Since it took me six months to write my last post I thought I would write something that would take less time (and maybe less words ;)). Also, I had a hard time finding many reviews or much information in English on the Sapsan (Falcon in Russian) High-speed train’s Premium Class (or any class) when I was debating to take the train or fly between Moscow and St. Petersburg. I ultimately decided to take Sapsan on the advice from a friend in Moscow who has traveled on it several times. Plus, I was staying at the Hilton Leningradskaya which is directly across the street from Leningradsky Station. So despite my love for flying I could not pass on the convenience. I only traveled in Premium Class (First Class) because there was very little price difference between Premium and Business Class. That, and the layout is 2 x 1 so I could seat in a single seat.
It was only a 10 minute walk from the Hilton to the Station and I arrived 30 minutes before departure time. I was a little concerned about long lines because this was the morning rush hour (Moscow Metro Station’s are packed at this time) and my train was the second of two Sapsan’s that left 10 minutes apart. But much to my delight there was no line at either metal detector (you have to pass through two) and at this point I felt very good about choosing the train over flying.There are a few shops and places to eat in the station and I even saw a sign (most signs were also in English) for a Business Lounge, Either it is being renovated or is currently closed, because I couldn’t find any sign of one (I even asked). Once I gave up looking for the lounge I headed to the platform.
I was able to purchase, register and print my boarding pass on Sapsan’s official English site http://pass.rzd.ru/main-pass/public/en I had read that some people had trouble purchasing their tickets online and I was also unable to use my credit card for purchase. Luckily, my sister-in-law let me use her credit card (thru Russian bank) and then it worked just fine. I later found out that they can not accept foreign credit cards. There are other sites where you can buy tickets on the Sapsan Bullet Train, but you will most likely pay a premium. My fare was 6850 Rubles ($106 at the time), but would have been 40% more if I bought thru an agency site. Business Class was around 2275 Rubles ($35) less than Premium and the Economy fare was between 2000 rubles and 2600 Rubles for Economy Plus. I noticed that prices varied (I chose the 9:40 departure because the Premium fare was 10,000 Rubles on the 9:30) and looked at prices today and Economy was only 999 Rubles (and exchange rate is almost 80).
After the long walk to Car #1 (furthest car from station in Moscow, but closest in St. Petersburg) I gave my ticket to an agent positioned outside in front of the door. Business Class is located in Car # 2, Economy plus car #10, and regular Economy cars #3-9. I received a less than warm greeting upon entering the train. At this point I realized that this would not be the equivalent of an airline’s first class, but I was really not expecting it to be. I hung my jacket on a coat rack and placed my bag on a luggage rack and located my seat. I was in seat 3 which is a single seat. As I said, the car has a 1 x 2 configuration with one group of seats facing each other on the two side. Business Class, as well as both Economies are 2 x 2 (also with a few seats facing each other). With 15 minutes until departure I got situated in my seat and tried to connect to the free WiFi. In order to connect to the WiFi you first had to request an authorization code that was sent to you via text. I was able to get it to work at the station, but shortly after departure the signal was lost. Once the signal returned (30 minutes after departure) one of the staff was nice enough to have the code sent to her phone. The connection was spotty to say the least.
Prior to our on time departure one of the staff came by with a newspaper cart (Russian only) and also handed out a blanket and pillow and a small amenity kit of slippers and eye-shades. There are no shades on the windows, so if you wanted to sleep, the eye-shades may be useful.The Premium cabin was less than half full, so it certainly had a spacious feel. Shortly after we departed a beverage cart appeared. Four different people helped out in the cabin at one time or another, with only two speaking English (all announcements in Russian and English). I was given a menu to pick between two hot choices for breakfast. Either an omelette or pancakes. Business Class comes with a snack (hot, I think) and Economy Plus with a cold snack. Regular Economy has no meal included, however there is a Bistro car (I never made it that far). I opted for the pancakes (that came with cheese & yogurt) and the meal was average at best. But I was still happy to receive a hot meal, so I was not too disappointed. After breakfast was removed, coffee or tea was offered along with a pastry for dessert. About an hour after breakfast I noticed a group of businessmen order a few drinks. I do not think alcohol is complimentary (I saw one pull out his credit card), but soft drinks are. As these guys were getting their drinks I decided to ask for a Coke as no one really came around to ask if you wanted anything. That was the only service I received however, I could have gone back and asked for something if I wanted.
The seat was very comfortable and not just because it was a single seat. The seat was leather with headrest and was nice and wide. The leg room was very generous. It had a footrest and reclined as much as an airline business class seat from the 1990’s and enough that you could sleep comfortably. I was too busy trying to access the internet and looking out the window to sleep. The view was interesting to me as we passed one village after another. However, it was a grey November day, and I would think most people would not be as interested or impressed as I was. There was a power port at each seat in Premium and Business Class (Russian 220 volt) and all seats had tray tables and individual lighting. There was two toilets (unisex) at the rear of the car that were surprisingly large and clean. There are also overhead television monitors and headphone plugs. There was no programming on in our cabin, but I did see that people were watching the monitors in Business Class. Because there were so few people in our cabin when one someone was on their phone you could clearly hear their conversations. Luckily I was listening to music and this was not a disturbance to me at all.
The Siemens built train can travel at 250 km/h (155 mph) and our train made two intermediate stops (Tver and Vyshny Volochek) on the 650 Kilometer (404 miles) journey to Moscovsky Station in St. Petersburg. Our travel time was 3 hrs and 50 min. There are a few trains that do not stop and they can make it between the two cities in 3 hrs and 40 min. The ride was slightly bumpy, but only caused a problem when I was trying to do a crossword puzzle and had trouble writing.
We arrived into St. Petersburg on schedule and I was out of the station in no time and at the Radisson Royal Hotel on Nevsky Prospect a few minutes later. I was very happy with my decision to take the Sapsan to Peter. The cost was a little more than an Economy ticket on Aeroflot or S7 and much less than a Business Class ticket on either airline. While the service and food weren’t “First Class” the car and seat were. If there was not such a small price difference between Business and Premium I would have opted for Business, but I was happy there was. In my case the main benefit was convenience. It only took me 4.5 hours from hotel to hotel and I eliminated the cost and hassle of getting to and from the airports.