Travelling by train in Russia has always been an interesting experience.
Rumbling through the snowy forests of Siberia or sampling vodka with your fellow passengers before tumbling out into a forgotten nowhere in the middle of the night. The memories of the sights, and just as often the smells, stay with you long after the journey has finished.
Many people’s experience of Russian trains is gained on the route between Moscow and St Petersburg, the closest Russia gets to tourist hotspots. Now, however, the State Russian Railway Company has launched two new luxury trains to ply the route which means the experience will be interesting in a whole new way.
The first of these new luxury trains is the No. 4 /3 Express and will depart daily from Moscow and St Petersburg at 23:59 and arrive at the destination at 08:00. The trains will be made up of 4 categories of coaches allowing passengers to choose which level of luxury they wish to enjoy.
The trains are somewhat confusing in that there are two categories of VIP, which means, at the top end, the air conditioned compartments can be converted into a living room or office, have their own bathrooms as well as internet access and DVD players.
If that seems just too luxurious then there are standard sleeping coaches and simple seats available. And it must not be forgotten that in Russia, perhaps more than anywhere else, luxury comes at a price.
A ticket in the top VIP coach costs about 20,000 roubles for the eight hour trip between Moscow and St Petersburg. The price of a seat is between 1 and 2,000 roubles. As a point of comparison the cheapest air tickets between the two cities are currently about 1,000 roubles.
The Alexander Nevsky, a similar train that plies the route and has even higher standards of comfort and prices. Here passengers can even chose between vertical bunk style beds or, for the more intimate feel, double beds.
Anyone who has travelled by train in Russia will know that the standards of customer assistance are not traditionally high, service with a smile it is not. And yet the new trains are attempting to change this. According to Russian Railways the train crews are drawn from ‘the best conductors, stewards and restaurant staff’ available. The company also claims that ‘the train crews had to undergo competitive certification before serving on the trains.’ This may mean that the staff glower a little less and help a little more. Do not be fooled into thinking it means smiles, because it doesn’t.
One thing that is very useful about these trains is the times. They mean that visitors can have a full day in one city, a night on the train and then a full day in the next, saving themselves the cost of a hotel and flying during the day. However, this depends entirely on your ability to sleep on trains so those cheap seat tickets are out.
While only the very wealthy will be considering the luxury options provided by these trains, everyone else can take comfort from the fact that the Russian Railway company is waking up to the fact that it needs to run trains at times customers would like and with staff who actually help. These are small steps in the right direction.
Photo of Moscow – St Petersburg train ticket by jackiepoh