The best means of transport to get around the Russian territory is, in my opinion, by train, as they are very safe, and I would say that it is the safest means of transport, as well as the most economic, considering the great distances they travel. In this article, I will explain everything about Russian trains and, of course, how to carry out the online purchase of tickets process that go on sale, up to 120 days in advance.
Article updated on May 15, 2020. Published on December 5, 2018
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0. Trains in Russia and RZD
I have traveled on different long-distance trains and I would say that Russian trains are very safe, quite economic and also comfortable. In my opinion, they are the best way to get around the vast Russian territory.
The two most frequent routes are the route between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the Trans-Siberian route, which also arrives to Mongolia and China. But you can also travel by train through Russia to many other parts, such as Murmansk, the largest city in the world, north of the Arctic Circle. On the following map you can see the most important train routes:
The trains in Russia belong to the state company, RZD, one of the largest railway companies in the world. It was created in 1992 as a continuation of the Soviet Railways company, which disappeared after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The company belongs to the Russian government and has a monopoly on rail transport throughout the country.
In this article, I will tell you everything about trains in Russia: the type of trains you can take, the most famous trains, the most luxurious trains, how to buy tickets online, how to cancel them, etc.
1. The most popular regular trains
The first thing to know is that in Russia there are basically three types of long-distance regular trains: high-speed day trains, night trains (some luxury) and more economic regular trains.
In this section, I will focus on the most popular Russian trains, both high-speed and night trains, and which have their own brand.
1.1. High-speed trains: from Sapsan to Strizh
Russian high-speed trains are European standard trains, which can reach 250 km/h speeds. These are comfortable trains with a restaurant wagon. Currently there are 5 high-speed trains, which have their own name:
The Sapsan (or peregrine falcon) train is the insignia of the new Russian trains. It makes the daily journey between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. There are between 5 and 10 trains a day, though more frequently during the high season, in summer. The Sapsan covers this journey in just 4 hours.
Current modern trains came into operation on December 1, 2013. They can reach a speed of 250 km/hour. It makes several stops along its route. The numbers of this train go from 751 to 780.
Since 2001, it has been doing the route between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in just over 4 hours. These trains have the numbers 747 and 748. It is not as modern as the Sapsan, but it is usually more economic. It reaches a speed of 200 km/hour. It has few departures per week.
With a frequency of 4 trains a day, the Allegro has traveled since 2010 the route from Saint Petersburg to Helsinki. It has a maximum speed of 220 km/hour, and in about 3 and a half hours, this high-speed train connects the capital of Finland with the second capital of Russia. These are the trains numbered from 781 to 788.
It was launched in 2013. It can reach a maximum speed of 160 km/hour. It takes many different routes, such as Saint Petersburg-Veliky Novgorod, Saint Petersburg-Vyborg, or also Moscow-Saint Petersburg.
Operating since June 1, 2015, it can reach 200 km/hour. This train runs between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod (via Vladimir, Kovrov and Dzerzhinsk), and the Moscow – Berlin route (via Smolensk, Minsk, Brest and Warsaw).
1.2. Night trains: from the Red Arrow to Rossiya
Given the long distances traveled in Russia, the use of night trains is very common.
These trains offer all kinds of services such as food service, restaurant wagon, etc.
The Red Arrow is a symbol of RZD. Arguably the most classic train on the network. This luxury night train began its services in 1931, and since then it has only been interrupted for 2 years (from 1941 to 1943) during the Siege of Leningrad.
Red in color, the train offers an unforgettable experience for travelers with Soviet-style interiors. Newly designed cars were introduced in 2007, giving it a touch of modernity.
You can travel between Moskovskaya stations in Saint Petersburg and Leningradskaya station in Moscow.
It only makes one departure a day, shortly before midnight to reach its destination at 8 in the morning. These are the trains number 001A and 002A.
Below I will explain you how to buy tickets for this legendary train.
In 2001, the railways in Russia underwent a major transformation when the government encouraged the creation of private companies in rail passenger transport. The Grand Express was the first Saint Petersburg-Moscow train that rose from this innovative reform, and is currently managed by a private company.
The Grand Express is perhaps, along with the Red Arrow, the most luxurious regular train in Russia. The night journey between Moscow and Saint Petersburg is about 8 hours. It is an unmatched experience. Make only one trip a day. These are trains 003A and 004A
Saint Petersburg-Moscow (double decker)
It is a modern double-decker night train that makes this journey for about 8 hours (from 10:50 pm to 6:47 am). It is much more economic than the Red Arrow or the Grand Express. Its numbers are 005A and 006A.
The Arctic train (Арктика) takes you to the Arctic. It takes the route between Moscow and Murmansk, a port city in Russia, near the Russian border with Norway and Finland, in the Lapland region. It can make the journey in about 35 hours. The train numbers are 015А and 016А.
This train also stops in Saint Petersburg, making it another option for traveling between Moscow and Saint Petersburg (it leaves Moscow at 00:41 and arrives to Saint Petersburg at 9:13). It is much more economic than the Red Arrow or the Grand Express. Of course, don’t fall asleep if you don’t want to wake up in the arctic.
Named after the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, this direct night train is a great way to travel between Moscow and Helsinki, in terms of price, safety and comfort. It began operations in 1975, being the first night train that traveled more than 120 km/h. Today, the Tolstoy offers modern compartments and excellent service on its 1,108 km route that covers in 14 hours. Numbers: 031A and 032A.
Make a stop in Saint Petersburg, so it is another option to make the route Moscow-Saint Petersburg or vice versa.
The Rossiya train, which covers the Trans-Siberian Route, is probably the best choice to do this route if adventure is what you like. Before private luxury trains made their appearance, this train offered the highest quality service on the weeklong journey between Moscow and Vladivostok.
2. Private luxury trains: Golden Eagle and Imperial Russia
So far, I have told you about regular trains, which most people take, but there are also private luxury trains that run routes through Russian territory.
These are private trains with an organized trip, and in which you will have a private compartment, organized excursions, meals included in the luxurious restaurant wagon, etc. It is a closed package, as if it were a boat cruise, but in this case, you are travelling by train.
Among them, those that make the Trans-Siberian route, especially Moscow and Saint Petersburg on some routes, or those that circulate through the cities of northern Russia, stand out above all. Among these I would highlight two:
The Golden Eagle
The Golden Eagle is one of the most luxurious trains in the world, and also the most expensive.
Imperial Russia train is operated by RZD Travel Agency (RZD Tour Co. Ltd). It is another luxurious train, but not as expensive as the Golden Eagle. This trip can be purchased on this website. It makes several routes:
- From Moscow to Beijing.
- From Beijing to Moscow.
- From Moscow to Vladivostok.
- From Vladivostok to Moscow.
3. Train tickets purchase in RZD
3.1. Previous matters to consider
The most economical way to buy train tickets, avoiding intermediaries, is through the official website of the Russian national railway company (abbreviated RZD).
In 2020, it renewed its website, making it much easier to purchase tickets online. Keep in mind that to buy electronic tickets for short-distance trains that run from airports to the center of Moscow, you must enter the Aeroexpress website.
Before going into detail in the process of buying long distance tickets, I think it is convenient to answer some basic questions:
When do Russian train tickets go on sale?
On the RZD website, tickets can go on sale 90 days in advance (or even 120 days in the case of some trains).
When is it cheaper to buy tickets?
In high season, if you want to get a more economic price, then you have to book as soon as possible, that is, 90 days in advance (or even 120 days in the case of some trains), since prices tend to rise when demand is increasing, as it is the case with airline tickets.
In this regard, it should be borne in mind that most electronic tickets can be canceled in advance with a small penalty, in case any eventuality arises (I’ll explain how later).
Which documents do I need to buy the ticket?
Only your passport.
How many tickets can be bought at the same time?
A maximum of 4 tickets can be purchased on the RZD website for each order.
If you are 3 people and you book a compartment for 4, the only way to ensure that you will not have another passenger is to buy the 4 tickets, putting the repeated information of another passenger.
What kind of compartments do night trains have?
There are different types of compartments. The Red Arrow train, like many other night trains, basically has three types:
- Luxury. A deluxe compartment with capacity for two people with individual bathroom, shower, television, etc.
- 1-class Sleeping (1st class). It is a compartment with a higher level of comfort than the second class, for two people and with two beds. The bathroom is shared with the other wagon compartments.
- 2-class Sleeping (2nd class). These are standard compartments for four people, two lower bunk beds and two upper bunk beds. It is the most economic. The bathroom is also shared.
Other night trains, such as the Artica, have other types of open compartments:
- 3-class open sleeping. Unlike the first and second class that go in closed compartments, the third class is an open wagon with beds, in which there are no compartments or separating curtains. These are tickets for those who are looking for the most economic ride, without much concern for comfort or privacy.
- Sitting. Gives you access to only a standard seat, but not a bed.
What type of seats do high-speed trains have?
High-speed trains sell the following types of tickets:
- Economy Class. The most economic ticket. Does not include food, but you can order it on the same train.
- Bistro Car. The ticket a little more expensive, since it includes snack food.
- Business Class. Slightly more spacious seats. You have a plug to charge cellphone or laptops. Includes hot food, press, etc.
- First Class. Business class services, but with larger seats and pillows, toilet kit, internet, etc.
- Conference Compartment. Compartment for 4 seats with meeting room and all kinds of services.
Are women-only compartments available?
In general, there are women only compartments on night trains. For this you must select a compartment with the icon called “Gender”. If you reserve a space in said compartment, from that moment the rest of the spaces in the compartment can only be acquired by women.
3.2. Steps to buy tickets online
Below I will explain step by step how to buy a one-way ticket between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, on the Red Arrow classic train. The purchase process is the same for any journey you are going to make by train in Russia. Nowadays, most trains allow you to buy electronic tickets.
Previous step: Registration
As a previous step before starting the ticket purchase process, you must register as a user on RZD website.
For this, you must fill out a form with your personal information. In this screenshot you can see an example:
Once the form has been sent and the account created, you will receive an email, in which you must confirm the registration process. Once your account is verified, you will be able to access the RZD website, with your username and password.
Step 1: Select your route
Once you have an account and have accessed the website as a user, the first step will be to go to the route search form. Most tickets are sold 90 days in advance.
In the following example, I have chosen a one-way train journey from Moscow to Saint Petersburg:
Step 2: Select your train
You will see all the available trains to carry out the selected route.
For example, to make the journey from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, you can choose different trains, among which the Sapsan (САПСАН) fast day train that takes about 4 hours and the Red Arrow (Красная стрела) night train that has compartments with bunk beds, and that allows the journey in about 8 hours (from 23:55 to 7:55 in the morning)
In the following screenshot, I have chosen the Red Arrow train, which is numbered Train 002A. Train 001A is the one that travels the opposite way, that is, from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.
Step 3: Select your seat
On the next screen you will see the different types of train compartments. In the following example I select the second-class compartment:
Then you must select the seats. In the following example, I have chosen seats from 17 to 20, which are marked in a darker color. The compartment table comes with a coffee cup icon.
Lower bunks are slightly more expensive than upper bunks.
Step 4: Passenger information
The next step will be to enter the personal information of all passengers: name and surname, passport number, place and date of birth, etc. You must also select the rate:
- Full Price. The normal rate for an adult.
- Child. Rates for children under 10 years old.
- Baby without seat. Rate for a child without a seat (up to 5 years and only 1 child per passenger).
Step 5: Confirmation of personal information and food
A summary of the reservation information will appear on the next screen. You will have to check that all the information is correct.
The normal second-class ticket includes:
- A basic grooming kit: toothbrush and toothpaste, comb, etc.
- A basic breakfast (water, juice, a piece of fruit or a bun)
The normal ticket allows you to carry a suitcase of up to 36 kilos per person in the same compartment, in which there is space for suitcases.
However, in this step for an additional cost, if you wish, you can:
- Order dinner (standard, vegetarian or for children) or some hot breakfast, better than the one included in the regular ticket (you can also order this hot breakfast when you get on the train).
- Contract the transportation of luggage of more than 36 kilos or special luggage such as pets, bicycle, wheelchair, etc.
Step 6: Reservation payment
The last step of the reservation is the payment by card, the only payment method allowed.
The system will automatically generate the tickets electronically and send them to your email address, ready to print, though you will also have them available in the personal area of your account, on RZD website, under “My orders” section.
Below you can see an example of a train ticket for the Red Arrow:
You can print this ticket or submit it with your smartphone when you get on the train. RZD also has a mobile application to buy tickets for both iPhone and Android.
3.3. How to cancel tickets
In general, electronic tickets can be canceled with a small cancellation cost, though this depends on the type of ticket and the advance with which they are canceled.
On many trains, cancellation more than 24 hours in advance has no cost, except a small fee of 210.60 rubles per ticket for management costs.
The refund of the ticket amount is made with the same bank card that you used to make the purchase. The RZD support email for electronic tickets is [email protected]. For information, you have the following email: [email protected].
You can cancel them from your personal RZD area, in the “My Orders” section. In the following link you have the cancellation conditions in greater detail: https://eng.rzd.ru/en/9840
3.4. Other ticket purchase sites
Thanks to the information that other travelers have given me, I have discovered that there is an online ticket sales service that works very well, called TUTU Travel.
Their website is much easier to use than RZD’s. It has a Russian and English version, and through it you are buying tickets directly in RZD, but with a small commission fee. It allows payment not only by credit card, but also through other systems such as PayPal, WebMoney, Yandex Money or Quiwi wallet.
Another company that also allows payment by PayPal is Russiantrain (not to be confused with Russiantrains.com), which offers you an advisory service in the purchase of more complex tickets, such as the various Trans-Siberian routes (this service is not offered by RZD or TUTU Travel). It also allows the purchase of tickets for international trains leaving the Russian territory (RZD does not always allow the purchase of tickets leaving the Russian border, such as the Trans-Siberian).
In exchange for these additional services, tickets are slightly more expensive than on the RZD website. They apply an extra cost of approximately 15%, much lower than that applied by other ticket sales websites, which can be more than 50%.
Therefore, if you want to pay by PayPal or need a train advisory service, Russiantrain is possibly the best option, though you should be aware that these additional services are offered in exchange for a higher ticket price.
4. Getting on the train: useful information
It is sufficient to board the train a few minutes before departure, though boarding the train is generally allowed 40 minutes in advance.
I advise arriving at the station about 30 minutes in advance, since some stations are large and you have to walk a more or less long way to get to the train car. In addition, you must also go through the security control to access your train.
In addition, it is convenient to know the location of the train stations, as well as the services offered by each of them, such as, luggage storage, free Wi-Fi, services for the disabled, ATMs, shops, VIP waiting room, etc, in case you need to use any of these services. More information: Train stations in Russia: luggage storage, wifi and other services.
When arriving at the station, the first thing will be to look at the electronic panel of schedules to check your train and the departure time.
The wagons are numbered in the first or last window of each car. At the door of your car, the reviewer (provodnik or provodnitsa) will be waiting to check your ticket and your passport.
Once in your compartment, the provodnik or provodnitsa will offer you the menu, in case you want to have a drink or order dinner or breakfast. Russians love to order tea when they get on the train, which is served in glasses with a metal holder.
I hope this article has helped you to know how to travel by train in Russia, and how to book your electronic tickets online. Thank you very much for reading!