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Aug 30 2011 (12:29PM)
News Entry# 36131 The joy of Russian Railways | RUSSIA | The Moscow News
Posted by: Jayashree ❖ Amita*^ Added by: rdb*^ Aug 30 2011 (9:10PM)
The joy of Russian Railways
by Natalia Antonova at 29/08/2011 19:42
Russian Railways, or RZhD as it is commonly known, is probably one of the biggest monopolies known to mankind – and complaining about it is a bit like complaining about snow in winter. Still, the contrast between how RZhD has rapidly modernized and the way in which the company is still stuck in the past is fascinating to me.
Take the Sapsan trains, for example. People who travel on them between Moscow and St. Petersburg for the first time frequently post excited updates on Facebook and Twitter. “Oh my God! There is Wi-Fi on this train! And it actually works!”
The Sapsan trains are fast and sleek, and for people who have family in Ukraine (such as yours truly) or anyone who simply wants to visit Kiev, the recent proposal to link up the Ukrainian and Russian capitals via Sapsan is very good news.
Now contrast the Sapsan with, say, the “joys” of trying to get around on RZhD using e-tickets. On the face of it, e-tickets should be a godsend. After all, who on earth wants to drag themselves to a railway station to stand in line for 45 minutes with a bunch of cranky pensioners who need to first tell their life story to the salesperson at the window before trying to purchase a ticket to Saransk and then halfway through it all remember that they actually meant to go to Sochi?
But perhaps inevitably, RZhD’s e-ticket system does not actually solve the problems that other e-tickets do. Purchasing an e-ticket online and then printing it out is not enough – you have to either stand in line again at the railway station to get your “proper” ticket from the salesperson on duty, or else utilize one of those machines that are supposed to print your ticket after you enter your information. And good luck if the machine is broken, which seems to happen far too often.
I have had to barge in front of huge lines of infuriated people at Moscow’s Kievsky Station, screaming stuff like “My train leaves in 15 minutes and the e-ticket machine keeps giving out error messages!” “Error messages, huh?” a grim older man at the head of the line said to me. “That’s what you get for trying to use their fancy e-ticket system.”
Still, I was visibly pregnant at the time, so my fellow passengers gritted their teeth and let me cut in line. I suppose these days I’ll have to wave my crying baby around to elicit sympathy when the e-ticket machine inevitably breaks down again.
And let’s not forget how tickets on popular routes seem to constantly be sold out – even when it comes to luxury compartments. According to Sergei Tikhonov, writing for Expert.ru, the problem is that the number of passengers is increasing every year. RZhD, for all of its rapid growth efforts, is still stuck with trying to make an outdated, bureaucratic railway system work and is patently unable to cope with the increased passenger flow.
Imagine the many thousands of Russia’s train tracks that desperately need upgrading to help the system operate more efficiently. And tracks are just one piece of the puzzle. Russia needs a better train service – but it also needs to keep tickets affordable.
RZhD remains a paradox – you never know just what you’re going to get. Smiling train attendants, an impeccable compartment, tasty and affordable snacks on board? Or else terrible rudeness, toilets from the pits of hell, and an on-train “restaurant” that looks and smells like a prison canteen? Either scenario is entirely possible, sometimes even on the same route – depending on when you travel.
Maybe 50 years from now our grandchildren will smile indulgently when we tell them about living through the epoch of RZhD’s modernization drive – and the adventures this entailed. For now, a traveler’s diary is your best bet in trying to cope with the unpredictability of RZhD. It may not magically make your trip run more smoothly, but it will allow you to either remember a great traveling experience – or else to blow off steam and not quite go insane.