Rapid relief— St Petersburg


Until Russia’s high-speed train, the Sapsan, arrived, the only practical way for business travellers to skip between Moscow and St Petersburg was by plane. In our monthly benchmark test, Monocle hops on board to try out the service.

High-speed rail, Russian Railways, Sapsan

Triumphant music blares from the platform as the Sapsan, Russia’s first high-speed train, pulls into St Petersburg’s Moskovsky Station. Just three hours and 45 minutes after leaving central Moscow, the 10-carriage train has arrived in Russia’s second city.

When the Sapsan began operating in December last year, train travel became a serious option for business travellers who needed to shuttle between St Petersburg and Moscow. Previously, most trains on the route travelled overnight and took up to nine hours to traverse the roughly 650km route; the…

  • €56

    Cheapest one-way ticket in economy class

  • €157

    First class ticket during peak hours

  • 212,000

    Number of passengers who travelled on the Sapsan during August 2010

  • 86.1%

    Average occupancy rate

  • 250km/h

    Sapsan’s top speed on current tracks

  1. Navigation
    We can’t expect Russian Railways to magic up brand new station terminals, but some easy signage in English would be a start.

  2. Ticketing
    The online booking system and e-ticketing is one of the best things to happen to Russian railway travel for a long time, but needs the attention of a good web designer – in its current state it is infuriating to navigate.

  3. Power
    Nobody likes to arrive for a day’s work with a dead laptop. Power sockets should be introduced at every seat, and at the very least in both first class carriages. The wi-fi also needs to be fixed.

  4. Food
    The meals served in first class and the snacks at the on-board café really need some improvement.

  5. Flexibility
    Sapsan will only become a true friend to the business traveller when it runs at frequent intervals throughout the day. But we’ll have to wait for a separate high-speed track to be built for this to happen.

The verdict: a welcome arrival

There’s quite a bit wrong with the Sapsan, but then this is Russia and it’s such an improvement on what was on offer before, that it can only be welcomed. The journey time and cost are remarkably competitive with flying and the level of comfort is several times higher. The frequency of the service is a drawback, but if you get delayed and miss the train, you can always hit the airport as a backup. For the first choice, only a serious train enthusiast would choose the regular overnight train instead of the Sapsan, and only a fool would opt for the plane.


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