Irkutsk - Moscow in the "Rossija"

Irkutsk, may 15

1:05pm Moscow Tijd (MT), 6:05pm Irkutsk tijd (MT +5). The "Rossija" pulls in Irkutsk station. We fell silent, because this is what it was all about... Actually the scene is perfect: great weather, sunshine on the train, good spirits, full dinner and four fantastic weeks gone by. Rugged as we are (or pretend to be): a glimmer in the eyes. This is SUPER!

Train number 1... ..Rossija pulls in Irkutsk our carriage

Stops on the Trans Siberian are generous. Partly to act as buffer to absorb delays, partly to enable a change of locomotive. Deployment of engines is within the limits of its depot, generally some 500 to 700 kms as we observed. The one heading now might be an exception though since this one (class EP1P / 044) was attached in Zima (km 4940) and still heading after departure just now from Krasnoyarsk at km 4098. It might be that the eye of this engineer has the explanation: according to the factory shield on this locomotive (built 2009, axle arrangement Bo'-Bo'-Bo') the brake system included "tormozhennye rekuperat", which translates into a regenerative brake. This limits the use of the pneumatic brake of the loco and thus wear and tear of the blocks, being the most restrictive, or critical factor for service intervals. But enough of this bit of railway technics...

The Rossija from Vladivostok to Moscow leaves every other day from Vladivostok and covers the 9289 kilometers in 164 hours. Our presence on this train spans 5185 kilometers and will take 76 hours.

    composition of the train
  • Locomotive: EP1P-042 (Irkutsk-Zima)
  • Carriages: 17 RZD, of which one restaurant and one cargo/mail

Our car (ID number 017-05607) is a "Spalniye Wagon 1.KL", meaning:
Nine 2-bed compartments. No private bathroom, but carriage extremity 2 houses two modern and clean bathroom/toilets. No shower...
This car was built in 2008, autonomous power supply and airco. One flaw: the beds in this car are smaller and harder than the ones in the Chinese car.
During daytime the bed converts into a comfortable "couch". Prop up your pillows and you are OK! We think we will manage the next 4 days in this 4 sq.m. cubicle which already took on an informal look with all our belongings decorating the walls...

Hardcore railway aficionados pay attention: Pete gives a breakdown on the carriages' ID:

  • 017: registered in depot Moscow
  • 0: sleeper, 2 beds per compartment
  • 560: unique car identifier number
  • 7: control digit as we know in the European RIC-systeem

The traditional departure beer Siberia Record - apple Zima: Chita-Moscow express

Each carriage has its own car attendant, called "provodnitsa" (when female) or "provodnik" (when male). We had one of each. It can come handy if you are on speaking terms with these people when it should come to small favors. Extra blanket, some extra warm water or fixing the power. When we introduced ourselves as collegues we knew we would be OK all the way to Moscow.

After departure (13:47 MT / 18:47 LT) we opened our traditonal departure beer and silently enjoyed the moment...
What to do in a train, 5185 kilometers and 76 hours to go? Check the neighborhood, where is the buffet car and what do they serve, when is the next stop? Most important though: submit to 4 days of doing nothing at all, no internet, no mobiles, enjoy "silence". I must admit: there is something to it. Majestic, overwhelming, peaceful. No idea how to define.
At KM 5075 I could not longer suppress the urge and ate the apple that was in my backpack since leaving home in Rotterdam. My intention was to put it back on the fruit disk after having joined me around the world over 40.000 km. Well... 22500 will do as well, and some vitamins are welcome!

Siberia, may 16

9:37am MT, just had lunch and passing KM 4000. Pete is dozing. I am on my bed, in house pyama and white hotel slippers. Ipod playing "Set the controls for the heart of the sun" by Pink Floyd. Birch trees passing the windows. Steppes. Wooden house in the middle of nowhere. More birch trees... We cannot describe how we feel but we are intensely satisfied.

No fridge, this cheese MUST be finished ... ..all bridges along the TransSib are like this

A personal note: Pete and I are on the road now for a month and we did not have a single argument. Sure, a few weak moments but we could deal with those in a relaxed way. Also we have fun around the clock and are radiant. People around us seem to notice and are joining in the good spirits. We are facing a minor problem though: the last four weeks we developed a specific way of talking to each other, partly because noone can understand us anyway and so we do not have to be too picky on choice of words. No details, but people knowing us can imagine what this will sound like...

Krasnojarsk Manufacturers shield on our
locomotive (EP1P-044)
familiar marker for
this neutral section
Security and police on all stations

Since the windows cannot open (airconditioning..) we have to poke the lense thru the small emergency window we can open for the necessary pics. KM3730 just slides by, indicating we are approaching Mariinsk for a prolonged halt. Mariinsk also is the VCO (railway abbrev. for Voltage Change Over) for the 25 kilovolt AC and 3 kilovolt DC overhead line voltage. Time for a locomotive change as RZD does not deploy multi-voltage locomotives like we operate on our lines. A engine-change guarantees a 23 minute minimal halt, good for us to take a walk and fresh air. The walk inevitably leads to the front of the train to witness the change-loco operation and enable Pete to jot down the numbers. Our AC-machine EP1P-044 is replaced by DC-type EP2K-069. Higher and broader than we are used to, because the loading gauge in Russia is considerably bigger than our continental one.
It stopped snowing and the temperature is rising.
To board on time is your own responsibility, there is no attention signal. The train leaves in accordance with timetable-time after observing of all the yellow flags the provodnitsas show to indicate their car is "secure". On fall of the seconds indicator one shrill whistle-note and off it goes. Should you be in the platform: too bad!

Mariinsk: loc EP1P-044
being traded for..
EP2K-069 from depôt... Barabinsk, 700 km down the line. Mariinsk

West of Mariinsk the immense locomotive depot which is divided in two: eastern section for the 25 KVAC-locos, western section for the 3 KVDC-types. We even spotted some Chzech built Skoda's class ChS-2 in original style!

Mariinsk 25 KVAC-depot.. ..and the first VL10 under 3 KV= ..just outside Taiga.. 3570..

The sun sets, the light gets better and the landscape is endless.. open... Kilometers pass without roads, without houses. Out of nowhere a factory appears, emitting huge clouds of black smoke. We do NOT want to know what it is.

Sense of time is receding. We do not bother with timezones any longer. We passed a few and let our stomachs determine what hour it is.
You might wonder why so many images of trains and so few of the landscape. The answer is simple. The landscape did not change much for several 1000s of kilometers. Hills, birch trees, fields, a small village from time to time. Another limiting factor is we cannot open the windows (apart from the small one in top with limited possibilities) and we are depending on sun position mostly.

Black smoke: no pope yet.. ... Novosibirsk, km 3335 Novosibirsk

22:20 LT / 19:20 MT / KM 3335: we pull into Novosibirsk. Prolonged stop but no change of engine. Quick walk before sleep. Gee, it is COLD here! 5C plus! We are in our shirt and trainers on slippers.. TransSib fashion is a spectacle by itself, since almost all passengers are "casually dressed". The only suits and ties are worn by the staff. It does not make a difference what you wear, and you will never stick out like a sore thumb.
Every stop the same ritual: everyone hurries to the foodstalls and kiosks on the platform to do a quick round of shopping. There is a buffet car in the train but the prices are stiff and most passengers cannot afford to dine there every day.

Ready for sleep. The hard-mattress problem is solved with an extra blanket under the sheet.

Siberia, may 17

Slept for almost nine hours in one go, and deep at that! The extra blanket did the trick. Breakfast in the compartment, peeled two oranges for the vitamins, instant coffee and dark bread. A bit of explanation about food on the multi-day journey:
A dining car is present most of the times, but it is not used extensively. The prices tend to be quite high for the quantity and quality of the food served, and the average passenger is budgetting as well these days. The majority of passengers are self-supporting and carry big bags with all kind of food, and will stock up during the stops. In the platform stalls literally anything can be found: vegetables, sodas, beer, wine, bread, roasted chicken, candy, sausage, milk, cheese. Prices are modest but you have to be careful when buying fresh products. You have to be quick since the stops are short and many people will do their shopping. Be prepared for some pushing and shoving, and if you do not speak Russian you will have to rely on pointing out. If you are lucky a fellow passenger will help you out to speed up the process. Overall we dined only once in the dining car and made our own meals in our compartment, salads and all.

We share our carriage (capacity 18 passengers) with three ladies (two Australian, one British), making us the five foreigners. The other compartments are mostly empty, some short stretches booked by on-board passengers who want to spend a night in a decent bed. We expected to meet more tourists like us, but probably the majority of them prefers "platskartni" (open-space cars) because they are much cheaper. 54 persons in one carriage, and less comfort is the downside. Another probable reason is that we are travelling east-west, while most tourists travel west-east because obtaining tickets is much easier starting in Moscow..

We cross several time zones, so you keep adjusting your watch roughly every 900 kilometer. At a certain point we gave in and set for Moscow time since we are heading there anyway. At KM 1777 we cross the Asian-European border, marked with a white obelisk. "Ah", we said, "There is the obelisk!". But we forgot to make a picture since the cam was not prepared...


No locomotive changes today so no prolonged stops. The only long stop would be in Ekaterinburg, but it was a short one since we had some delay on the way in. We had to rush for the traditional "Pete and Onno and the stations' name" picture; every stop we want (need!) to do this ever since leaving Pyongyang, but we missed a few opportunities simply because there was NO visible name...

Ishim Tyumen.. ..inspecting running gear.. ..and weird boarding..

Pete runs to the front to verify and note the locomotive number for his statistics. We expect one more change, considering we are still crossing one depot-limit.

Perm Nizhni Novgorod Vladimir Moscow Yaroslavski

Last picture of today was in Perm (21:07 MT, 23:07 LT). We are going to have our last night on the TransSib...

We had to make pictures like this
not to be hindered by glare
8-axle shunter Rossija timetable

Ural, may 18

We slept a bit more restless than the days before because of a very noisy stop in Balezino (at 1am). Next stop in Kirov at 5am MT, but for our biorhytm already 7am. Curtains open, freshen up and see how Russia looks today. Long time already on European soil, Ural behind us. I need coffee! Instant, but with four spoonfulls it is acceptable strong. Hot water from the coal-fired samovar, at your disposal 24/7.

..morning excercises.. Wolga river

Nishni Novgorod, 400 km east of Moscow. Until 1990 named Gorki. A long stop and enough time for Pete to see which loco is heading. Our expectations were right: a Chzech Skoda class ChS4, modernised version. Skoda was USSR's preferred supplier of electric locomotives during "the old days, back in the cold war" as a way to pay for USSR's help to the Chzechs...
The obligatory name-tag-picture, and see if train 19 is nearby... "Train 19" has become one of our pastimes. This train runs Beijing-Harbin-Tsjita-Moscow, and is parallelling with us since Irkutsk, 5000 km back. Sometimes 10 minutes ahead, sometimes 10 minutes behind. Back on board quick, Valentina is relentless!

Old meets new
Sapsan=ICE, Vmax=250 km
Signalling post

Our British neighbor Christine likes to play scrabble, me too. A few rounds on her Ipad. I cannot beat her, not having the same savvy of English but at least something to kill the time...

The last stop is Vladimir, where we expected another loco-change since the stop was planned for 23 minutes. Another reason: we are running under 25 KV AC, and Moscow Yaroslavl station is laid out for 3 KV DC. Excellent weather, early arrival, 30 minutes available. Our ChS4-630 was replaced for ChS7-099 for the final 191 km to Moscow. Made nice photos and film. And look who pulls in? Train 19 from Beijing!

Change of locomotives
in Vladimir
Vladimir Rossija #1 on the left,
train #19 on the right

The last 191 km with mixed feelings, in silence. We realize the adventure is almost over. Not really, still Moscow to do which is a treat, but yet... DPRK, Mongolia, China, Australia, 8000 km on rails, relax, fun...
We conclude with arrival at 5:43pm Moscow Yaroslavske station. An incredible adventure and we are, slowly, going to adjust to life as we use know it...

"Are yours sensitive too?" Our train was not cleaned like this.. ..swallowing back laughter
until we exploded..
Valentina, our provodnitsa


Hooray for RZD! (Rossijski Zelezhnaya Doroga). This is a railway company which can only have our deepest respect. Being railwaymen we know what we talk about and are a bit envious on the way things are organized here. It was like this with our national railways until mid-nineties when "Europe" decided it would be better to have open-access and open-market strategies. Well, we learned. It does not work better. More delays, more breakdowns, more conflicts. We miss the military precision and strong regulations, but most of all the decisive superiors who know what they are talking about. All men who built their experience in "the field". What a difference with the academic managers we have to deal with these days.

We covered Irkutsk-Moscow in 76 hours and one minute as scheduled, a distance of 5152 km. During this 76 hours the toilets worked and were clean, always water present, airco without interruption, no breakdowns.. The list can be made longer but we won't. We shall need to adapt to our ways and habits and frustrations when we go back to work in two weeks!

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