Rob's Russian Blog: Train journeys

Rob's Russian Blog: Train journeys Russian Trains by Train Chartering & Private Rail Cars

This article was written by Rob Lee, published on 24th October 2011 and has been read 4505 times.

Russian TrainsI’m pretty certain that Lonely Planet will provide you with all the advice that I possibly can, but in case you’ve never had the pleasure of owning and falling in love with one until all the pages fall out I suppose I should tell you what I know about Russian trains.

Booking trains in Russia is not as easy as EU inter-railing so here are few tips I’ve picked up this week when trying to find a way from Petrozavodsk to Moscow then to Veliki Novgorod and then back again...Phew all in a year-abroad week’s work folks!

Choosing your ‘vagon’

British travellers will feel well at home on Russian trains as they operate a system very similar to our beloved class system!  In ascending order of price and quality we have ‘Platzkart’ – a dormitory style, open carriage with bunk beds, ‘Coupe’ –  a four berth semi- private dormitory, and finally ‘Lux’ – a carriage of beyond-student-loan-priced opulence. For the record, I have never travelled this way and so naturally, I picture marble floors, raging fires, roast beef and monkey servants (this may not be accurate).

Sensible advice would include:

Save money and travel ‘Platzkart’ if you are in a group but consider ‘Coupe’ when alone or for especially long distances. You will appreciate the comfort and theft of valuables and documents is less likely to occur outside of the open ‘Platzkart’ carriages. Higher-tier ‘vagons’ operate with a carriage conductor who is there for security and occasionally to refill the hot water provided for making tea and coffee. This can also be a useful resource for nervous travellers. Four is an ideal number to travel in as bunk beds in ‘Platzkart’ and ‘Coupe’ compartments come in fours and individual places can be reserved online and at stations. Don’t forget to take necessary documentation with you – e.g. your passport.

Buying tickets
Russian websites
If you like a challenge, and trust your level of language, have a go at buying tickets on a Russian language website. There are cheaper than English-language websites offering train tickets in Russian as they take less commission. Also note that they all compete with each other for the cheapest rates so it’s worth shopping around. Try and as they let you pick the seats you wish to book and are fairly clearly laid out. You will need your passport on you to book as Russian websites ask for a document number to complete a booking.

A problem that a few of my friends have encountered when trying to book online is a Russian ‘Paypal’ service called ‘Gateline’ which kicks in when you try to buy tickets on certain websites. This is pretty much an immovable blockade to booking tickets and I don’t have a clear answer on how to register and get round it. I’m working on it...

The train station
Far, far cheaper than any website (English or Russian) that I found for booking tickets. Russian train stations should allow you to book tickets between any towns in Russia or at least in the federal region you are in. Be prepared for long waiting times in queues and at the desk when you finally get there. As with any website, you will need ID (a photocopy of your passport in this case) in order to complete your booking. If you temporarily don’t have access to it, then at least write down your passport number – we got away with this for an American friend whose passport was not available when we needed to book tickets.

That’s all I have for now, if there is anything you disagree with or can add then please write in!


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