Choosing Trans-Siberian Train
We have various trains and train types available to choose from on the Trans-Siberian railway. Basically, all of these trains can be categorized into three major groups: 1) superior, top-quality trains called “firmenniy” (literally brand-named in Russian), 2) express trains also known as “skoriy” in Russian, and 3) regular passenger trains (“passazhirskiy” in Russian).
1) Top-quality trains. There is probably only one superior train running the whole Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Vladivostok, but many other trains cover all different segments of the way. These are all top-quality trains that are fast, clean and comfortable. Such trains can be recognized by their own brand names standing next to the number. The example is No. 1/2 “Rossiya” going from Moscow to Vladivostok. This one is actually the best train Russian Railways (RZD) has to offer on the Trans-Siberian route. It is mostly used by foreigners who are traveling through Russia on vacations. Ticket fares for “Rossiya” often exceed airfares even during peak season making it unreasonable for Russians to use it as just a means of transportation from one place to another.
Trans-Siberian travelers can also choose out of many other “firmenniy” trains that are a bit less fancy, but also top-quality ones. Examples are train 9/10 “Baikal” which is our local Irkutsk train running from Irkutsk to Saint Petersburg, train 15/16 “Ural” from Yekaterinburg to Moscow, train 25/26 “Sibiryak” from Novosibirsk to Moscow, etc. Those trains have their own brand names one can see indicated outside of the carriages on the route plates. All them are highly recommended for enjoyable train travel across Russia.
2) Express trains (or “skoriy” in Russian) are more regular in comparison with “firmenniy” trains. Such trains offer somewhat less comfort and fewer services included in the ticket price. Yet they are also fast, often traveling with as little stops as possible along the way. All of these trains still stop for some 15-30 minutes in most important Russian cities.
Among express trains there is a subcategory of international trains, e.g. train 3/4 from Moscow to Beijing or train 5/6 from Moscow to Ulan-Bator, which are used by westerners who often prefer continuing their way to Mongolia and China to the classical Trans-Siberian route which leads to Vladivostok. During high summer season, tickets for international trains are normally marketed for international journeys only, mostly from Moscow all the way to Ulan-Bator or Beijing. This is especially true about the 1-st class in these trains.
As a whole, taking express train can be a cheaper alternative for people who travel longer distances, but do not require much comfort and luxury that can be found in Russian “firmenniy” trains. (Unless we are speaking about Chinese train 3/4 with soft cabins and a private bathroom shared between one pair of two adjacent 1-st class compartments.)
3) Besides that, we have very regular, slow passenger trains (called “passazhirskiy” in Russian). These trains often stop at different smaller stations allowing Russians to commute between small cities and villages that do not have airports. Passenger trains remain the easiest and often the cheapest way to travel from one city to another within one region of Russia and particularly Siberia. Such a train would ride from Moscow to Irkutsk in 5 days instead of 3 regular days. One can recognize these trains by 3-digit train numbers, e.g. train 239/240 that travels all across Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok.
There are many people coming in and out in those trains. When it comes its way through the country, cabins and especially bathrooms often do not remain very clean and neat. On the other hand, these are the least expensive trains. We normally do not recommend this option unless for students and budget backpacker travelers.