While riding on the Russian train network, whether you are travelling from city to city, internationally or on one of the Trans-Siberian routes, you will find yourself riding on one, or more, of several types of train. These varying types are employed for a number of different reasons, whether that be a desire for speed, luxury or budget, among other things.
Depending on where you are planning on travelling, a particular type of train might appeal to you; a more luxurious and comfortable train for a long distance journey, or a very fast train for city to city travel.
There are five primary types of train that you may come across.
The fastest trains on the Russian network serve Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, running under the brand name Sapsan; which is Russian for Peregrine, the fastest member of the animal kingdom. They can reach speeds of up to 250kmh making the journey from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in under four hours!
They have a, only slightly, slower counterpart on the Saint Petersburg to Helsinki route running under the brand name Allegro.
These trains are all seated (there are no sleeper carriages) and are very similar to European trains in their layout; with a single seat, or two seats side by side, either side of a middle aisle. They are very modern trains, all of which are no more than a few years old.
They all have First Class, Business Class and Economy Class, while the Sapsan family also have a conference room for up to four people designed with everything you would need for business meeting.
Due to the modernity of the high speed trains, they are some of the few with dedicated facilities for those with disabilities as well as those travelling with young children.
A comfortable dining car, with an extensive menu, is also part of the train.
Firmeny trains run throughout the Russian rail network, particularly on the most popular or prestigious routes. They are generally low numbered trains and have names to signify their prestige, such as train 2, ‘Rossiya’, from Moscow to Vladivostok or train 20, ‘Vostock’ from Moscow to Beijing.
They are the most modern sleeper trains on the network with the best facilities, services and on-board staff. They make the fewest stops of all Russian sleeper trains, meaning that they usually have a shorter journey time than either Skory or Passenger trains. Because of this they tend to cost more than regular Skory or Passenger trains.
First, second and third class are all available on-board along with a comfortable dining car with an extensive selection of culinary delights.
The majority of long distance trains on the Russian rail network are Skory (Fast) trains. These are usually numbered from 1 – 160.
They have good quality services, though they are not quite as modern as Firmeny trains. They have a few more stops than a Firmeny train and so the journey may take a little longer. This is reflected in their price being somewhat cheaper than a Firmeny train.
Skory trains have Second and Third Class carriages, but are usually without a First Class carriage. In its place is the option for two people in Second Class to buy two tickets each, effectively buying an entire cabin to experience the privacy of a First Class cabin.
A dining car is usually part of the make-up of these trains, though, much like the cabins, it may not be of the same quality of a Firmeny train.
Passenger trains cover a variety of routes, both long and short. They are characterised by being numbered 160 and above; often they are numbered in the two or three hundreds.
They tend to stop at most stations along their route and, as such, they are the slowest train to get you to your destination; though this does offer you the opportunity to see the more rural stations, towns, cities and villages close up. They also tend to of a slightly lower quality than Fast/Skory trains. This is reflected in the price; passenger trains are generally the cheapest train on any given route. An advantage of this is that you will find that locals will use these trains more, and there is a greater chance of being able to share culture and stories.
First Class is unavailable on these trains, making all carriages Second and Third Class. As with Fast/Skory trains, it is possible to buy out a Second Class cabin in order to approximate a First Class feel. Passenger trains are excellent for those travelling on a budget.
The Elektrichka are the suburban commuter trains of the Russian network. You will typically find them ferrying people in and around major cities; to and from work, home and their country ‘dachas’. They are hugely convenient for getting from the centre of major cities to their suburbs, with no concerns about traffic jams that you may frequently come across; particularly in Moscow during the summer.
Seating is usually on wooden, or plastic benches, two by two, so not of the highest quality, but the tickets are generally reasonably priced. If you are looking to get a feel for Russia away from the more obvious tourist spots in the centre of major cities, the Elektrichka is invaluable.