Reading Russian Train Tickets
Russia and Russian can be daunting enough for travellers and tourists to Russia. There is very little English in the country and let’s face it not many of us speak Russian. One of the best ways to see this vast country (almost as big as Canada and USA together!) is by train. By train you can travel in comfort through the open expanses of farmland rather than the very taxing job of driving. Trains are good value in Russia when you consider the distances and are often cheaper than flying, plus you get to see more of the countryside! If you are heading by train then reading Russian train tickets can be as difficult as an 8 sided Rubik’s cube and buying them through charades can be just as complicated as there are so many options.
Before I continue explaining the Russian train tickets I will say that I was impressed by the trains. I am not sure exactly what I had in mind but they are modern, well run and kept very clean by the provodnitsa (carriage attendant). Each carriage has potable hot and cold water for free and has some electrical sockets for charging.
Buying a ticket
Unless you have good Russian my advice would be to buy your tickets through an agency. I heard and my own experience is that in the train stations almost nobody speaks English. Make sure to bring your passport if you do. A lot of trains also book out so unless you are flexible then it is better to book in advance. You can do it through travel agencies which add on a standard 20% mark-up for admin costs or on the Official RZD website http://eng.rzd.ru/. There are also a lot of options (explained below) that need to be picked. Tickets can only be bought a maximum of 45 days in advance so you cannot book very far ahead.
The Ticket Explained
Type of Trains
Firmeny (ФИРМ): Good quality trains that are comfortable. I travelled on this sort of train for 3 separate trips and all trains were of good quality. There is a restaurant carriage and depending on the train there will be mix of 2-bed sleeper berths (spalny vagon), 4-bed sleeper berths (kupe) and then the weird looking open plan dormitory (platskartny). The dormitory looks a bit like a war hospital! The trains are always kept very clean so don’t worry about that.
Skory (СК): This has the same sleeper berths as above and are cheaper but usually slower than the firmeny trains.
Passazhirsky (ПАСС): These are more local trains and stop constantly and are therefore the slowest.
Types of Classes
Spalny Vagon (1st Class): A 2 bed sleeper cabin that is the most expensive. Toilets at the end of each carriage
Kupe (2nd Class): A 4 bed sleeper cabin that has 2 beds above and 2 below. Luggage can go above the door. Toilets at the end of each cabin. You can see on my ticket above I was 2nd class.
Platskartny (3rd class): This is an open dormitory that is the cheapest but the noisiest. It is also the most sociable and probably the safest if you are a nervous solo female traveller. I suppose though if you were nervous you probably wouldn’t be in Russia on your own though!
The meals are got at the restaurant carriage and it is possible to prepay or to just buy them when on board. The number next to the ‘Y’ indicates the number of meals bought. In my case above I bought zero. The food and beer is a reasonable price on board and not that much more expensive than in a town. Having said that many people just bring their own food on board.
TIP: A big tip I would have is to bring your own cup/flask/drinking device. There is free hot and cold water on board so if you bring some of your own coffee or tea then you can drink as much as you want. I didn’t have the foresight for this but had tea bags so ended up drinking tea out of a plastic water bottle with a tea bag in it!
If you intend using the bed at all then make sure to order linen as it is more expensive to book when on the train.
Make sure that you passport number and name are correct as they are checked against your passport when you board the train.