Hello dear readers and fans!! Excuse me for not writing for such a long time, I had to take all the existing trains throughout Russia in order to write this article!!
Well as you guess this is only partly truth, but I still took a lot of trains in Russia this last weeks!!
This article is the first one of a trilogy, I will explain here how to buy train tickets in Russia; in the next one I’ll talk about the unique experience you get traveling in trains (long distance) in Russia and in the third one I’ll describe a travel in a suburban train (электричка), there is much to say!!
In one of the previous posts, (http://glance-on-russia.blogspot.com/2011/05/russia-through-eyes-of-latin-american.html) my South American friend already explained the different ways to buy tickets, with his own experience. Here I will give a slightly different version, more complete; I hope both are interesting so I invite you to read the other article as well!
So let’s see how to buy ticket in Russia, especially as a foreigner:
The first and easiest way is usually through Internet: it’s quick, you have the best fare (special offers), it’s easy and you don’t have to queue! However you need two things, a credit card that works on the website (usually only Russian credit cards) and to speak Russian (or to have someone who does right next to you!). It’s possible to buy tickets on-line on the site http://rzd.ru/, you can also look on http://www.tutu.ru/poezda/ but I think they take a commission. However Tutu’s website is great to look at the trains, suburban trains and planes schedule as their website is quite well done! Once you found your route, you can go on the RZD’s website to buy the tickets directly. If you know any other good websites (especially in English), please put it down in the commentaries.
For the express trains to the airport, the Aeroexpress, you can also buy your tickets on-line in advance on the site https://www.aeroexpress.ru/en. The good news here is that you have an English version that works perfectly (it's the proof that nothing is impossible in Russia)!
For the high speed trains Moscow - St-Petersburg and Moscow – Nizhny-Novgorod you can buy the tickets on the website http://sapsan.su/. Unfortunately it’s only in Russian so far.
If you don’t speak Russian, there is an English version of the Russian Rail Roads (RZD) website, http://eng.rzd.ru/, but for the moment it’s only corporate site, not commercial. You need to switch to the Russian version to buy the tickets! Let’s hope it will change in a near future, especially due to the upcoming events such as the winter Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. If you want to look for train schedules in English, here is a pretty good website with useful information on how to travel by train in Russia, http://www.seat61.com/Russia-trains.htm.
The second option (the old classic one!) would be to buy your tickets at the Train station counters: If you speak Russian, it should be okay, but in that case, buy online! If you don’t and that no one can help, I advise you to go first at the train station machines (some of them have an English version) and check which train you want to take, and then queue to buy your ticket. If you do that, make sure to write down the number of the train, the seat number you want (I advise you to always take the down seats) and to look for the price. Than as the operators usually don’t speak English, give them the paper, your passport or photocopy (it is advisable) and the necessary amount of money! You can also give the copy of your passport to someone else for him to buy your tickets; you don’t have to go yourself. In some train stations in Moscow and I guess St-Petersburg, they have special counters for foreigners where they speak English!
When queuing, you must be very careful at the schedule of the desk where you are staying. Each desk successively has a technical break, usually 15 minutes, and a lunch break of half an hour or one hour!
If you want to take a suburban train, you will have to buy your tickets directly at the counter; try to be at the train station at least 25 minutes before your train’s departure as they might be lots of people queuing. The tickets are very cheap, for example if you are going 120 km away from Moscow, you will pay around 200 rubles so 5€!! Do not expect the employees to speak English (although a miracle can still happen!), so make sure to know your final destination, look at the price written on the notice board near the counter and just say the station name (or write it down) and give the money! You don’t need your passport or other documents.
If you don’t know any Russian, I advise you to come 30-40 minutes before the train’s departure to avoid any problem. In some train stations you will have different counters for suburban trains depending on your destination, so it’s easy to get lost. If you have any problem, try to ask a Russian girl (age 18-30) to help you, by experience it’s the category that is the most likely to speak English. I say a girl because in Russia (and probably in many countries), I found that girls often mastered more languages than guys.
Previously I talked about the Train station machines: If you don’t want to queue at the counter, these machines are inside the train station and allow you to buy your train tickets as well. They accept credit cards but once again, not all of them. You can check your train number and price on the machine and than buy your ticket directly at the counter. And as it would be too easy, most of them are in Russian, meaning few of them are also in English!
The last solution and maybe the easiest one, if you don't speak any Russian, is to buy your tickets through specialized Travel Agencies (ЖД и авиа билеты, meaning train and plane tickets). They will take a commission depending on your ticket’s price but there is usually no queuing, and in most of them in Moscow they will have someone who does speak English! Otherwise you can go to any other “normal” travel agency to buy your tickets.
Oh! I forget to tell you that if you have to cancel your trip, you can be reimbursed. If you ask the pay back more than 8 hours before departure, you have a fixed commission, between 8 hours and 2 hours, the commission is 50% of the cheapest fare (Platzkart) and between 2 hours before and 12 hours after departure, it’s 100% of the cheapest fare.
A last advice, be very careful to the name of your train station, some of them are quite far from each other and you don’t want to go in the wrong one. In Moscow there are more than six big train stations and dozens of small ones, so make sure to double check it!
I hope that now you have all the keys to buy train tickets in Russia! If you have any questions or advices, do not hesitate to comment on this article, thank you!