Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Train Ride 2015 - St Petersburg to Moscow with Sapsan High Speed Train, 4th Leg

Date of travel: 22nd October 2015

We had a chance of riding a Sapsan high-speed train with an assistance of Russian Train, an official website operator for Trans-Siberia and Allegro beside Sapsan. The ticket was booked as soon as the website open it's on-line ticketing. The services is very satisfying, thus, we shall use them again for the next route (yet to come) from Moscow to Beijing via Trans-Siberia train bypassing Mongolia. Trans-Siberia is a route that I started to dream about when I first started chasing the train. If the time has come, I wanted hubby to tag along as he was the one who sparked the whole idea of travel worldwide on earthbound route. Ever since (in December 2011), I had traveled approximately 11,333 km only on railway. A big achievement which I, myself are so proud of. The mileage summary for the records are:-

1st leg, east : 1,469 km (Kuala Lumpur - Bangkok)
2nd leg, west : 3,742 km (Istanbul - London)
3rd leg, east : 2,630 km (Bangkok - Hanoi)
4th leg, west : 3,492 km (Paris - Moscow)

By the way, I was, in the above photo (a steward of Sapsan Train helped me to snap) wore quite a heavy layers of clothing. 5 layers top and 3 layers bottom. It was scary to be in the cold, especially when an unexpected wind just gushing wildly at you out of nowhere. When that happened, just prepare for the cold wind to enter into any possibly holes of your clothing, entering to the bones. My first experienced dealing with cold wind was in Munich last year. For some unknown reason it became bearable as both Anne and I can stay even longer outside. Maybe because of an excitement of seeing these part of the world which are beyond beauty. We managed to overcome those "cold feeling" fear, when we explored the Fort Suomenlinna in Helsinki.  

Inside St Petersburg magnificent train station. Boarding is at located the end of the hall

Impressed with the wall panel showing the train routes that taking its passengers from this station alone

Sapsan is a high-speed trains connecting St Petersburg and Moscow, in just 3 hours and 55 minutes. It was introduced in December 2009 with the first Sapsan (means Peregrine Falcon) of 250 km/h high-speed trains link Moscow & St Petersburg.  The initial 3 services a day has now been increased to 5 trains each way every day.  The Sapsans have been very successful ever since, with a 99% on-time performance and an average load factor of 80% (meaning each departure is on average 80% full). So my suspicious is true somehow, I saw a Siemens sign everywhere on the train car. Sapsan was actually built by Siemens based on the superb German ICE. Siemens are set to revolutionise travel between Russia's 2 prime cities, with additional services and faster journey times to come as the line is progressively upgraded. These information and the video are available in Sapsan's official website.

After checked-in (similar with boarding a plane), we saw that each car has it's own steward waiting to check our e-ticket and the passport before letting us on the coach. Our scheduled Sapsan train 767 departing at 13:10 from Moscow Train Station in St. Petersburg. Please take note that there are 4 main train station in St Petersburg altogether. I'm going to include the 2 out of 4 that we arrived and departed from the city in the travelogue entry later. Departure time was punctual and the staff greeting passengers could not have been better. All of them speak English as well as Russian. The steward looking after our coach no. 10 is the best. He even highlighted me about the distance, of about 700km between the 2 cities. The service on the train was extremely good and in business class a full 3 course meal was served with wines and spirits all included in the price of the ticket. For a 2nd class coach, a complimentary meals (sandwiches, coffee and water) was distributed to all passengers. You may order anything extra from the steward. There's also television and routes information supplied through screens. An announcements are in English and Russian. The train is very comfortable, not shaky and arrived on scheduled time, 17.10, the best train for those travelling at day time. In overall, I would rank its trains services, comfort riding, hassle-free etc as 1 of the best thus far in all of 4 legs of the train journey. It's at par with any equivalent TGV or ICE available in western Europe. To anyone reading this, please give yourself a try, do travel to Russia. See it's warm people  though in a cold country.

Sapsan is a Russian words, meaning "Peregrine Falcon". It is known as Velaro RUS EVS, a Russian gauge high speed electric express train. The design is part of the Siemens Velaro family. The trains started its regular services on the Moscow - Saint Petersburg Railway in December 2009 at a maximum speed of 250 km/h. A new build High-Speed Line would allow for speeds of up to 350 km/h or 217 mph. Siemens and Russian Railways signed a Euro 276 million Sales Order contract on 18th May 2006 for 8 units of these high speed trains specifications. They have also added  a 30 year service contract with Siemens worth around Euro 300 million.

The 8 trains were ordered to connect Moscow with Saint Petersburg and later Nizhny Novgorod at a speed of up to 250 km/h. The designed are derived from the German ICE 3 train but with bodies widened by 330 mm to 3,265 mm (about 10 ft 8.5 in) to suit Russia's wide loading gauge. 4 out of 8 trains ("EVS2") were equipped with both 3 kV DC and 25 kV 50 Hz AC operation. The total length of each ten-car train is 250 m, carrying up to 600 passengers. Development and construction was carried out by Siemens at Erlangen and Krefeld in Germany. ICE and new improvised Sapsan are brothers in a lay men terms. For clarification of doubts, those facts of Sapsan can be obtain from their website.

Sapsan set records for the fastest train in Russia on 2 May 2009, travelling at 281 km/h and on 7 May 2009, travelling at 290 km/h. Russian Railways has ordered additional 20 trainsets including 8 units of EVS2 on December 19, 2011. The contract worth Euro 600 million was signed in order to facilitate an increased number of services on existing lines and the expansion of new service elsewhere in the system (reflected on routes map on the wall in photo no. 3). The 2nd batch EVS2 sets will have a retractable steps to suit for low platforms, for easy convenience to the passengers. Since entering service in December 2009, it has been Russian Railways' only profitable passenger service, with an occupancy rate of 84.5%. According to the timetable valid from 30 October 2011, the direct train from Moscow to St Petersburg without intermediate stops requires 3 hours and 40 minutes whilst the train from Moscow to Nizhniy Novgorod takes 3 hours and 55 minutes.

Spotted "Siemens" on the mirror anyone?

The weather was cloudy on the day we traveled, hence, my photos along the journey are all not very nice. But, I did have a great time taking over the steward seats with few other passengers who were there to stretch their legs. Not forgotten, a young mother who asked to take turn to occupy the seat for her to rock her baby to sleep. Argh... the steward was so kind to bring down the luggage for me.

The feeling of arriving in Moscow train station was similar when we arrived in Stockholm station. The stations were crowded with passengers, showing a sign o prosperity. The taxi and any other public transportation are available just outside the station. I made a wrong approach by taking a private operated cab which charge enormously higher cab fare than the cities cab. Please take my advice, just walk straight ahead, ignored those rows of cab waiting in line and try to take a city metered cab. Do not get con as the bad feeling prolong.

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