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Trans-Siberian Railway

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Travel Guide Asia Trans-Siberian Railway



Trans-Mongolian Train

Trans-Mongolian Train

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The Trans-Siberian Railway, the dream of Czars and Bolsheviks alike, to unite a large and diverse country and secure Russia's place in the far east, nowadays is one of the most popular railways for travellers. The railway passes through the remote and beautiful Siberian countryside on it's way to the Pacific Ocean, a journey of seven days, eight time zones and over 9,250 kilometres. The Trans-Siberian, and her counterparts the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian, are one of the classic train and overland journeys, providing a slow and romantic view of the Russian landscape, people and culture.

Other routes running off the core Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Vladivostok, include two routes to Beijing in China - the classic backpacker Trans-Mongolian route via Ulan Bator in Mongolia and the Trans-Manchurian route via Harbin and Shenyang in northeastern China.



Trains and Routes

Technically, only the route from Moscow to Vladivostok is the Trans-Siberian, however two other routes, the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian routes are often included in general traveller's discussions of the Trans-Siberian route. In addition, it is the route that bears the famed name, and not the physical trains/Services which run on it, with the exception of one or two luxurious - and expensive - tourist only specials.

Trans-Siberian (Trains No.001 and No.002)

Running from Moscow to Vladivostok for 9,259 kilometres, the Trans-Siberian "Rossiya" leaves every second day for a seven-day journey. Train No.001 runs westbound while train No.002 runs eastbound.

The marker at Vladivostok shows a distance of 9,288 kilometres from Moscow. This is because from 1956 to 2001 many trains went between Moscow and Kirov via Yaroslavl instead of Nizhny Novgorod.This would add some 29 kilometres to the distances from Moscow, making Vladivostok kilometre 9,288.

Trans-Mongolian (Trains No.003 and No.004)

Running through Russia, Mongolia and China, the Trans-Mongolian route is 7,622 kilometres long and runs through the Ural Mountains, Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the high steppe of Mongolia and passes through the Great Wall of China on its way to Beijing. This weekly service leaves Moscow (Train No.004) on every Tuesday heading east, while westbound train (No.003) leaves Beijing on every Wednesday. The journey on each direction takes six days.

The train ride from Moscow into the Urals is mostly Pine and Birch forests interrupted by industrial wastelands, and includes a crossing of the Volga river. As you climb into the Urals landscape changes to mostly forests and less industrial.

After leaving the Urals, you enter Siberian plains, forests, open grass plains and boggy, swampy areas. Approaching Irkutsk the land starts to get hillier heading up towards Lake Baikal. Baikal is a long, thin but very deep lake, holding one-fifth of the world's fresh water.

Siberian plains between Irkutsk and the Mongolian border

Siberian plains between Irkutsk and the Mongolian border

© All Rights Reserved GregW

Heading down through Mongolia you get more grass plains. Looking out the window, travellers will likely see wild horses, and Mongolian nomads gers surrounded by small herds of cows and sheep. After Ulan Bator, you start to enter the Gobi desert. It's a rocky, sandy desert with tufts of dry grass. Horses, cows and sheep are still seen, but the occasional camel is added into the mix. The desert continues into China.

After Jining, the desert ends and you get into Chinese agriculture and mountains. Getting towards Beijing, travellers will get many chances to spy the Great Wall during the times when the train emerges from the long, dark stretches through tunnels.

As well as the through Moscow-Beijing trains, there is a separate weekly Moscow-Ulan Bator service (Trains No.005 and No.006). From Moscow, train No.006 departs every Friday, while the westbound train No.005 from Ulan Bator leaves every Wednesday. The journey from each direction takes five days.

Trans-Manchurian (Trains No.019 and No.020)

Running through Russia and China, this train covers a route of 8,961 kilometres in six days, and after leaving the Trans-Siberian route near Chita, runs via Shenyang and Harbin in China, thus avoiding Mongolia. This route can be useful for travellers who are not able to get a Mongolian visa required for the Trans-Mongolian. Train No.020 leaves Moscow for Beijing every Friday while the opposite direction (Train No.019) departs every Saturday.



Other Trains

Below is a section of other services which either follow the route of the Trans-Siberian for a long way, or can be used to reach the Russian Pacific Coast or Beijing.

Baikal - Amur Main Line

The Baikal - Amur Main Line (BAM) departs from the main line at Tayshet in Western Siberia, passes to the north of Lake Baikal, crosses the Amur River at Komsomolsk-na-Amure (north of Khabarovsk), and reaches the Pacific at Sovetskaya Gavan. This route, especially for the two-day journey east of Severobaikalsk - on the northern shores of Lake Baikal - is only very rarely travelled by foreigners, though this number is rising rapidly.

Trans-Korean Main Line

There are two trains a week from Moscow to Pyongyang in North Korea, although visa and tour group regulations mean that these are effectively off-limits to most Westerners. One train is a carriage attached to the Moscow - Beijing Trans-Manchurian trains until China, and the other is attached to the Rossiya Moscow - Vladivostok trains until two hours before Vladivostok. This later service actually travels some 1,000 kilometres further than the Rossiya, and thus is the longest scheduled passenger train in the world.


There are several services from Moscow to Kazakhstan and its former capital city Almaty, from where it is possible to continue to Beijing via Urumqi.

Luxury Trains

There are some private companies that provide tourist service along these routes with their own private luxury train cars.




The trains above are all direct through services, and it is forbidden to get off these trains before the country of their final destination (i.e. on trains from Moscow to Beijing, you can not get off the train until it enters China). Travellers are not allowed to hop-off and resume their journey on a later train. All tickets are sold point-to-point, and you must show valid visas before purchase.

Many other passenger services cover these routes in partial, allowing a traveller to split up the journey along the way and hop-on and hop-off, though unless you speak virtually flawless Russian and know exactly what you are doing, in practice, all tickets are still sold point-to-point only.

Class of Service

My cabin aboard the trans-Siberian train

My cabin aboard the trans-Siberian train

© All Rights Reserved GregW

Trans-Siberian (Trains No.001 and No.002)

  • Spalny vagon - 2-berth compartment, often described as 1st class (and also sometimes called 'myagky' or 'lyux')
  • Kupé - 4-berth compartments, usually described as 2nd class
  • Platskartny - open-plan dormitory cars, sometimes described as 3rd class.

Trans-Mongolian (Trains No.003 and No.004) - Rolling stock serviced by Chinese Railways

  • Deluxe - 1st class 2-berth compartment, has two beds, an armchair, and a private washroom with showerhead shared with the next door compartment.
  • Soft - 1st class 4-berth compartment
  • Hard - 2nd class 4-berth compartment

Trans-Manchurian (Trains No.019 and No.020)

  • Spalny vagon / Deluxe - 2-berth compartments, often described as 1st class (and also sometimes called 'myagky' or 'lyux')
  • Kupé / Hard - 4-berth compartments, usually described as 2nd class


Tickets can be purchased on-line from a tour company, or bought at the local train stations. Tickets purchased at the local train stations tend to be much cheaper than tour companies' rates. Demand for the direct Moscow - Beijing and Moscow - Ulan Bator routes usually exceeds supply and these trains usually get fully booked months ahead. This means travellers almost certainly have to buy tickets for these direct routes from an agency.

Ticket prices for one way, per person, Kupé (4-berth), sold at train stations in Russia. [1]

  • Moscow - Vladivostok (Train No.002) - approximately US$ 410 | € 265 | GBP 211
  • Moscow - Beijing (Train No.004) - approximately US$ 280 | € 181 | GBP 144
  • Moscow - Beijing (Train No.020) - approximately US$ 210 | € 136 | GBP 108
  • Moscow - Irkutsk (All trains) - approximately US$ 326 | € 211 | GBP 168

Tickets sold by travel agencies include a markup on top of the actual price sold at train stations in Russia. Below is a sample of ticket prices sold by this travel agency in 2008. Prices vary greatly between agencies and may increase over time.

  • Moscow - Vladivostok (Train No.002) - from US$ 555 | € 360 | GBP 285
  • Beijing - Moscow (Train No.003) - from US$ 460 | € 298 | GBP 237
  • Moscow - Beijing (Train No.004) - from US$ 420 | € 272 | GBP 216
  • Ulan Bator - Moscow (Train No.005) - from US$ 220 | € 143 | GBP 113
  • Moscow - Ulan Bator (Train No.006) - from US$ 320 | € 207 | GBP 165
  • Beijing - Moscow (Train No.019) - from US$ 530 | € 343 | GBP 273
  • Moscow - Beijing (Train No.020) - from US$ 440 | € 285 | GBP 226
  • Irkutsk - Moscow (Train No.003) - from US$ 260 | € 168 | GBP 134
  • Moscow - Irkutsk (Train No.002) - from US$ 300 | € 211 | GBP 168
  • Beijing - Irkutsk (Train No.003) - from US$ 410 | € 265 | GBP 210
  • Beijing - Irkutsk (Train No.019) - from US$ 310 | € 200 | GBP 160
  • Irkutsk - Beijing (Train No.004) - from US$ 220 | € 143 | GBP 113
  • Beijing - Ulan Bator (Train No.023) - from US$ 190 | € 123 | GBP 98
  • Ulan Bator - Beijing (Train No.024) - from US$ 150 | € 97 | GBP 77

Ticket prices for one way, per person, Hard class (2nd class 4-berth), sold by China International Travel Service (CITS) in 2009. [2]

  • Beijing - Moscow (Train No.003) - US$ 590
  • Beijing - Moscow (Train No.019) - US$ 690
  • Beijing - Irkutsk (Train No.003) - US$ 313
  • Beijing - Irkutsk (Train No.019) - US$ 395
  • Beijing - Ulan Bator (Train No.023) - US$ 200



Red Tape

The beginning of our TransMongolian / TransSiberian adventure - train 23 from Beijing

The beginning of our TransMongolian / TransSiberian adventure - train 23 from Beijing

© All Rights Reserved adamandmeg


Most travellers will need to obtain visas in advance for Russia, China and Mongolia. See the specific country entries for details on getting visas.

Border Crossings

For any forms required to be filled out, most forms either have English translation on them, or you can get an English version of the form, so if they hand you a form without English, ask for the English form.

The crossing from Russia to Mongolia or China is very long, though, taking upwards of 8 or 9 hours, so don't plan much for that day. The extreme time taken is partly due to the requirement to change the bogies (wheels) on the trains from the broad gauge (the distance between the two rails forming a railway track) in Russia to the standard gauge in China. This involves having to lift up each carriage individually and remove and replace all the wheels.




Carriage Attendants

Every carriage has two attendants (provodniks), who work in shifts. They examine your ticket and passport before allowing you to join the train, allocate beds to people joining trains, arrange and change your bedding (you must pay a small amount for this on the train, so have some small rouble notes available), clean the carriage, collect the rubbish and empty the bins, keep the samovar in order and many other tasks. Many treat their carriages as personal fiefdoms, and getting on the good side of your provodniks will vastly enhance your journey experience.

Eat and Drink

Stocking up in the Ural mountains.

Stocking up in the Ural mountains.

© All Rights Reserved GregW

There is a restaurant car on most trains, though not all trains have a restaurant car for all of the journey. At most station stops, there are numerous vendors selling food and drinks, and many stations have restaurants and markets to purchase food to bring onto the train. There are reasonably frequent station stops of 20 to 25 minutes, where you can get off to make such purchases. Check the train schedule posted in each carriage for how long you have free - and to ensure that you are on time - and pay attention to what other people (especially provodniks) are doing, as Russian trains move off without prior warning and you don't want to get left behind.

All carriages also have a Samovar - a hot water boiler - which is kept constantly boiling, enabling you to make tea, coffee, instant noodles, etc. Provodniks can also sell you tea and normally also some noodles, light snacks and beer.

Time Zones

To avoid problems across so many time zones, within Russia all trains run on Moscow time, not local time. Thus, when you cross from China to Russia on the Trans-Manchurian, you are confronted with a clock saying 2:00am, when it is actually closer to 10:00am in reality. It is easy to get confused if you try and constantly convert between the two (and as you cross more zones) so you should also work on Moscow time.

  • Moscow time - UTC+3 (Daylight saving UTC+4, begins on the last Sunday of March, ends on the last Sunday of October)
  • China time - UTC+8 for the entire country (Daylight saving not observed)


As all toilets empty directly onto the tracks below, toilets get locked anywhere between 90 and 30 minutes and before reaching major cities and are only opened again the corresponding time after departure. Occassionally, you will be able to get access to a toilet if you ask very nicely, but don't count on it, and also pay attention to both the train and toilet schedules (posted in each carriage) to ensure you don't get caught short.


Do not exist! Washing all needs to take place using the basins in the bathrooms in each carriage. There are holes on the floor of bathrooms to allow water to escape, so it is no problem throwing water over yourself.


There is occassionally a power point in the centre of each carriage for the use of charging mobile phones, MP3 players, etc. There are also power points at each end and in the Provodniks compartment, but these are usually turned off except when the Provodniks are using them. Many will charge things for you if you ask nicely, though you often have to pay small amounts, and some refuse access to electricity for any passengers. The restaurant car is another possibility.



  1. 1 - Russian Train Tickets Reservation
  2. 2 2009 International Train Fare and Schedule. China International Travel Service (CITS). Retrieved on 2009–04–16


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