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1st and 2nd Class Cabin Information for Trans-Siberian Railway Trains

All our Trans-Siberian tours use the most optimal and practical trains to use for each section of travel as well as focusing on the best quality trains with the highest standard Trans Siberian railway cabin that can be used on each route. In general we will try to only use a train from a destination that originates in that destination as this gives the best chance of ticket availability. We have travelled on all the trains we offer at some point over the years and notice that increasingly ther eis little difference between the rolling stock used. From your perspective you only  need to decide on which class of carriage you wish to travel in – we have already done the rest for you. Most of our clients will travel the Trans Siberian express in a first class cabin or buyout a full Trans Siberian 2nd class cabin on trains that do not have a first class carriage.

Differences between first and Second class Trains-Siberian trains

On almost all Trans-Siberian trains it is a very simple distinction – Trans Siberian railway 2nd class cabins have 4 berths (2 upper and 2 lower) and Trans Siberian railway 1st class cabins have 2 berths (usually 2 lower but occassionally one upper and one lower). Aside from the number of berths there is little difference between the cabins from a space, decor, luggage storage, security and window size perspective. There are also open 3rd class carriages but we never use these.

Classes: Russian & Mongolian Run Trains

There are two cabins classes we use on our trips. Most carriage son any train are  Trans Siberian second class in 4-berth cabins known as “kupés” which have 2 upper and 2 lower berths, plenty of luggage storage space and a small table. There are also 2 berth Trans Siberian railroad first class cabins called “spalny vagons” which are very similar to 4 berth cabins but just lack the upper two berths. Many trains do not have the 2 berth cabins though. All cabins are comfortable and clean with full bedding provided consisting of duvet, sheets, pillows and pillow cases, blankets and hand towels.

Classes: Chinese Run Trains

The Chinese call their cabin classes by different names with soft sleeper being a 4 berth compartment little different to a Russian 2nd class kupé and deluxe sleeper being a 2 berth cabin that usually has a basic shower / basin shared between 2 cabins, a single upper and lower berth and a small couch.

When There Is No First Class

Not all trains have first class 2 berth cabins. In this case what we can do is buy all 4 berths in a second class cabin so that, for example, a couple, have sole occupancy of that cabin with the same privacy, space and security of a 2 berth first class cabin. In fact many people, including us, prefer a 4 berth buyout to a 2 berth cabin as the unsused upper berths are useful for easy access storage.

Carriage Set Up on Trans-Siberian Trains

Each carriage has two Western style toilets with basins for a brief wash. There is also boiling water on tap from a samovar. The corridor usually has fold down seats and each cabin has a lockable door, 2 or 4 berths, a table and a decent amount of luggage storage. Smoking is not allowed except in the small room at the end of each carriage.

trans-siberian train carriage layout

Provodnik & Provodnitsa

Each carriage has two Provodnik (male) or Provodnitsa (female) attendants whose job it is to look after the carriage and passengers. They are charged with providing the bed linen, keeping the carriage clean, making sure the samovar each carriage has keeps providing boiling water (very useful for tea, coffee, noodles etc..) They are also the last word in how long a train will be stopping at a station – something which is very important to check with them when heading off for a platform walk as the train will not wait for you!

To sum up you are their charges and they will keep a paternalistic eye out for you. They range from being friendly to indifferent but somehow play a larger than life role in many a Trans-Siberian trip.

Samovars

The unsung hero of any Trans-Siberian trip is the Russian water heaters called Samovars which each carriage has and produces piping hot boiled water safe to drink. You will be using this for coffee, tea and that occasional cheeky pot noodle!

Toilet facilities on Trans-Siberian trains

Almost all trains we use have sit down western style toilets – usually 2 – one at either end of each carriage. Standards are decent with the facilities being frequently cleaned – the responsibility for this lays with your carriage’s Provodnik / Provodnitsa. Each toilet will also have a basin and the whole set up is designed for a bit of splash around so bring a sponge or flannel and keeping washed shouldn’t be a problem.

Showers & Private Facilities on Trans-Siberian trains

Only the better Russian trains have showers which are in a separate carriage which is usually located next to the dining car. YOu will often find a sign in the toilet advertising this. There is a small fee to use them and you will need to bring your own soap, towel etc… Deluxe class on Chinese train 3 / 4 has a very basic shower facility shared between two cabins. Rolling stock varies though and you should always assume showering and private toilet facilities are not available.

Dining Cars & Food Onboard Trans-Siberian trains

Menus follow national cuisines (so Russisn food in Russia, Chinese and China and – ahem – Mongolian food in Mongolia) and prices are not cheap but usually reasonable value for what you get as they do have competition from vendors on the platforms. Soft drinks and beer, wine and some spirits such as Vodka and Whisky are available or you can bring your own on to the train (and consume discreetly in your cabin).

Of course, you don’t have to eat in the dining car. You can bring what food you like on board either buying before the train trip or at station kiosks along the way. In reality most people mix it up bringing some treats on board, buying fruit and the ubiquitous noodles at stations and having one good hot meal in the dining car itself.

Although some trains in Russia have the option to include meals in the ticket price we don’t recommend this although for some tickets a meal per ticket is included whether you want it or not. This practice is a bit of a Soviet leftover when the train was frequently used to transport state workers and managers around Russia and all meals would be included. The disadvantage is you get what you are given at fixed times and there is no catering todifferent dietary requirements. We think it is much better to combine visits to the dining cars with food brought on to the train and food bought from the vendors and kiosks on the platforms. That way you have a far greater choice of what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat and it is quite possible to do this and not spend any more than adding in meals to the ticket price – assuming the occasional “pot noodle”!

Stops & Platform Life Along the Trans-Siberian

Almost all the trains stop quite frequently but it tends to be only at the longer stops which average 3 or 4 a day that you will find much on offer on the platform besides a photo opportunity!

Larger stations will have plenty of food and drink for sale (not alcohol in Russia though which is only sold in dining cars). It is best to make a beeline for any shops as there will usually be queues right up until the train departs. Prices at the kiosks on the platforms are reasonable and most items will have a price ticket clearly displayed so it is rare to be overcharged. Needless to say, cash in local currency is still king – no card or foreign currency payments here! Some of the larger stations may have ATMs but best not to count on it or, even if they exist, getting access to them in time.

Most find the stations photogenic and, even if not attractive, the hustle and bustle when a train arrives is one of the pleasures of a Trans-Siberian trip. Seasonal food fresh from the Siberian forests is often available by the bucket load (mushrooms, fruits etc…) – especially from late summer into autumn.

Remember that at any stop the train’s toilets are often locked (except on the newest rolling stock) and at large cities this lock-out can also include a good distance either side of the station. Also, you can usually only count on getting back on your carriage  – not others – which is a security measure.

Electricity & WiFi on Trans-Siberian Trains

The trains do have electrical sockets in the aisles and in some of the newer style second class cabins and almost always in first class. You can charge from the sockets in your cabin or sockets in the aisles that have a phone charging sticker by them. You can also ask your conductor if you can use the ones they have in their cabin but success is not guaranteed and may come at a small price in local currency.

Inside Russia WiFi is being rolled out on the trains. It can be slow and intermittent but does work for much of the time. You log on to the PZD network when prompted using your ticket number or carriage and berth number plus the last 4 digits of your passport. Chinese and Mongolian trains do not offer WiFi yet except for the bullet train services inside China.

trans-siberian life on board 3

Security & Safety on Trans-Siberian Trains

Russia in particular still has a bit of an image problem with regards to personal safety. Friends and relatives who haven’t been anywhere near Russia will tell you a whole host of horror stories. However, once in Russia, and particularly on the trains, most quickly realise that a Trans-Siberian trip is no more ‘dangerous’ than any rail trip in Europe or North America.

On the trains your safety is a top priority for the Provodnik & Provodnitsas who look after your carriage and also for security staff who travel on the trains. If you keep your common sense hat on you should not have any issues with theft. Cabins can be locked from the inside by you or from the outside by the conductors on request. At train station stops you are usually only allowed to board the carriage you have a ticket for.

Perhaps the biggest risk is at the start or end of a train journey at the train stations – particularly arriving at stations. Do keep a good eye on your bags and pockets and this applies as much (if not more) to Ulaanbaatar station and all the big stations in China where large crowds are the norm.

Money on the Train

With regard to money on trains there are the following general rules to take into account:

  Only count on being able to use local currency on the train and at stations – it is rare you can pay in USD or Euros these days.
  Don’t count on finding any ATMs at the stations even if told they exist.
  Bring enough money on to the train with you to get you to your next destination.
  Bring a little more than you think you will need!
  You can change money at the borders if you need to.
  You can change or obtain Russian Roubles or Chinese Yuan in Mongolia.
  You can’t get or exchange Mongolian money outside of Mongolia.

Payments by Card on Trains

Inside Russia it is now possible to pay by card on some trains. However, as this is a new development there can be a reluctance to take a card payment – particularly from foreigners. For whatever reasons, cash is still insisted on. As payment by card becomes more commonplace we hope this will change. As ever, if you are going to use a card make sure you let your bank know in advance where you will be travelling or they may put a block on your card. Card payments on trains are not yet possible in Mongolia and China.

trans-siberian life on board

Crossing borders Russia, Mongolia & China

They can be long and quite boring experiences but are essentially nothing to worry about for the law abiding, visa-in-hand, traveller.

Different borders have different procedures but generally customs and immigration is handled on the train after which you are free (or required to) go onto the platform or into station buildings. While off the train don’t be alarmed if it moves off as new engines and dining cars are being shunted into position nearby.

At the China-Mongolia and China-Russian borders the bogey’s (wheels) are changed to fit the different gauges between the countries. At the China-Russia border you must get off whilst this happens. At the China-Mongolia border you may (and not of late) have the option to stay on the train which then goes into the sheds, is lifted up with you on it and one set of bogey’s removed and another slid in. Fascinating to experience but do keep in mind it takes time, the toilets are locked and you can’t get off!

The border stops often seem unnecessarily long and we think the reason is the matching up of cross border timetables as quite often local carriages are attached to the international trains. Stay relaxed and patient and you will be on your way soon enough.

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