Review: Sapsan Train Business Class From St. Petersburg To Moscow

This morning Ford and I took the high speed Sapsan train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, an experience I was very pleasantly surprised by. I know just about everywhere in the world is better than the US when it comes to train travel, but the service and punctuality really impressed me.

With that in mind, here are my thoughts:

Why did we take the train from St. Petersburg to Moscow rather than flying?

You can fly from St. Petersburg to Moscow in about an hour (the airports are 400+ miles apart), or you can take the high speed train, which takes about four hours. We figured it would be a lot more fun to take the train, so we could see a bit of the Russian countryside, and also since it would probably end up being just as fast, more comfortable, and less of a hassle. In both Moscow and St. Petersburg the airports are a good distance from the city, while the train stations are closer to the city center.

LED-DME

How much are train tickets between St. Petersburg and Moscow?

We booked our tickets a couple of days in advance through russiantrains.com. The site was easy to use, and we decided on the 9AM train, arriving at 12:50PM.

There are three classes of service on the train — economy, business, and first/premium. For our trip:

  • Economy cost ~$102
  • Business cost ~$159
  • First/premium cost ~$269

Russian-Train-Premium-Class-Price

I wasn’t exactly sure of the differences between the cabins, but rather blindly decided to book business class. I figured $60 was a reasonable premium for a four hour train ride, while an extra ~$110 on top of that seemed a bit unnecessary. It was my understanding that the first class seats recline more, but for a daytime train ride that seemed unnecessary.

How early should you arrive for the Sapsan train?

We didn’t want to miss the train, so we left our hotel at 7:45AM for our 9AM departure. We got to the train station at 8AM.

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The station isn’t the nicest place to pass time, as there were some shady characters roaming around, birds flying around the inside, etc.

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We sat down in the one coffee shop that looked decent, and at 8:30AM our train was ready for boarding, as the track for the train was posted to the departures board (fortunately Ford can read Russian, which made all of this easier). For what it’s worth, I found out after the fact that there’s apparently a lounge for first and business class passengers, though we didn’t realize it till it was too late.

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Interestingly as the train arrived a loud song played throughout the train station at a very high volume, which I believe was the same one as in this video:

Alrighty then…

There is legit security for those taking the Sapsan train, much like when going through an airport. Your bags are screened, and you go through a metal detector.

Our train left from track 11, so we boarded right away, though there’s no need to board so early.

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In our case it just seemed nicer to sit in our seats than to sit in the train station.

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Sapsan train business class experience

The business class cabin on the Sapsan is in a 2-2 configuration, with leather seats. There’s space for your bags in the front and rear of the cabin, in addition to the overhead luggage racks.

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The seats were comfortable, though not overly spacious. They had plenty of legroom, though seat width was limited.

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There was a footrest at each seat.

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The train departed and arrived exactly on time, to the minute.

Shortly after departure tablecloths were distributed, and then moist towels and drinks were served.

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After that the crew came through with the breakfast service.

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The choice was between a “cheese casserole” (as they described it) and oatmeal. I chose the former, which was served with a piece of bread and yogurt. The breakfast was surprisingly decent.

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Ford ordered the oatmeal just so I could take a picture, though he wasn’t hungry.

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I tried the oatmeal, which was fine as well, though the accompaniments of both dishes looked a bit less appetizing.

After breakfast the crew came through with coffee, tea, and croissants.

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In a way the service was a nice distraction, and made the time pass a bit more quickly.

For the most part the views enroute were just of trees near the train tracks. There were a couple of brief moments where there were better views, but that was the exception rather than the norm.

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The train also has complimentary wifi, though they text you a wifi access code in order to be able to connect to the wifi. The wifi was probably a bit slower than inflight wifi on most airlines, though it was decently usable, and better than tethering off my phone.

There was a power outlet between seats, which meant I could keep my electronics charged throughout the ride.

What’s the difference between first, business, and economy?

I can only officially chime in on business class, since what’s what I experienced, but here’s what I believe distinguishes the cabins:

Sapsan first class/premium class

These seats actually recline, and are in a 1-2 configuration, rather than the 2-2 configuration in economy and business class. If traveling alone it seems nice to be able to sit alone. Perhaps service is also more attentive, and of course there’s a meal served.

First-Class-Train-Russia-2

Bei dem modernen Triebzug Velaro RUS sind der Antrieb und alle Technikmodule im Unterflurbereich des Zuges untergebracht. Bei herkömmlichen Zügen befinden sich diese in zwei Lokomotiven jeweils nur vorne und am Ende des Zuges. Die Triebzugtechnologie ermöglicht so bei gleicher Zuglänge eine rund 20 Prozent höhere Sitzplatzkapazität. On the state-of-the-art Velaro RUS train the traction unit and all system modules are arranged beneath the train. With conventional trains these are located in two locomotives, one each at the front and rear of the train. The multiple unit technology provides for an increase of approx. 20 percent in seating capacity for the same length of train.

Sapsan business class

Business class is in a 2-2 configuration, with complimentary food and generally attentive service.

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Sapsan economy class

Economy is also in a 2-2 configuration, though the seats are cloth rather than leather. Also, I don’t believe there’s any complimentary service, but rather you can go to the dining cart and buy something.

In terms of space, the seats looked very similar to business class, though perhaps legroom was slightly less; I’m not sure.

One thing I’d note is that the economy cabin was packed, and there were a lot more families traveling with small children when I went back there. I’m not sure if that was just a coincidence, but perhaps first and business class are generally a bit quieter (which is generally true on planes as well).

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Sapsan high speed train bottom line

We had a great experience on the Sapsan. The ride was exactly on time, the service friendly and attentive, and the seats comfortable.

In the future I’d probably arrive at the train station a bit closer to departure, though I guess it’s better to arrive too early rather than too late.

Ultimately the main difference between economy and business is that you get free food in business, and the seats are leather and perhaps a little more spacious. I think both cabins are perfectly comfortable, and couldn’t imagine justifying first class unless it was an overnight train and I wanted to try and get some sleep.

I highly recommend taking the Sapsan between Moscow and St. Petersburg, as it’s a comfortable and efficient way to travel.

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Comments

  1. @ Johannes — I must be missing something, because on the RZD website I’m seeing pricing of 14911RUB for Car 1, 8200RUB for Car 2, and 4676 for the other cards. Where are you seeing this crazy low pricing?

  2. Johannes, I agree, Ben is most probably overpaid for his ticket 20-30%, but your price estimates are not actually accurate.

    I was a bit shocked with the prices quoted. Normally economy class fares start from 1200-1500 RUB ($20-25) during sales, on average about 3000-4000 RUB ($50-60) and no more than 6000-6500 RUB ($100) right before departure.

    Business class fares go from 4000-4500 RUB ($60-65) during sales, and it’s not easy to catch those, to 8000-8500 RUB before departure ($120-130).

    The best way to buy ticks is pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en
    Pretty easy website, the most accurate availability, lowest prices. You can also pick seats right during purchase or refund your ticket online.

  3. @Lucky, I got those prices when buying around 8 weeks in advance. For example for two business class tickets we paid together 5000 RUB on several occasions already.
    But as Denis tells, the prices seem to be accurate when booking some days only in advance.

    Recently I could get some Economy tickets for friends for 999 RUB during a sale. What a bargain!

  4. If you ever do the Trans Siberian make sure you do your research first! You WILL want to be in Spalny Wagon (much as I would enjoy the actual trip report from you in plaskartny I’d really not want you to do it! ).

  5. “I know just about everywhere in the world is better than the US when it comes to train travel”
    Huh? On what measure?
    I’d take Amtrak on the NY to DC route (or anywhere on the NEC), or Seattle to Portland, any day over the Indian, Burmese, or Vietnamese rails

  6. Those who’ve traveled by train in Germany will recognize the Sapsan is basically the same as Germany’s InterCityExpress (both built by Siemens, if I’m not mistaken). But on German ICE trains 1st class is a 1-2 configuration, so easier to justify the price premium, which is often quite small when booking in advance.

  7. It always amazes me how americans “always” use such shoddy websites to book their train travels in Europe paying such a premium, when the official websites almost always have a very nice English section (and in the worst cases, it’s at least understandable – as long as you can see the time/date of departure and price you normally are ok!).

  8. @02nz But Germany only has economy and first on trains, correct? I’ve never had a business class option.

  9. What about the Economy+ and Restaurant Car option?

    Also surprised you overpaid so much for your tickets using a 3rd party supplier, and the comment that just about everywhere in the world has better trains than the US just shows how out of touch you are..

  10. Yes, almost anywhere (and especially in the developed world) has OVERALL better train service than the US. If you do not believe this, you have not traveled enough. Sure, the NE corridor in the US is decent, but can’t hardly compare to what Europe has to offer. Why compare it to India??

  11. The $30 Lucky overpaid for his tickets was probably worth the headache he avoided by not using the rzhd site.
    Lucky, I hope you are staying at the Park Hyatt in Moscow. I like that hotel as much as I dislike the city itself. Try some Armenian food at its restaurant.

  12. I ride high speed rail in Europe regularly. In most countries if you purchase online three months out you can get super discounted tickets. The closer to travel time, the price goes up substantially.

    This service in business class looks surprisingly very good. Excellent decision!

  13. @AP: on the measure of connectivity, availability, cost, classes of service (in the subcontinent and east asia you can choose your class of service from First private coach to the cheapest for the budget conscious), quality on dining on board and convenience. I have traveled on trains in the US and while the connectivity between major metros may be good, connectivity to the rest of the country is dismal. I think all agree that public transportation is probably poorest in the US compared to just about any other country. To give you an idea of the convenience: annual ridership in the USA = 31 million on Amtrak; annual ridership in India = 9.2 billion.

    I have traveled on trains across India frequently for work; traveling in First class in India is hardly a pain and very cost efficient. Furthermore, the US does not invest into its infrastructure (look how badly the airports lag behind just about everyone, the quality of bridges, highways, etc.). In contrast, countries like India are pledging upwards of 200 billion USD on rail infrastructure development over the next 10 years which is great news for countries like the USA, since they are some of the service providers.

    So, yes: I would agree that the US lags behind in public transport infrastructure compared to the rest of the world since it has no incentive to improve while enjoying low automobile taxes, low fuel taxes and cheap vehicles.

  14. Just a different opinion – S7 flight versus train.

    We flew S7 on an Avios award LED to DME. Super cheap redemption too. LED is fairly easy to get to via multiple buses. DME is easy to get to town again via multiple buses including the dedicated van-like buses. Though you would need to know where to catch them. In both situations, the bus ride was less than 30 min from boarding to getting off.

    In that one hour short flight S7 managed to serve a 3 course meal in business class. The plane flew low so the view from above was wonderful.

    If we ever do this route again, we definitely fly versus take the train.

  15. It cracks me up when he actually get’s outside of the hotel.

    “Shady characters and birds were around”.

    hahahaha

  16. Glad to know you enjoyed the train trip. I am looking forward to a similar trip in October.

    I could use some help, please, with airport connections at either end. I’m open to help with LED as well as all three Moscow airports.

    Helpers, please do not focus too much on which train, which airport. I am open to finding good connections headed either way. The big problem — in my experiences — is often the central city train station connection with airports. Few cities help solve that.

    FLL, I’m delighted to see your comments on S7. So many reviews of them online are damning. Your review has made me reconsider them out of either Russian city.

    Thanks to you and in advance to others.

  17. “I think all agree that public transportation is probably poorest in the US compared to just about any other country.”

    Nonsense. The US has about 1/3 of all airports in the world (and about 1/20th of the population). And our cheap gas allows “less rich” people travel with great freedom. Rich liberals would love (and envy the europeans) $7 per gallon gas …. at the expense of the poor (limousine liberals).

    Trains, buses and subways don’t work in most parts of the USA because of the geography doesn’t work, demographics don’t work, and people’s personal preferences aren’t there. Look at the debacle of the bullet train in California and the empty busses traveling communities throughout most of the USA. There is a 60 person bus that passes through my city 20 times per day. I’ve never seen more than 5 people on it … how’s that for environment?

    Planes work in the USA (fast and cheap for the most part). Cars work in the USA (ultimate freedom and cheap) and our roads, in general, are in great shape. Busses, trains and subways only work in very selected situations in the USA.

    I wish liberals would get off their high (and elitist) horses and stop trying to “social engineer” us on to buses, trains and subways … and wasting our money. Let the market decide the what transportation systems work us …. not Washington bureaucrats.

  18. @Ted,
    Our S7 flight was very pleasant. The terminal at LED S7 used for DME flight is a satellite like terminal and is a dump. However the flight itself was among the best short flights we ever had. Very efficient yet friendly service. The meal was served with tray but 3 different ones – the salad and drink, then the tray was replaced with another tray with the hot main course, followed by another tray with coffee/tea and desert – in an hour long flight!
    I would take S7 at a heartbeat but only for the short haul as they dont have good long haul business class (they fly to BKK – we once saw their plane on BKK tarmac and were surprised enough to look up its route map.) Great redemption of Avios. I think we paid 9K Avios and $8 tax pp.

    We stayed at Staybridge in St. Petersburg – while it is on the outskirt, it is literally next to a metro station. A few stops we are at the center of the city. Staybridge is behind Holiday Inn in the same building connected with a long corridor inside the building. We like the hotel very much – elites are recognized, got upgraded to a king suite with full kitchen. Everyday they brought up sparkling wine and a huge fruit plate. The sparkling wine and other drinks including the Volka, were served at afternoon Happy Hour (free to all guests). Breakfast was included and very decent. You can check TripAdvisor reviews on the hotel.
    I dont remember exactly how the transfer to LED was, but it was not a difficult one in any case. Though we kept asking where we should get off when the bus seemingly passed the airport … not to worry, it would deposit you near the main entrance of the airport.
    As mentioned, we arrived Moscow at DME but we left from SVO on AF to Paris. SVO is even easier than DME especially for us staying at Renaissance Monarch which is on the north edge of Moscow. So when we left for the airport we did not need to cross town but a very easy bus ride to SVO. A Marriott employee recommended Ren Monarch to me as he himself stayed at this hotel each time had to be in Moscow – It is part of a newish office complex so the rooms there are all modern. A metro station is within 7 to 10 min walk (shorter if you use a short cut) on the other side of the ring road thru an underground passage way. The reason to pick this Ren is it has a super lounge that offered very very good evening dishes that were of high quality and with variety. The attendants walked around to want to fill your glass nonstop. Towards the end of our 5 days stay, we saw various US sport teams checking in for an upcoming big game held in Moscow. Moscow is a very expensive city but thanks to the excellent lounge at Ren, we basically did not spend anything on food in Moscow. All our expenses were the admission fees of various museums / river cruise / and transportation.
    Hope the above help. You would enjoy both St. Petersburg and Moscow. Wonderful cities.

  19. @Lisa – German trains, including the ICE, generally have 1st and 2nd classes, not “economy” or “business.”

  20. The music greeting the arrival of every Moscow train into St.Petersburg is the city anthem. Yes, St.Pete has its own anthem!

  21. Ben,
    Thanks for the interesting report

    But security to board the train seems basically pointless. The second photo of the train before departure, with a street / parked car / ground floor of buildings, separated by a fence which doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke seems to embody government bureaucratic incompetence while harassing passengers around the world.

    Jack

  22. Well, Preston, if you’d get your fat pampered as out of your car and get on the bus, then there’d be one more person on it. People like you are why public transportation is so poor in this country.

  23. Yes, my ass is certainly pampered from sitting (or laying) in first class (flying) and my plush leather seats, custom air conditioning and surround sound stereo in my car (driving) ….

    Or I could waste an extra 4 hours taking the bullet train from San Diego to San Francisco (if it ever becomes available) ….

    Or I could waste an extra hour taking the bus to work (each way) ….

    Yes, that’s exactly want I want to do with my life, spend more time on busses and trains …. after all, the service from these government employees is so incredible!!

    I have an idea, why not replace the 60 person busses with a 5-10 person mini-van. And better yet, why not make the busses private. Oooops, this was not my idea, it was the idea of my 10 year old son …..

  24. @Preston are you defending the state of US infrastructure or are you just proving Jared’s pov? So far my understanding of your comments include that it’s easy to travel in the US just as long as you belong to the upper classes, the quality of the infrastructure is out weighed by the quantity of poor services (for example the dilapidating airports, roads, bridges, dams, etc and air travel in the US for the majority who cannot afford premium services) and that the government should only consider the needs of the few like you – apparently conservatives who are satisfied with the dismal state of the economy, falling quality of life and the growing disparity in wealth and accessibility. Well, the government isn’t just for you. Your example may apply to your life but not to all. I save two hours of commute time daily from my home in Marine County in the bay area because of public transport (here come the pro liberal criticisms). The fact is that our government needs to modernize the infrastructure so that we can actually be proud of our resources, generate economic growth through infrastructure development, and have easier mobility for all. Otherwise be prepared to be the laughing stock of the developed and major developing nations who will overtake us and reduce our global presence. And if you think that’s OK, then great, but don’t try to defend it with petty contradicting comments. On a positive note, I am glad to see that your kid has an interest in social welfare too. Although why you think we care I’m not sure.

  25. @Samantha good points. I think many of us forget that good mass transit is about reducing total travel time and stress and not about increasing the inconvenience. The main reason why I don’t use mass transit here in Atlanta is because it is terrible. I would definitely use it if it were like the ones in Asia or Europe. The market has not decided since the market was never given a competitive chance. We need to spend more on education, health and infrastructure in that order imo.

  26. Aeroexpress trains go nonstop to city center train stations from all 3 airports. Price is about 350 rubles one way, $5.

  27. Next time you need to travel between London and Paris, try the Eurostar. They’ve had a bad patch of delays recently but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. You can get in the business lounge with an Amex Platinum at the moment.

    (I’d do it London to Paris, not the other way around since the Gare du Nord in Paris is probably equally as bad as St PEtersburg in terms of dodgy people. Vacate as soon as you arrive)

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