In a country as large as Russia, with nine different time zones, traveling around has to be practical and affordable. Rail travel is a popular choice for Russians, especially due to budget travel options and accessibility for ordinary passengers. Despite the evolution of modern transport, rail travel is still in high demand and the development of high-speed rail links could start posing a serious competition to Russian domestic airlines.
But how does Russian rail travel stand out from rail travel in other countries?
One way to beat heavy road traffic is to take one of the suburban trains common in and around large cities. These trains are often electric and are called ‘elektrichka’. They can also be used on some of the popular long-distance routes. However, as some cities are more than 150 km apart, this may not be the most practical option. Most long-distance journeys on board suburban trains involve a lot of stops and are much more expensive. Elektrichkas also lack the comfort and facilities of the long-distance trains, with wooden or plastic seats, and only one toilet at either end of the train.
Take the sleeper
The ultimate long-distance train journey takes place in Russia. The Trans-Siberian railway is the longest in the world and takes in two continents while staying in the same country. It has romantic connotations and is famous throughout the world. Most long-distance trains in Russia have sleeping carriages as it takes so long to get from city to city. Most carriages on these trains have their own conductor – a provodnitsa – who checks tickets and hands out bedding. Some long-distance trains also often have their own police on board.
These trains offer quite a different experience to trains in other parts of Europe and the US. There are often a lot of vendors on board, selling everything from magazines to beauty products. The trains also stop seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This is because some villages are a long way apart and people have country houses far away from any other village or town, sometimes in the middle of a forest. The stop is usually just a platform, with no ticket office or other facilities, with a number for a name, for example, ‘KM52’.
30% of all travel in Russia is made by rail. Since tickets are relatively cheap, it’s a cost-effective way of covering distances in such a large country. Lots of people also travel by train to bordering countries such as Poland or Finland. More funding is currently being directed towards improving existing lines and building new ones, with another 20,000 kilometers planned by 2030. Whether for quick trips to airports or overnight journeys through the beautiful Russian countryside, the train remains as popular as ever.