Baikal Irkutsk Trans Siberian

Trans-Siberian Railway

On this page: General Info ; Railway Routes ; Train Types ; Sleeping Cars ; Dining ; Tickets ; Tours 

On other pages: Trans-Siberian Tours ; Train Travel Guide ; Trains to Baikal ; Circum-Baikal Train Tours  

The world famous Trans-Siberian Railway or as it is also called the Great Siberian Way does not need a special introduction. The construction of the longest railway in the world of 9,259 km (5,753 mi) was one of the most significant events in the history of Russia. The TransSib has changed the life of many people, it united the immense country and made traveling from European part of Russia to a remote Siberia practically possible. Nowadays we call Trans-Siberian railway the whole distance from Moscow to Vladivostok. Historically, however, the first section was made in a record time from 1891 till 1898 and stretched from the Ural Mountains till the Pacific Ocean.

It all began even before February 1891, when the Committee of Ministers found it possible to start Trans-Siberian railway construction. Not many people know that it was N. N. Muravyov-Amursky, the general governor of Eastern Siberia who raised a question of the railway construction on the Siberian outskirts of Russia. Later, Alexander III as an active emperor of the Russian Empire gave the first real impulse to implementation of this daring plan. Nothing of the kind in terms of scale and engineering complexity has been done before. Talented engineers, hired workers, peasants, soldiers, prisoners were involved in the Transsib construction. Owing to the efforts and hard work of thousands of people we can now enjoy the Great Siberian Way. More about the history of Trans-Siberian Railway

Trans-Siberian Railway Routes

Soon after crossing East Siberia the Trans-Siberian Railway divides into four different routes:

Classic Trans-Siberian Railway. Nowadays, the main route of the Trans-Siberian railway is considered to be the track starting from St. Petersburg and running through Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Chita to Vladivostok. The railway line of 9,259 km (5,753 mi) is crossing the whole Eurasian continent with 7 time zones on the way and taking 8 days to complete the non-stop journey. This route is often chosen by travelers who want to cover the whole way from West to East claiming that they experienced the epic journey across Russia enjoying ever-changing sceneries from the window of their cabin.

Trans-Mongolian Railway. After crossing East Siberia two more primary routes branch off the main Trans-Siberian track. The first one was laid to the south from Ulan-Ude city on the east shore of Lake Baikal across Mongolia to Ulan-Bator, then further to the Gobi desert, crossing Chinese boarder and finally heading to Beijing. Though it is not regarded as the “Classic Trans-Siberian” many of the travelers prefer this route since both Ulan-Bator and Beijing are much more important tourist destinations than Vladivostok. Besides, Vladivostok serves very few flights across the Pacific, so one may need to consider flying the reverse way to Moscow for international flights back home. While Beijing has the variety of air companies and flights to almost anywhere in the world.

Trans-Manchurian Railway. The third possible course called the Trans-Manchurian branch splits off the main Trans-Siberian track near the city of Chita about 1,000 km (625 mi) east of Lake Baikal shore. It travels to China northern provinces via Harbin where it finally joins the main railway track to Vladivostok. This is the old Trans-Siberian track which went through the territories that used to belong to Russian Empire in the early XXth century. Nowadays, passenger trains Moscow-Beijing continue from Harbin and Shenyang further south to Beijing without entering Mongolia. This route is less popular among western travelers since eastwards from Lake Baikal and till Beijing there are no excursion-worth stopovers along the way. Besides that, this way to Beijing takes 10 hours longer then Trans-Mongolian, so this track is sometimes chosen if there are no tickets available at other trains.

BAM Railway. Baikal-Amur Railway (locally known as BAM) was finally completed only in 1990s after almost five decades of hard work in the permafrost area. The line branches off Trans-Siberian at Taishet in the north-west of Irkutsk region and runs eastbound touching the lake Baikal northern extremity, and then heads towards the Pacific. During Soviet times BAM was thought as the strategic alternative to Trans-Siberian which went dangerously close to Chinese boarder while USSR’s tensions with China increased throughout 1970s and 1980s. This railway track is now widely used by tourists to get to Severobaikalsk at the northern tip of Lake Baikal for untouched sceneries of the lake and numerous hot springs found there.

Types of Trans-Siberian Trains

There are a lot of different trains that travelers can choose from. Most of regular trains in Russia are called passengers trains (or “passazhirskiy” in Russian). These are the slowest trains that make many stops along the way even on very small stations. It would be tough to find another western traveler in such a train. Those are mostly used by Russians to get from one regional center in Siberia to another. Since regional flights between smaller cities in Russia (meaning not from/to Moscow or St. Petersburg) are often occasional, trains remain the easiest and often the cheapest way to travel from one city to another. “Passazhirskiy” trains are also cheaper alternative to both jet flights and faster trains. Good example of it is train No 239/240 that runs from Moscow to Vladivostok. The whole trip takes 6 days and 16 hours.

Express trains (or “skoriy” in Russian) travel with fewer stops along the way. Though, all of these trains also make 15-30 min stops in all major regional centers. Such trains are targeted at people who travel longer distances, but for some reason prefer ground transportation to jet flights. Among express trains there is a subcategory of firm trains (“firmenniy” in Russian) which means as a rule that they are more comfortable, fast and with more services included in the ticket price. These trains are easy to recognize by their own “name” that they have besides the train number. Most of them already became well known brand names that guarantee high quality services, but compete with airfares by the cost of travel. One of the examples of such trains is train No. 1/2 “Rossiya” – the firm train with carriages painted in the colors of Russian flag. It covers the distance between Moscow and Vladivostok in 6 days and 2 hours.

Another example of express trains are international trains No. 3/4 running from Moscow to Ulan-Bator and then further to Beijing and train No. 5/6 heading from Moscow to Ulan-Bator. Though, these trains do not have their own names, they are very comfortable, clean and often used by many foreign tourists in their travel along Trans-Siberian to Trans-Mongolian. More about types of Trans-Siberian trains

Train numbers. The same Russian train always has two numbers with even number standing for eastwards direction and odd number, in turn, westwards direction of the train. As a rule the less digits train number has the faster it usually goes. Single digit trains like No.1/2 “Rossiya” express train and No. 9/10 “Baikal” express train are probably the fastest, surely the nicest ones, but also the most expensive trains. Three digit trains are slow lower quality trains which are not recommended for demanded passengers, unless all other options are sold out. However, when planning the itinerary, besides the travel time, tour budget and time of arrival to the targeted destination also matters. See Schedule at Irkutsk railway station

Types of Accommodation in Russian Trains

Russian Railways normally offer 3 classes of train carriages. 1st class often called “lyuxe” or “SV” (sleeping wagon) is a soft-bed 2-berth compartment that can be found mostly in express trains. Those are very comfortable, and often such carriages are kept in better shape. In express trains all the carriages are replaced each 5-7 years for the new ones. Another important thing is that the shared facilities in 1st class cars are used only by limited number of people (18 seats per car max). People who travel in these carriages are usually wealthy Russians or westerners. Most of common people do not find it reasonable since the 1st class ticket cost is way above regular airfares and may be compared only to business class airfares.

2nd class (or “kupe” in Russian) has 4-berth compartments, and is the most popular among Russians as well as foreign travelers. It is considered to be a standard for travel. There are 8 or 9 compartments in each car making it the maximum capacity of 36. With twice less per person space “kupe” is at least twice less expensive then the 1st class. There is also 3rd class or so called “platzkartniy” carriage in Russian internal trains. It is an open berth dormitory type of carriage mostly used by locals traveling short distances and sometimes foreign budget travelers, i.e. students and backpackers. Types of sleeping cars on Trans-Siberian trains

Meals on Board

Each train car has its own carriage attendance (or “provodnitsa” in Russian) who is in charge of overall order, keeping the toilets clean and burning chopped wood sticks in the tea-boiler that provides unlimited boiled water for passengers free of charge. Carriage attendances sell tea, coffee, instant noodles and snacks to passengers. One can purchase food from them or also easily buy food from many vendors on station platforms when train stops.

Alternatively, passengers may bring their own food to the carriage. Most Russians would take snacks, hard boiled eggs, smoked chicken and other food with them. If you did not have enough time to visit supermarket before the departure there is always a restaurant car in long-distance trains, however, some may find food to be not of a real restaurant quality and a bit overpriced. Most of firm trains offer the possibility to book a ticket “with services” which usually means newspapers, toilet accessories, and meals included. Meals are a light packed breakfast distributed in the mornings and a hot meal for dinner served into your compartment by “provodnitsa” at night. More about Dining in Trans-Siberian Trains

Trans-Siberian Railway Tickets

Train costs may vary significantly depending on the train number and season of traveling. The highest fares are during summer months and Russian national holidays particularly the first week of January and the first week of May (More about train fares). It is also important to know that Russian Railway company starts selling domestic train tickets only 45 days prior to train departure. International train tickets can be purchased in 60 day period before departure which is a little better but still way too late for the most of our foreign guests who are used to planning the trip in advance. None of the travel agents in Russia can 100% confirm tickets until this time. Read more on how to reserve Trans-Siberian train ticket

As for the fares one should remember that with a diverse number of options it is always a choice between cheap lower-quality domestic trains and faster quality express trains that recently turned into tourist attraction with very few real Russian passengers on board. To find out the exact train fares, please, send us a request specifying desired travel destinations, dates of travel and carriage class. We would be happy to suggest you the rates.

Trans-Siberian Railway Tours

There are still quite many tourists who prefer a railroad trip to jet plains and come to Siberia from Moscow along the railway tracks. These people do look happy: they are not in a hurry and can afford themselves a few calm evenings in a train. Moreover they can proudly say that they have crossed the whole country and have seen many beautiful places from the window of their car.

If you are planning your epic Trans-Siberian Railway journey we would be glad to offer you one of our Trans-Siberian package tours that are designed with several stops along the way. This allows to break up you journey so that you can stay a couple of nights off the train and relax from the constant rumble of wheels. In this very section we list the tours that were frequently asked by our guests during previous tourist seasons. However, we would like to emphasize that they may serve you just as a source of travel ideas. In turn, we are always ready to design a trip for independent travelers that would meet their own schedule, special interests and certainly a budget.

If you would prefer a worry-free type of travel with all the services provided and taken care of by a single tour company you would need to decide on your final destination and stopovers on the way, and we would offer you all the services including Russian visa support, train ticket booking, transfers, accommodations, excursion program in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Ulan-Bator, and Beijing. Once you choose to find a local supplier at each destination along your way we can provide you a full range of tour and travel related services in Irkutsk (our home town) and all around Lake Baikal region.

Enjoy traveling Trans-Siberian Railway with us for the deeper insights into Russian culture and heritage!