Which train companies operate the Russian railway network?
The Russian Railways is the company that owns the railway network throughout Russia. It has several affiliates, such as Oktyabrskaya railway network (serves Moscow - St. Petersburg route), or East Siberian railway network (serves the area around Baikal Lake in Siberia) but generally it's one huge government monopoly. The Russian Railways is like a state within a state with its own schools, little towns, high-tech communications network, and equipment. It is quite a successful company too, because it manages to run trains on time in such a huge and diverse country like Russia.
Can I buy train tickets in Russia?
Yes, you can. You will need to present your passport to the cashier as all travel documents will have your name, seat number, and passport number on them.
You can buy your train tickets either directly at any train station, or from an agent (please note, that train stations staff generally does not speak English). The agents always charge a fee (varying from $5 to 25% of the full ticket price) on top of the Russian Railways price, because the Russian Railways don't pay any commission and require a lot of paperwork to be done on each purchase. The tickets for all destinations are usually readily available. However, if you want a train for a specific date, or a train that departs only a few times a week, it is best to buy your ticket at least 3-7 days in advance.
Are there any restrictions?
You cannot make a reservation for train tickets, you have to purchase them right away. Also, the Russian Railways make tickets available for sale no earlier than 90 days prior your departure date. You can send your request for train tickets to us as early as you want and we can purchase your tickets 90 days before your trip. Your ticket will have a seat and car number, your name and your passport number.
What types of trains are there in Russia?
There are three train types in Russia:
Firmenny: These are high-quality trains, often with an assigned name versus just with a number that Russian trains usually have. Among the most famous firmenny trains are Krasnaya Strela (Red Arrow),operating between Moscow and St Petersburg, or Rossiya (Moscow-Vladivostok). They have the newest and the most comfortable carriages, often painted in special color scheme, usually air-conditioned, and with on-board service. These are easily the best trains to go for, although, the fare is higher than for other trains. These trains have a restaurant car serving drinks, snacks and dinner menu. They generally have “spalny vagon” (SV) - a two-bed sleeper , “kupe”- 4-bed sleepers and sometimes but not always “platzkartny” open-plan dormitory sleepers.
Skory - Express train. These trains have SV - 2-berth sleepers, kupe 4-berth sleepers and platzkartny sleepers, and most have a restaurant car. They are normally assigned one or two-digit train numbers, for example 11 or 26. Ticket prices for such trains are lower than on a Firmenny train.
Passazhirsky: Ordinary passenger trains, often relatively slow, have more stops along the way and usually use older carriages. They typically have 3-digit train numbers, for example 904. They usually have kupe 4-berth sleepers and platzkartny, but not SV 2-berth sleepers. It is the cheapest option, but not the best!
SV, Kupe or Platzcart - your options for comfort.
Spalny Vagon / SV Lux (1st class)
Two-berth compartments, 9 compartments per coach, with both beds at the lower level. Bathrooms and toilets are at the end of the corridor. It is twice the price for traveling kupe, although, you get twice the space per passenger, so it is recommended for those who want extra privacy and comfort and who can afford it. SV is also known lux. In addition to the SV 2-berth sleepers, the best Moscow-St Petersburg overnight trains (the Krasnaya Strela or Red Arrow) also have two deluxe sleeping-cars with 1- & 2-bed compartments with private bathrooms, showers and TV / DVD entertainment systems. These deluxe sleepers were introduced in 2004.
Kupe (2nd class)
Four-berth compartments, 9 compartments per car. Bathrooms are at the end of the corridor. Kupe is recommended as the most often chosen carriage type by visitors to Russia. On best firmenny trains you can often buy kupe tickets with or without service, meaning with or without bedding and meals included.
Open-plan dormitory cars. There are 54 bunks per coach, arranged in rows of 4 on one side of the aisle and days of 2 along the coach wall on the other side of the aisle. Recommended for the most budget conscious and adventurous travelers. Even though, it may not be the most comfortable way to travel, it has its advantages. First, it is the cheapest option of all three. It can also be a preferred option for female lone travelers for instance, as it is an open space and thus prevents one from being trapped in a closed compartment with three strange men, for example. Platzkart is a perfect way to travel as a true Russian if you are more about adventure than comfort. Strictly-speaking, you’ll also find basic seats on some long distance trains and on local or suburban trains, known as Obshchi (common), but they are not intended for long-distance travel and are not recommended.
What is the atmosphere like on the train?
Whichever class of travel you choose, each coach is looked after by a pair of attendants called a 'provodnik' (male) or 'provodnitsa' (female). The provodnik will check your ticket at the door to the sleeper when you board. Shortly after departure, the provodnik will come round to take your ticket and the small bedding fee if it is not included in your ticket’s price. You may be asked if you would like a glass of black Russian tea ('chai') - this costs about 1-2 USD (30-60 Rubles). Bedding (two sheets, pillowcase and towel) is then handed out in sealed packs - blankets and mattresses will already be stacked in your compartment. After a few journeys, you will become quite proficient at making up your bed..!
A samovar with unlimited free hot water at the end of the corridor - pack some tea or coffee, sugar, soups or hot chocolate and bring your own mug. Most of long distance trains have a restaurant car serving drinks, snacks, and affordable dinner menu.
What to expect on your train journey?
Your ticket and the passport will be checked before you are allowed to board the train. Once the train departs, the train attendant ("provodnitsa") will come around the carriage to inspect and collect your tickets early on. If you are crossing a border, you will have border patrol officers from all the countries you will be travelling through, coming by and inspecting your passport and visas as well.
As soon as they board, many Russians will immediately change into comfortable sportswear or shorts and slippers. This is more comfortable and even in winter trains are quite warm.
The showers are provided on long-distance trains, only in kupe or 1st class - one or 2 showers per car. To get more information about showers please ask a train attendant.
On most trains bedding sets wrapped in plastic (two sheets, a pillow case and a hand towel) are usually provided in your sleeping compartment. Blankets, mattresses and pillows are available as well. On rare trains, however, bedding may not be included in the ticket price. In that case, train attendant will come by with bedding sets and hand towels – for which there is usually a charge of around 110 rubles (3,5-4 USD).
A boiler with unlimited free hot water is available at the end of the corridor, hot and cold beverages are offered in every car. Most of long distance trains have a restaurant car serving drinks, snacks, and dinner menu.
Will my luggage be safe?
Generally, it is safe; however, if you're going on a long journey or if your train is going to make a lot of stopovers, it's recommend to be careful about small valuables items and money.
It is possible to keep the luggage either in an overhead luggage storage area, or under the bench. It is more secure to keep it under your bench.
Are there toilets, showers, bed sheets in the trains?
There are two bathrooms at each end of every carriage.
The showers are provided on long-distance trains (more than 24 hours); only in kupe or 1st class carriages. If your train doesn't have a shower, you can ask a conductor to allow you to use a shower in another carriage for a small fee.
The bed sheets are provided in the train, and a set (which includes a towel) costs about 110 rubles (3,5-4 USD)..
Is it safe to travel in Russian trains?
There is no particular need to worry about security on Russian trains, as long as you use common sense, exactly as you would in a hotel, locking your door at night and not leaving valuables unattended in your compartment. In addition to the normal lock on the compartment door, 'Spalny Wagon' and 'kupe' compartments equipped with a security latch which stops the door from opening more than an inch or two, and which cannot be released from outside. There's also a safe place for your bags at night - if you have a bottom bunk, there is a metal box underneath the bunk which you can only get to by lifting up the bunk. Your carriage attendant will probably also lock the access doors at each end of the corridor at night to prevent unwanted guests. Men and women share the same compartments in Russia, but it's generally quite safe even for women travelling alone. If you're a woman and find yourself sharing a compartment with three men that make you uncomfortable, just ask the provodniks (carriage attendants) if they can transfer you to another compartment.
Is it possible to do stopovers while traveling on a Russian train?
Yes, it is, however, you will need to buy a separate ticket for each "portion" of your journey. The train tickets in Russia are issued for a specific date, on a specific date, for a specific journey, and for a specific person. So, it is not possible to buy an open ticket. For example, from Moscow to Irkutsk with a stop-over in Novosibirsk, you will need to buy two tickets: Moscow - Novosibirsk and Novosibirsk - Irkutsk. If you're not sure about the 2nd part of your journey, you can wait till you get to your first destination and then try to buy your ticket there. Usually, if you want to take a ticket for the train that departs in 3 or more days, it is fairly easy to be able to purchase the tickets (except for the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian trains, which we advise to book in advance).
Railway station: Buying the train tickets yourself directly at the railway station is cheaper, but has a few disadvantages. First, there are often long lines. Second, the operators at ticket sales offices don't speak English. Third, there may be no tickets left if you try to purchase tickets right before the your departure. The advantages is the opportunity to purchase a stand-by seats that are sold 2 hours before departure: the price stays the same, but you might get a ticket that was previously unavailable.
Ticket agencies: The agencies can provide excellent service, but charge commission. The Russian railways doesn't pay any commission to the agents for tickets sold, so the price at an agency will always be higher. The agency's commission depends on the quality of service and may be from 10% to 50% of the ticket price.
Where do the trains depart in Moscow?
Leningradski railway station (usually northbound routes): St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Pskov, Vyborg, Murmansk, Estonia (Tallinn), Finland (Helsinki). Suburban trains to/from Klin, Tver.
Kazanski railway station: Adler, Barnaul, Izhevsk, Kazan, Novorossisk, Orenburg, Penza, Rostov, Samara, Tashkent, Toliatti, Ufa, Tchelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ryazan, Tomsk (usually southbound routes).
Yaroslavski railway station: Arkhangelsk, Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk), Irkutsk, Kostroma, Kirov, Novosibirsk, Perm, Vladimir, Vladivostok, Vologda, Yaroslavl. Trans-siberian trains. Suburban trains to Abramtsevo, Sergiev Posad.
Belorusski railway station: Kaliningrad, Smolensk. Belarus (Minsk), Lithuania, Germany (Berlin), Poland.
Kurski railway station: Kursk, Krasnodar, Nizhni Novgorod, Oryol, Perm, Rostov-na-Donu. Local trains to / from Vladimir, Podolsk.
Rizhski railway station: Latvia (Riga)
Kievski railway station: Ukraine (Kiev)
Paveletsky railway station: Voronezh, Tambov, Volgograd and Astrakhan.
Savyolovsky railway station: Savyolovsky railway station.
Train stations in St. Petersburg?
Moskovski railway station: Moscow, Novgorod, Murmansk
Vitebski railway station: Belarus (Minsk), Ukraine (Kiev), Latvia (Riga), Lithuania (Vilnius).
Finlandski railway station: Finland (Helsinki)
Baltiiski railway station: trains to the cities around St. Petersburg
Ladozhsky railway station: Murmansk, Petrozavodsk, Finland (Helsinki), Vologda, Arkhangelsk
How can I buy tickets at the train station?
The tickets are sold at ticket office ("kassa") at every train station. To purchase a ticket you are required to show your passport (any other forms of ID are not accepted). Please remember, you will only be able to pay in Russian Roubles. Keep in mind that English is not generally spoken by the sales staff and be prepared to stand in a long line (wait time from one hour and up), especially in bigger cities and during the high season.
How to Can I Find My Train?
Make sure you understand your tickets and know what station you will be leaving from (larger cities have a few!) Usually the railway stations are named according to their destination routes. For example, in Moscow, a train to St. Petersburg would normally depart from Leningradski vokzal (Leningrad - old name for St. Petersburg), a train to Riga would depart from Rizhski vokzal (train station). Below are some of the most popular destinations from Moscow and St. Petersburg stations:
- Leningradski Station: Estonia, Finland, St. Petersburg and northwestern Russia.
- Belarussky Station: Belarus, Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and some trains to Latvia.
- Kazanski Station: Central Asia, Ryazan, Ufa, Samara and Novorossiysk.
- Kievski Station: Serves Western Ukraine and Southeastern Europe.
- Kurski Station: Southern Russia, Caucasus nations, Eastern Ukraine, and Crimea.
- Paveletsky Station: Voronezh, Tambov, Volgograd and Astrakhan.
- Rizhsky Station: Latvia.
- Savyolovsky Station: suburban trains to Lobnya, Dmitrov, Dubna, Yakhroma; no long-distance trains
- Yaroslavlsky Station: Siberia, the Russian Far East, Mongolia and China.
St. Petersburg stations:
- Moskovski railway station: Moscow, Murmansk, Novgorod
- Vitebski railway station: Latvia (Riga), Lithuania (Vilnius), Ukraine (Kiev), Belarus (Minsk).
- Finliandski railway station: Finland (Helsinki)
- Baltiyski railway station: cities around St. Petersburg.
- Ladozhsky railway station: Murmansk, Petrozavodsk, Finland (Helsinki), Vologda, Arkhangelsk
The railway timetable information can be also found at the train stations near the information counters. Look for the long-distance train timetable and not the commuter schedule. This timetable will indicate train number, destination, scheduled departure time, actual departure time, and track number.
At each track there will also be a sign with the train number, time of departure and destination. Be aware of arrival and departure delays or last minute track number changes. Although, any delays or last minute changes are announced, they are usually announced only in Russian. If you do not understand the announcements or feel uncertain about anything, address the Information window. You may find that they also only speak Russian, but just show them your ticket and they will point you in the right direction. You can also try asking other travelers in this manner.
Once you find your train information, it is helpful to write down its number, the departure time, and destination point.
When looking for your car, look for numbers that are on a white sign in the window near the door of each car. Don't be alarmed if train cars don't appear to be in order or skip a number. The car attendant might collect your ticket either as you board or a bit later.
You should keep it until you get off. If you are getting off mid-route (not at the final stop), you should remind the attendant, as it could require waking you up in the middle of the night.
How many bags can I bring with me on a train?
For travelers in 2nd and 3d class, each passenger may bring aboard baggage not exceeding 36 kg (79,3 lb). Not included in this limit are personal items such as purses, briefcases, laptop computers, baby items such as strollers, diaper bags and car seats.
For travelers in 1st class, each passenger may bring aboard baggage not exceeding 50 kg (110 lb). However, if your bag looks like an average size travel case, not a huge cardboard box or a plastic bag, usually nobody will weigh it, so don't worry if you have 2-3 kilograms more.
If you are traveling with several huge bags and boxes and you think they might ask you to weigh your luggage, do not wait until they start boarding (you will have only 30 min then), go to the Information booth at the train station and weigh your bags. They will tell you whether you should check them into the baggage car, or you can take the bags in the compartment with you.
Are there any food and drinks available on the train?
Tea and coffee are always available, just ask the train attendant. Usually only trains that are listed as Fast/High Level of Service have Restaurant cars. The restaurant will offer Russian and European dishes, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, snacks, cigarettes.
You are also allowed to bring your own food, snacks and beverages. But please, keep in mind that there are no refrigerators on the train.
Can I buy seats in a non-smoking compartment?
All cars are non-smoking. People can only smoke in designated areas between the cars. For people intolerant to smoke we advice to book seats in the middle of the car.