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If you’re traveling to and from Russia, and also around it, there’s a good chance that you’ll be traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad. After all, it’s a major part of Russia and its travel and tourism industry. It’s been that way for a very long time now. It’s pretty hard to talk about Russia without talking about this famous railway.
While Russians know the railway by heart, tourists can benefit from this guide on what is the Trans-Siberian railroad. This guide will present you with everything there is to know about it so that you can maximize your use of the railway when you travel to Russia.
History of the Trans-Siberian railroad
Just like with other developments, the development of this railway arose from a need back in the 19th century. Siberia was in dire need of development but it proved to be quite the challenge because of lack of transport links in and around the region. There was the Great Siberian Route, but that was it. Besides, it wasn’t even the best option for more or less 5 months every year when it made better sense to travel via the rivers. For the other months, people traveled via sleds across ice covered roads and rivers.
Other options were explored to try and come up with a more efficient system. Some routes could only be navigated from the north to the south. The Ob-Yenisei Canal was built to try and overcome this challenge but it failed. This is why a conclusion was made – a railroad system is needed.
This is why the Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railroad was developed. As soon as it was completed back in 1851, more railway projects came after that. The Irkutsk–Chita project was among the first thanks to the proposal of Perry Collins who was an entrepreneur from the US. This project was backed by Constantine Possiet who was the Transport Minister at that time. The project’s goal was to connect Moscow to the Amur River and eventually, to the Pacific Ocean.
Soon enough, surveys were done on the viability of a railroad system in the Khabarovsk region. Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky, the governor of Siberia at that time, wanted to colonize the Russian Far East but acknowledged that it couldn’t be done until they stopped being dependent on Korea and China for imported grain and other food.
It wasn’t smooth-sailing. The governor encountered a lot of challenges as the central government wasn’t supportive at first because of several reasons like the financial risk involved. Alternative proposals for railways were given. For example, several suggestions were made in order to save funds. Those in the project worked hard to reject these suggestions as they wanted an uninterrupted system.
Even with the challenges, the Far East side of the construction was inaugurated in March of 1890. A year later, construction went on full blast. Construction was done by starting at both ends until the construction met at the center. The railroad was constructed by Russian soldiers together with laborers.
Effects were immediately felt, starting with the agriculture industry in Siberia. Exports were made especially to the West. Peasants also migrated via the Trans-Siberian railroad. In the peak migration period from 1906 to 1914, it was estimated that more or less 4 million peasants migrated to Siberia.
Why Trans-Siberian railroad is so popular?
It’s the most important means of transport within Russia. Without it, the tourism industry of Russia will suffer along with its economy. It’s not just foreign tourists. Domestic passengers greatly rely on this railway.
It also holds the distinction of being the longest railroad in the world. It has a total length of almost 9,300 kilometers. It’s constantly expanding so there’s a good chance that it will hold this distinction for a very long time.
It’s also popular because it connects several cities so a lot of cities use it. Its network connects Moscow with the Sea of Japan and of course, with the Russian Far East. There are also lines that connect Moscow with China, North Korea and Mongolia.
Several references were made to the railroad in popular media. Several films and movies took place in the railway including Transsiberian, Fiddler on the Roof and the Horror Express. It also appeared on TV like in the show An Idiot Abroad. It even appeared in the comic Corte sconta detta arcana/Corto Maltese en Sibérie and videogame Syberia.
I think you might find interesting documentary film “Trans-Siberian Odyssey” from Russia Today channel about life of a train’s team of conductors. Film has total of 9 episodes and if you are interested I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find the rest of them on Youtube. Here is the first episode.
In addition, the Trans-Siberian railroad allows you to enjoy the Russian landscape. That alone is more than enough good explanation behind its popularity.
How long does it take to travel the Trans-Siberian railroad?
As I mentioned before, it’s the longest railroad in the world so you just know that it will take quite a while to travel. How long, exactly? Well, it depends on your route.
For example, there’s the conventional route from Moscow to Vladivostok. This journey will take 7 days. Some routes will only take a few hours like the 6 hour route Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod. Others will take even longer than the conventional Moscow to Vladivostok route.
Places to stop on the Trans Siberian railroad
One of the best things about the railway, in addition to efficiently taking you from Point A to Point B, is there are a lot of places that you can see and things that you can do along the way. There are several stops on most routes and you can take advantage of this by planning accordingly so that you can maximize your trip and get to see a lot of nice towns and places.
Just to give you an idea, train from Moscow to Vladivostok makes stops for about half an hour every 3 or 4 hours of traveling time. This should give you more than enough time to check out some places. Of course, it’s better to plan ahead and schedule a day or two at some of the best stops.
Here’s a list of must see places that you have to check out while traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad in Russia.
- St. Petersburg
This is the northern capital of Russia so there are a lot of places to see. If you can, plan your stop sometime in June so that you’ll get to experience the famous white nights in St. Petersburg.
Of course, you have to check out Russia’s capital. There are a lot of things to see including Kremlin, Red Square and the mausoleum of Lenin.
You have to make a detour to check out this place as it’s not really a stop along the railway. But if you want to check out how Russia looked centuries before, this is worth the detour. Check out the churches all over Suzdal and relax by taking a dip in the Kamenka river. Feel free to enjoy medovukha anytime on your stop. It’s a honey-based alcoholic drink.
- Nizhniy Novgorod
This is home to the longest river in all of Europe – the Volga. Make a stop here and enjoy amazing views from the walls of Kremlin. If you consider yourself a fan of Maxim Gorky who is one of the most famous writers, then you’ll be interested to know that this was his hometown.
During the communist revolution, the Tobolsk was the Russian tsar family’s last home. It’s still quite a sight.
Fans of wooden architecture will enjoy Tomsk. You’ll get to enjoy some of the best wooden architecture in Russia. Best of all, they’re very well-preserved. It’s a picturesque town so make sure to check it out.
This Vladimir Lenin monument is interesting, to say the least. Say hello to the big head of the father of communist revolution in Russia.
This is your stop if you want to visit the Lake Baikal, and you should. The lake contains the most volume of freshwater lake in the whole world, containing more or less 20% of the fresh water of the world.
How much does it cost?
The fare is dependent on several things. Generally speaking, it’s dependent on your route and the class that you want to be in. For example, one way ticket from Moscow to Vladivostok will cost around $300 if you’re on second class. Of course, it will cost more if you’ll be in first class. Expect to pay around $400-$500 for a first class ticket.
If you’re traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad to China, expect to pay $400 for second class and a little over $600 for first class ticket.
Alternatively, you can purchase an all-inclusive ticket. A lot of travel agencies are taking advantage of the popularity of this route and are offering tour packages. Tour packages often start at $5000. These packages include fare, tours and hotels. This means that you also get to enjoy the cities highlighted in the list above.
How to buy train tickets
The first thing that you have to know is the train system in Russia is different from the systems of other European countries. In Russia you have to buy the train tickets with fixed dates and you can’t just get off a stop and ride the next train. All the stops should be planned and paid for in advance before you got on the train.
You also have to know that tickets can get sold out. In fact, it’s very common for the tickets to get sold out during peak season. Peak season is from July to September and around the New Year.
How can you buy the tickets? You have several options:
• Buy them from a travel agency in your country. This is a very safe option, but generally more expensive.
• Buy from a travel agency located in where you’re going to start your train journey in Russia. This is also a safe option, although riskier than the first one. It’s also a more expensive option.
• Buy the tickets yourself. This is the cheapest option. You can buy them at any Russian train station. However, this is a very risky option. This is especially true if it’s your first time to buy the train tickets in Russia. Some of the stations have windows designated to assist foreigners in buying tickets so look for these windows. You can find them in the big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg.
• Buy them online via the online booking system of the Russian Railways. This is the best option right now. Booking is made online so it’s very convenient. It’s also very cheap to book online. When you buy the tickets online, you still need to get a paper ticket from the train station. The printed order confirmation won’t suffice.
While the Trans-Siberian railroad was constructed to satisfy a need, it’s now a very important part in the tourism industry of the region.
The railway is a tourist attraction in itself but don’t be content with just looking at the trains. You need to experience traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad in Russia. This allows you to enjoy the Russian landscape better. As soon as you see the landscape aboard the train, you’ll see why it’s better than just looking at the landscape from a stationary position.
Riding the train is quite the experience. In fact, it’s in a lot of people’s bucket list. It’s not just a way to travel. For a lot of travelers, it’s the best way to travel. This is especially true if you’re going to check out the stops that I listed above. Again, just make sure to plan your stops beforehand. It’s a little bit of a hassle, but it will be worth it.
If it’s possible, make sure to buy train tickets online. It’s a cheap, safe and convenient way. If you have the budget for it, you can also check out tour packages. This takes out a huge part of the hassle. You get to travel via the train and enjoy the stops along the way just by buying a tour package. The only thing that you have to do is to enjoy.
What should you do now? Look at the popular stops on the route and determine which ones you want to check out. Afterwards, purchase your ticket with these stops in mind. Soon enough, you’ll be enjoying the travel of a lifetime. I hope you found some useful information in this post and learned what the Trans-Siberian railroad is.
Stay tuned, let’s explorer Russia together!