So what should you expect when boarding a Russian train?
Well, first of all, Russian trains usually have three classes:
1) First class (SV) = 2-berth compartments. It is the most comfortable type of carriage, it has a fold-down table between the beds, personal reading lights and a sliding, lockable door. There are 2 wash rooms and toilets one on each end of the corridor and are usually very clean. Sometimes you also get a TV and DVD player.
2) Second Class (Kupe) = 4-berth compartments with two upper and two lower berths. Luggage-storage is located below the lower berths, and in the large overhead bays. There are reading lights and a table + a sliding lockable door. 2 clean wash rooms and toilets are located at the ends of the corridor.
3) Third Class (Platskart) = it is an “open” carriage with 54 bunks (which means that there are no separate compartments), arranged in abs of 4 on one side and 2 parallel to the central aisle. Obviously there is much less privacy in this type of carriages, which can get quite noisy and are usually dirtier than kupe, but they are also way way cheaper. Also, if you’re a solo female traveller and are worried about safety, this is actually the safest option, since there are always people around and you won’t risk getting stuck with unwanted neighbors in a “kupe” compartment. Plus it’s the best way to meet people, so we definitely recommend this third option!
Toilets and showers
At each end of the carriages there is a toilet with a WC and a sink, which, unless you are travelling in first class, usually get dirty pretty quickly. There are no showers in 2nd and 3rd class wagons, while they are provided for 1st class passengers. Also, most trains don’t have retention toilets, so they discharge on the tracks, which is why the toilets get locked by the provodnik about 20 minutes before arriving at a station until after departure.
Each carriage, whatever class you’re travelling in, is looked after by two attendants called “provodnik” (male) or “provodnitsa” (female). The provodnik will check your ticket when you board and, shortly after departure, he will come to your seat to give you the bedding (two sheets, pillowcase and towel) which is handed out in sealed packs, while blankets and mattresses will already be stacked in your compartment. Note that if you bought your ticket online and haven’t purchased the linens then, the provodnik will ask you to pay some 120 rubles. It is anyway specified on your ticket. The provodnik also does the daily cleaning on the carriage.
A samovar (which is a big water boiler basically) with unlimited free hot water is available at the end of the corridor , so bring some tea bags or instant coffee, soups or noodles and your own mug!
The restaurant car
Most long distance trains have a restaurant car serving drinks, snacks, and full meals (price around 20 euros for a two course-meal and a couple of beers). It is usually located in the middle of the train.
The restaurant-car staff also do a drinks/snacks trolley service down the whole train several times a day.
Still, the best thing is that at every stop there are old women selling home-made food outside of the train. You can buy soups, potatoes, meat, fish, pastries– whatever really. That’s what most of the people do anyway. Also, if you’re nice enough you’re Russian neighbours will usually offer you their salted cucumbers, rye bread, and vodka (so maybe make sure you have pack something to offer them in exchange).
Electricity sockets and Wifi
Forget the wifi. There is no wifi on most Russian trains, so bring a book, play cards or talk to your neighbour to pass the time.
Every carriage has at least one or two sockets next to the toilets. First class and second class carriages have individual sockets in each compartment.
Russian trains are some of the safest in the world. Besides their other functions, the provodniks kind of act like the train police, so they watch everyone like KGB agents. Also, each train has its own police on board. There are no lockers, however if you take the lower bunk and put your valuables under your bed, no one will have access to it during the night (cause you’re sleeping on it). Things don’t usually get stolen, at least it never happened to us, but just maybe watch out for your stuff during the train stops when lots of people get on and off the train.
Smoking is allowed in “tambur” only (the passage areas between the carriages).