This is a third part of the series of articles on the train travel in Russia.
Boarding the train. For stations, where train originates, boarding starts 30 minutes before departure. For boarding you need to get all traveling passengers registered for a train ride. If I understand correctly, all passengers get automatic registration at a time of ticket purchase. You can check your registration status though RZD website in your personal cabinet.
For boarding the train you need photo ID used to purchase ticket, normally passport. If you purchased train ticket electronically, print your e-ticket from your personal cabinet on RZD website. It will have the ticket itself and boarding slip with QR codes. If you purchased your ticket from a ticket office, it will be a ticket with a slip attached at the back. Train attendant checks IDs, tells you your seat numbers and lets you into the train. Later, when train departs, they will come to your seat to collect train tickets, only those purchased from the ticket office. E-tickets are not collected.
Your train ticket has some advantages outside the train. When you arrive to a place of your destination and police questions you about registration, your ticket is an official proof of your arrival (or departure) date. Also, on train stations, with your train ticket you get free use of toilets on the date of travel, otherwise toilets are for a fee.
When boarding, normally you do not expect any help with your luggage from train attendants, as they are busy checking other passenger tickets. They might help, if they are not busy though. Also, many attendants are women and therefore not expected to deal with heavy stuff.
People accompanying you to the station are allowed onto the train to help you bring in your luggage and accommodate. Five minutes before departure train attendant will call everyone not traveling to leave the train.
Onboard train services and amenities.
Ticket of each class comes with certain services, amenities and options that are included in a ticket price and most of them you can’t remove or add. Variety of options, services and amenities is very big and sometimes tricky, to name a few most common ones: air conditioned carriage (not all of hem are), meals included in a ticket price, handling of oversized luggage, traveling with small pets, free newspapers, luggage compartment, shower, bio-toilet (airline style), travel set (toothbrush, eye-mask etc), TV, slippers, electric outlets and so on. Each ticket will have code of service. Those codes are tricky, but most important options will be displayed as little icons next to a carriage of your choice, when you buy ticket on RZD website. Some trains offer escorting underaged children on a train (if parents can’t travel with the kid). List of services is endless and no way of mentioning all of them. If you have some specific needs for your travel, check what specific train or ticket has included. Below I will explain the most common services and amenities.
Luggage. Official limit for luggage is 36 kilos per passenger. No one really controls luggage weight and enforces this norm, unless your luggage is so bulky that does not fit car storage spaces.
Russian railways does not provide luggage service like airlines do, so you have to bring all the luggage with you. I understand for oversized bulky luggage there are options for luggage service, but it has to ordered separately and it does not seem to be very popular. For storing luggage, railroad passenger cars have various options depending on a train and travel class.
Express trains have special racks and above seat shelves for storing the luggage. Sleepers have storage space under the lower bed, and a shelf above the door. Third class sleepers have upper shelves and space underneath lower bed for storing the luggage. Some sleeper (newer) trains have separate luggage compartments. Availability of such compartment is indicated in the list of services on RZD website that appears when you purchase tickets. Very approximately, for sleeper train, each passenger can take onboard one large suitcase and one smaller luggage item, like backpack or bag. If each of passengers takes these two items there will be enough storage space for everyone. It’s possible to cram more luggage into compartment, but possibility of fitting it will depend on what luggage other passengers have and some other factors.
For storage of smaller items each bed in sleeper cars has individual small shelves, sometimes designed like a small locker.
Each sleeper compartment or seater has hooks and hangers for clothes. Sapsan has cloth racks with hangers.
Some trains (very few though) have option of bringing your car with you. This service is ordered separately.
Toilets. Older cars have one toiler, newer have two toilets. Toilets are of two types: “bio” and “regular”. Regular toilets is nothing but a stall with a hole in a car floor and waste goes directly onto the rail tracks. For this reason, there are “sanitary zones”, around the stations and on the stations themselves, where toilets are locked. This means if train stops for an hour, no one is allowed to use toilets.
Newer cars have ”bio” toilets, that function like aircraft toilets, waste goes into special tanks, and toilets can be used anywhere any time. Each toilet has small sink for washing face and hands, hot and cold water taps, mirror and sometimes paper towels.
On the overnight trains, in the morning of arrival, everyone will want to use toilets and it will create lines. Be mindful of that.
Depending on a train and service, passengers might get basic toiletries set, that includes toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste, hair brush, disposable slippers (for moving around the car). Regardless of ticket and services included, all passengers get small cloth towel for using during the trip. This towel is reusable and you have to leave it on your bed when your ride is over.
Showers. Most, like almost all, trains have no showers. Very few newer trains on some routs have showers. If shower is available it will be indicated on a services list when purchasing ticket.
Air conditioning and heating. Heating is available in all trains. Long distance sleeper trains are heated by burning coal. Each car attendant is in charge for keeping inside temperature comfortable and this is a challenge for them. I must say most trains are overheated and this is one of the downsides or train travel. In winter it’s so intensely hot inside, people get most of their clothes off, when sleeping, but still it’s extremely hot. Windows in newer card do not open, so letting outside air inside is not an option and you suffocate at night, when compartment door is normally closed.
Newer cars have air conditioning — in theory. In reality they either do not work or car attendants do not know how to operate them properly. Most complaints from passengers are about air conditioning not working and uncomfortably hot temperatures.
Power outlets. Older cars have very few, close to no power outlets. Newer cars have power outlets in each coupe. Not many though, perhaps one per passenger, so if you have many gadgets, bring outlet multiplier for the trip. Having external battery for charging your gadgets is also very useful.
Lights. Each bed in a sleeper car has individual reading light. Also each compartment has ceiling lights for the whole compartment.
Wi-fi. Some (newer) trains have wi-fi. The problem is that train wi-fi internet is coming from public cellular networks and coverage between stations is very limited. If you are on a long distance train, I would not count on having stable internet connection between stations and on some stations connection also can be quite weak.
Food. All long distance train have restaurant or buffet car. Seaters normally have buffet cars, sleepers have restaurants. Both serve variety of food depending on a specific train, its rout and where train consist originates. Sapsan for example employs its own chef to provide passengers sort of “fine dining“ onboard. Regular long distance trains have more menu options for food, but dishes served are simpler.
An interesting fact, all dishes in train restaurant cars are made to order from scratch, no heating up. This means longer wait for your order, but since you have time traveling long distance this should be fine. Every dish you order will be fixed by chefs on a restaurant kitchen especially for you. I ones ordered potato wedges and it took forever to cook, but when they arrived, I found they were made from raw potatoes and not unfrozen.
Prices vary and I believe depend very much on where the train originates and some other factors. In general, restaurant car food is affordable on most long distance trains. For many passengers train food is still pricey, so they bring their own food onto the train. A classic train food people bring is boiled eggs and chicken, sandwiches, burgers (Russian style), sausage, vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. The idea is to have food that does not spoil for longer time without refrigerating. Some people just bring instant noodles.
In addition to restaurant car you can buy some simple snacks from a car attendant. They will also make and bring you a hot tea or coffee (instant coffee only!) for your order. You can order food from restaurant car to your coupe.
Some tickets include meals. This is indicated when you buy a ticket and you options are dinner or breakfast. No choice of food though, they will serve what they serve, you either eat it or not eat it. The meals included in ticket price will be served in your cupe.
Alcohol is officially banned in trains, except for alcohol served in the restaurant car. This ban works in theory, in practice passengers bring their own alcohol and drink in their cupe. No one will pay any attention as long as your behavior is not abusive or disruptive in any way to other passengers.
If you are traveling for many days on a train, on longer stops there will be an option of buying food on the platform. It’s sort of business fo locals to sell “homemade” food on the platform or nearby platform when train arrives. Without getting into details you should avoid any of this food unless it’s a factory packaged product.
Water. Some, very few trains have public drinking water dispensers for passenger use. In all other trains you can buy bottled water from train attendant or from restaurant car or bring your own water supply for the trip. You can also buy water on stations during long stops if time allows.
Each long distance train has public water heater (see on picture above) and hot water is available for free to all passengers.
Safety. Each coupe can be locked inside. Modern cars have electronic keycards that can also lock coupes outside, but cupe on older cars can not be locked outside. Each train has police aboard. In general train travel is very safe, but do not undermine basic safety precautions. Theft seems to be the most common train crime, so make sure you keep all your valuables secure. People getting drunk can behave strangely or violently and police should deal with them, you just report any abusive behavior to the car attendant. This does not happen very often though, most passengers understand they will be removed from train at a nearest stop, fined or even jailed for any misconduct.