-berth compartments are the norm for kupé.  In Third Class you will pay less and get to know your neighbours well as this is usually an open-plan car with fifty or so dormitory bunks in the Passazhirsky trains.  Earplugs are a must if you choose this option!   

The Train Staff   

Each coach is looked after by either a Provodnik or a Provodnitsa, i.e. a male or female attendant.   In most cases efficiency trumps customer-service – don’t be alarmed if the Provodnitsa is a little short with you, she’s just being business-like!  They will check your ticket and take your bedding fee if necessary (this is usually only a couple of dollars).  In some cases they will ask if you’d like some chai (black Russian tea) for about 50 cents or so.  If you’re in a dormitory berth you’ll be able to tell the regular travellers by how quickly they make up their bunks!    


If you bring alcohol onto the train then this may incur the wrath of the Provodnitsa as alcohol should only be bought in the restaurant car.  Although you’re likely to see locals with a bottle of something don’t be tempted yourself as you may be left at a small station in the middle of nowhere as punishment for contravening the rules.  The alcohol in the restaurant car is likely to be overpriced, but accept it as being part of the experience of travel.   


On Russian trains there may or may not be bathroom tissue available so be a good camper and bring your own.  The washroom doors will be locked before the train stops and when it is stationary as the toilet empties out onto the track.  It is a good idea to carry things like hand-sanitizer, just in case, and have your toiletries in an easily accessible bag for longer journeys.   


It also makes sense if you’ve got a long trip ahead to bring your own food and, just like on trains in India, it’s quite possible that you’ll see families unpacking whole picnics in their section.  Good food to carry on your train journey includes things that can be easily shared around in order to consolidate newly formed friendships.  Each car usually has a samovar which can provide hot water. Take great care when using the samovar as the lurch and wobble of the train may result in you pouring hot water all over yourself.  Packets of instant soup can be fabulous if you’re travelling in winter, you’ll have to provide your own mug though.  You might find food on the table in your compartment when you first arrive on the train – don’t be tempted unless you’re feeling particularly rich as the train staff will charge you later.   


The Provodnitsa/Provodnik and yourself are the only ones who can open your compartment door, so if the hubbub of the restaurant car is proving too much you can always retreat back here.  On most sleeper trains there are two locks on the compartment door, one to lock it and one that allows it to open a little for ventilation.  It’s not usually the best idea to invite strangers into your compartment, and make sure to keep belongings out of plain sight if you leave your compartment to visit the washroom or the restaurant car.    

Many people are friendly and interested in where you are going and simply want to share stories with a fellow traveller but, as always, be careful and if someone is acting suspiciously or asking too many questions then remove yourself from the situation. Most card games on trains are friendly affairs but ensure you understand the rules before gambling away your entire travel budget by accident.  On a long journey you’ll probably hear more than your fair share of bawdy Russian jokes and make quite a few new friends, whether you want to or not!   

Enjoy Your Trip!   

If you use your train time to catch up on some sleep then be aware that although you may be unable to turn off the somewhat fractious sound system in your compartment, there should at least be a volume control somewhere.  Earplugs might be a good travelling companion on some of the older trains where the music systems can be described as ‘quirky’.  Don’t spend all your time on the train sleeping though as there will likely be fabulous unspoilt vistas across Russia with little sign of habitation for miles and miles.  Use the time to make new friends, learn about your destination, or finally write those postcards you bought on the first day of your big adventure.  For more information on travel to Russia Contact Ulko Tours today!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

dapoxetine May 2, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Good article. Thank you.


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