Information & Chat > Travel Discussion: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Baltics & The Stans

Guide to riding the trains

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Riding the trains in Russia is both tradition and part of the culture itself. Allowing someone else to do the driving, train ridership in the FSU is vast and even the lure of cheap domestic airline tickets seems unable to break the appeal of train travel to native FSU travelers.

Most visitors to the FSU ride on local city transportation but many also have the opportunity or even the necessity to ride on long distance trains. In short there are really 6 types of "trains" in the FSU:

- local underground Metro systems

- the smaller city trams on rails

- local overhead trams as found in large cities like Moscow

- the AeroExpress between Moscow's 3 largest airports

- the suburban electric trains that are called Elektrichka (электричка/электропоезд)

- the long distance trains (долго поезд) and including high speed service such as AeroExpress between Moscow and the cities of Kazan and Vladivostok and express trains connecting places like Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

Metro systems and trams are covered elsewhere so we'll concentrate here on the suburban electric trains and long distance trains.

The Elektrichka (electric suburban trains) are powered using overhead electric lines. These trains can run up to two hours distance from a large city like Moscow and usually shorter distances from medium size cities. Most small cities don't have Elektrichka service.

Who uses the Elektrichka trains? Primarily commuters who work in the city and also passengers traveling to a nearby city or village.

Commuters during the week can make these trains very crowded Monday-Friday.

They're a great way to get out of town for the weekend too. In the summer millions of dacha owners use Electric trains to travel from the city to small stops in the countryside.

Mrs. Mendeleyeva and I frequently visit close friends in the smaller city of Kaluga and we take the Elektrichka from Moscow for those trips. The train to Kaluga has two classes of service: economy and first class. Economy consists of simple bench seats with limited space overhead while the first class service is a little nicer usually featuring a small table with tablecloth and plastic flowers on the table. In first class the windows have curtains with designs and there is an attendant who can serve hot tea and a very limited selection of snacks for purchase. There are two television monitors at the end of each first class car.

It is not uncommon (although against Ржд rules) to have some lively entertainment on these trains.

Sometimes the entertainment just seems spontaneous but at other times it is a little more organized and most of these individuals/groups are hoping to earn a little extra dingy (деньги = cash/money).


How to ride the electric trains:

- Find a timetable on the Internet and then show up at the appropriate station ready to ride!

- You'll need a ticket which is purchased at most stations. Without a ticket you can't get past the turnstile at the platforms.

- A ticket attendant at some point may walk through the wagons to make certain that every rider has a valid ticket.

- At the end of your journey some platforms have turnstiles and you'll need that same ticket in order to exit. Don't throw it away!

- In economy class it is open seating. For Americans, think of Southwest Airlines with hardwood or laminate benches.

- Like long distance trains the toilets are at the end of each wagon just outside the doors separating wagons. Lots of smokers will be standing out there, often blocking the toilet doors so if your goal is to reach the toilet you'll have to make known that you're part of the toilet Que.

- Some platforms outside the city don't always have cashier booths open. Go ahead and board the next train but remember the name of your departure station because when the cashier passes through your wagon you'll purchase a ticket from the cashier and knowing where you got on the train will be necessary to purchase a ticket.

- On the chance that no cashier was on the train and no cashier booth was open where you boarded, it will be necessary to purchase a ticket at your destination in order to exit most platforms.

Fun and interesting train trivia:

- Commuter trains transported nearly 860,000 passengers around Sochi region during the Paralympic Games for free, as no tickets were required during that time period.

- The number of local passengers, also free, during the main 2014 Olympics was over 3.9 million passengers.

- In just the month of March 2014, the Russian Railway system carried 84,600,000 passengers.


Timetable and tickets for Russian trains:

You'll need to register on the website and this is the official site for Russian Railways and for online timetables and tickets it is the safest source. Use the suburban train tab for the suburban Elektrichka routes.

Now we'll turn our attention to the long distance trains which come in two forms in Russia:

- Regular train scheduled trains.

- High speed trains between selected cities.

(Ukraine has an additional service in some areas called "firm" (фирменный as in company/firm) trains which are sometimes operated by non-government companies. Those trains are generally faster than regular schedules, have a higher level of passenger service and cost more than regular scheduled train service.)

Lets go for a ride!


Important to know:

- You'll need your passport to purchase a ticket as the number is written/printed on your individual ticket. Train inspections en route generally include comparing your ticket to your passport.

- Sanctions over the annexation of Crimea has impacted the sale of how tickets can be purchased. The government has instructed R/D that Western credit cards, especially credit cards with Visa and Mastercard logos, are to be denied for purchase of train tickets since those companies are part of sanctions against Russia.

- Russian Railways is changing their peak pricing models to more reflect the pricing structures of International airlines. Airlines use a lettering system which divides the number of seats on a plane by the number of letters in the English alphabet (26 letters). Air fares first go on sale 10.5 months before a flight and tickets prices begin low and increase as the inventory is depleted with every letter class sold (6-8 tickets per letter class depending on size of the aircraft). Beginning in the summer of 2014 Russian Railways will price their tickets in similar fashion during peak seasons.

- Tickets in the FSU generally go on sale no earlier than 45 days prior to the travel date.

How easy is it to buy a ticket online in Ukraine? According to this commercial it looks very easy:


Nice to know:

- Bicycles in Ukraine must be dismantled and stored in the train's luggage compartment.

- Bicycles are welcome on Russian trains but you must pay an extra fee to keep it in your cabin.


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