The Train


Russian traction

The train, indeed. Almost eighty hours, the thick end of four thousand kilometers, no stop longer than forty minutes. The train is a good place to read, or (apparently) imbibe beer from three liter plastic containers, or sleep. Except it’s not great to sleep, due to the narrow bed and constant movement. I was really glad of a shower when finally reaching terra firma in Irkutsk today, and those around me were even more relieved I suspect. Trains run on Moscow time; at the destination it’s five hours ahead of that, so my body clock is not terribly happy right now. Due to daylight-savings oddities UB and Beijing are an hour behind, but that’s a trivial change comparatively. It turned out the ticket included food – assorted snacks and one hot meal a day, which was about right (allowing for what I’d brought along). The food was palatable but very bland, tabasco or similar would really help.



Down the line

The train never goes particularly fast – not slowly, but never really flying. I suppose nothing about the network is build for high speed running. Braking in particular is pretty jarring, and at every long stop (several per day) people in high-vis bibs walk along the train tapping the axle covers and main springs with hammers. Presumably this is to detect failed or failing pieces, but it doesn’t exactly reassure. On the other hand there’s plenty of seriously rough junctions and long sections of old-style joined track. The noise is magical when awake, and hellish when trying to sleep (as is the accompanying osciliation).


I expected to see a gradual change in the landscape from day to day, but really there was almost none, from half an hour outside Moscow until reach Irkutsk. It did bring home what an enormously big country this is, and how many trees it contains. I mean, a lot of trees.

Posted Thursday, June 12th, 2008 under travel.


  1. A while back, I went to a Henry Rollins standup show during which he described – in his veryfastveryloudveryangry way – his experiences on that same train ride.

    He swears blind that one of the reasons for all that clanging with hammers and hand-axes was to remove the flash-frozen arcs of poo hanging out of the sewage pipes underneath the train. No idea if it’s true, but, in a way, I want to believe it.

    He also advises that getting food poisoning during the ride is very much A Thing To Be Avoided.

  2. James, your suspicions are confirmed =)

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