Trip Report: Ticket to Tomsk - 1

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Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
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1,874
Location
Denver
Recently I unearthed notes from my 2010 trip from Berlin to Moscow to Tomsk. The destination is a city known as home of the first university in Siberia. It was closed to many foreigners during its days as a center of laser and nuclear research. It has cultural links with Germany that began with German professors (American universities were big on that in the 19th century, too.). Scientific contacts continued and so Tomsk was the site chosen for the first meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimer Putin.

The trip was a sample of less than half of the Trans-Siberian line. Most of my reasons for the train ride were typically tourist. However, I was hoping to see their legacy 3000V DC electrified rail line segments, which were inspired by the Milwaukee Road. I would see some of the territory in which American railwaymen worked as advisors in World War I and into the Revolutions. And as a Транспорт Специaлист I was interested to see the blend of American, European and original Russian rail concepts.

21 Jul 10 – Up early for crosstown trip to Tegel airport. Lufthansa flight went off as scheduled, as had trip to airport via tram, S-Bahn, TXL bus. Bus is packed with standees and their bags, but I only had a short wait for it.

Problem was in Frankfurt – which was a nuthouse as usual. Flight changes from Gate 33 to Gate 27 to Gate 31, which is worse than it seems due to the layout. Gate 31 actually leads downstairs to shuttle buses. We are driven to a plane parked in an outlying area and boarded via stairs. This and then congestion on runways result in a late flight.

On the Moscow-Domodedovo International end things procede routinely [this was before the terror bombing]. Taxi touts are everywhere in the terminal. Nyet! As I learned, the rail station is on the other end of the terminal building, in the domestic – crowded –area. It is even more crowded due to the touts.

Airport Express has its own counter with ticket lines. There are also counters for travel agents who will book rail or air trips and there are counters for unfamiliar airlines (and after landing I enjoyed seeing many, including Montenegro Airlines).

Hot weather! Airport Express 1730 trip (Moscow Time) trainset is hot inside. Pull out on time; ventilation made car comfortable at speed but running in mixed rail traffic leads to slowdowns and the heat rapidly increases. About half of the trip is very suburban and the second half is urban with first views of mega apartment blocks.

The train itself – very red, which Russians associate with fast trains [note that the word for red is also a word for beautiful so there’s some neurologic programing there] – is comfortable suburban stock with 2+2 seating and a wide aisle. Long train (8 cars?) is underloaded. It pulls into the suburban tracks at Paveletsky Station.

The suburban station is busy, but I am directed around a corner to the Metro entrance, and it is a stampede! There are ticket counters for the Metro but also TVM’s. The TVM’s could be toggled to English. As insurance against a mistake, I buy two rides; time is getting shorter, and I and a million-or-so Muscovites were getting sweatier.

Down the escalator with the masses. I get on the wrong train – I want Line 5, not Line 4. This is a consequence of no signs on trains and my repeated misconstruing of arrow signs. In Moscow they mean to turn after the sign.

The actual ride on the crowded train feels something like riding the BMT subway to Brighton Beach. Very pushy crowd but a young woman offers her seat to an elderly woman.

Rather than reverse direction, I set a new course, transferring at the Theatre Station. This has a new sort of crowd. In addition to the commuters there were people waiting for friends, possibly to go to the theatre. This slows down the flow. A la New York subways, the transfer includes a long pedestrian tunnel and elevation changes. A la Moscow, it also leads me to one more false turn, then I get on the right train. [The trip took me through Lubyanka Station, where I saw no sign of the terror attack that had taken place there.]

Off in a mass transfer at Komsomolskaya Square station. This serves three intercity + suburban train stations and they are busy. Yaroslavsky Station is easy to spot, due to its dramatic architecture. Inside, it is decorated with Siberian scenes and medallions [escutcheons?] of Siberian animals. It has a nice “You Are Here” display that showed me where to head for long-distance tickets.

The whole building is hot, and people are fanning themselves. Ticket clerks are running small fans on themselves in their work areas. Customers are cranky in slow-moving lines. Clerks appear to have been trained to be cranky.

The main problem appears to be a slow computer system combined with peak summer travel and sold out space. For example, a young couple in front of me want to travel together, but space together does not come up on their train. Lots of time is spent trying different combinations. The guy tries raising his voice and getting angry. Three clerks go over stuff on the screen. Fortunately, not everything is as slow. The man in front of me has it all worked out, including exact change. The clerk looks as if she is disappointed.

Ditto with my [Denver printed] e-tickets. I keep wondering what would happen, but all goes smoothly. She did get to snap at me to show my passport when I wasn’t quick enough. [The e-ticket had to be exchanged for a railway-issued ticket and checked against my visa and passport.]

Thankful to get out of the hottest hall in the station, I go back outside – nyet! I don’t wanna taxi! – and photograph some street scenes. Make taxi drivers and touts nervous. [On the flight between Denver and Frankfurt I had filled two pages in my notebook with useful questions and answers in Russian but had failed to memorize some phrase to scatter taxi touts. I ad libbed.]

I walk back inside and study the train arrival and departure board. Figure out which was which. This becomes important in a minute. Two Brit girls with backpacks come in and are briefly worried when train times do not match the info that they have. This is because they – as I had – looked at the arrivals list first instead of the departures. I set them straight. [Having walked in a few minutes ahead of them I had become an expert.] They did not read Russian and had been having a difficult time, finding that few people here spoke English.

They are happy to meet someone who speaks English, amused when I said that I was an American, so only spoke a sort of English. They had just graduated from a university, and one had a job set up to teach English in Vietnam. They were catching the trans-Siberian train ahead of mine.

They started their train trip in Lithuania, then to St. Petersburg, then to Moscow for a couple of days and then onward. When their track was posted, we said goodbye. As in the old days in the U.S., sleeping car trains departing major terminals were available for occupancy well before departure.

I pay for an hour in what I think was built as the First Class waiting room. This also gives access to better toilets and some quiet time. Most in the room were watching television, but it was not loud, and others were working on their laptops. The room had been retrofitted with many 220V outlets.

Back in the main waiting room for a few minutes. Another retrofit was a controlled-entrance waiting area so that ticketed passengers could wait without being hassled by street people, a la the Portland [OR] Greyhound station. I didn’t take advantage of it, but it looked like a good idea. I enjoy looking at the line-up of night trains, much as one would have seen until the 1960’s in the U.S. or the 1970’s in Western Europe.

Finally, the Tomich Train 38 is posted (even numbers eastbound as in North America). I head out to the intercity tracks area, and it is just backing in from the yard.

As a sidelight I had noticed a three-digit train number would be the last train of the evening, going to Vladivostok behind the trans-Siberian. I think it was the train being assembled on the adjacent track, with many postal and other head-end cars with a couple of passenger cars. A brief thought of riding such a train across Russia flashed through my mind!

Though I believe that Trains 37/38 are only seasonal trains, they carry destination signs showing the “Tomich” name and the lace curtains carried the name in stylized lettering! I find that Car 12 is on the head-end, behind a baggage car and a postal car. The car attendant was there to courteously check my ticket and passport. The compartment [a four-berth coupe] is hot, so I go back out on the platform to wait, as others do.

I come back into the compartment and introduce myself to Volodya, the other lower bunk passenger. It is awkward given my poor Russian, but he is very tolerant. He is 65 years old (has a much younger wife and child), may have a diet to follow, as he turned down the beer sales lady in the corridor and later said “no thanks” to chocolate. He is a reader of informal Komsomolskaya Pravda and says he was a retired civil servant [although that could describe a lot of former Soviet citizens].

No one bought the uppers, so this four-person room was less crowded than I had expected. I think some other space is open in this car, which may have been added recently to the consist. For example, few delays in using the restroom. The attendant is able to keep the car very clean.

Volodya:

2010 Russia 036k b-w.jpg

To be continued.
 
Last edited:

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,874
Location
Denver
Here's the next take...

21 Jul 10 PM

As we roll out of Moscow, I first noticed a problem that seemed to be an epidemic: trespassers using the RofW as a ped path or cutting across tracks. I had noticed this at Paveletsky Station but there it was commuters, who sometimes are knowledgeable. But this was happening all along the line.

Volodya began showing me how to set up our berths – which were not set up before boarding – but our car attendant turned up and did the job for me. In a coupe, we each were issued a towel, a blanket, a pillow, and a sheet. Another sheet is already on the berth, which folds down.

This car does not have the enclosed locker under the berth that was mentioned in travel literature, but it is easy to stow stuff under the seat. The compartment could be locked from the inside, but we did not do that.


22&23 Jul 10 – after a long night’s journey into days.

I’m writing after “brunch” in the dining car and the strenuous walk through five other cars (three coupe and two 1st Class). Train 389 is racing through a great plain southeast of what my Deutsche Bahn schedule calls ‘Kamischow’ – just a few minutes late.

It's not late due to servicing, as once the paper towel rolls from Moscow ran out, that was it. Similarly, in the dining car many items on the elegant menu specially prepared for this train are unavailable. It’s a good thing that I like mushrooms – they’re [apparently] in season.

The dining and snack operation always interests me and this part of Russian Railways [or its contractor] seems to be the most idiosyncratic. There is no snack bar – that is taken care of by aggressive grandmothers at servicing stops. Passengers buy ahead; also, they can buy amusement park type stuffed toys.

The diner itself has a small bar – it’s what Americans would call a diner-lounge. Few passengers use the lounge part, preferring to bring their own beverages or buy them from vendors at servicing stops. (We just went through a town with a beautiful little station named Lamenskaya. It isn’t on my map.)

The diner is run on a cash basis, without a cash register or receipts, and without accepting credit cards. When the waitress did not have exact change, she rounded off the price. The price is calculated on scratch paper, with little opportunity to check it. R1214 for brunch.

Shades are kept pulled, except at the side of a window where a customer is seated. This makes the bright red and white interior of the car dark and foreboding.

Reaching the dining car is also challenging. The vestibules are very good at keeping noise and dirt out of the cars, but not so good at letting people through. Very solid latches that are hard to pull tight behind oneself. And, as on American trains, a good view of the tracks on mismatched car types.

Rolling stock – the coupe cars that I have walked through appear to be about 9-10 years old at most. They are in great shape, not like new Deutsche Reichsbahn cars of the 1970’s. The two 1st Class cars appear to be from the 1980’s. My car and adjacent in grey and red are 2009 from Tver.

Vestibules are used for smoking. Of course, every time someone walks through, smoke blows back through the corridor.

Train speeds are very comparable with Western Amtrak trains, except that dispatching is facilitated by being double-track, having run-through tracks at stations, by electrification, and by running short freights. So, we’ve been keeping close to schedule without noticeable padding being involved.

Three plug-ins in the corridor of the coupe cars are labeled okay for 220V for battery chargers. Passengers running cords into compartments. Porter took my charger to her room for this.

Ride quality is good. Water bottle has not tipped over in two days. This is a plus for walk to diner.

Freight traffic, so far, has all been manifest, with no unit trains. Some solid trains of covered hopper cars, but they looked random. Similarly, saw one military move cut right into s manifest train.

My fellow traveler alighted at Suevka, and since then I have had no company. A lot of turnover among other passengers that I have noticed.

Along the way: some locations, trees show signs of heat stress, others not. Micro-climates?


23 Jul 10 – Today through burned areas, whether through brush fire, out of control burn, or controlled burn. Latter seems unlikely, due to damage to trees.

Big cities have rows of home-made garages/storage sheds along RofW. Long walk from apartment buildings.

Most affluent looking city so far is Kamischlov. Sharp looking new buildings. Oil center?

Inconsistencies in station arrangements for small towns. One barely has a platform, others long enough for a suburban three-car train. Signage varies greatly, though a recent program has added a standardized blue & white station name. Also, some standard blue & white metal noise fences.


23 Jul 10 - PM

More shortages in the dining car. “Swine” and pineapples in good supply, so had them, again. This time pineapples the only fruit, but I had apple juice. Total = R1564.

Dining car staff:
  • 1 old lady whose duties are not clear – sits in staff area doing paperwork.
  • 2 young women of stout description – one knows a little English.
  • 1 younger woman who may be anorexic.
  • 2 in kitchen – at least one is male.
Staff outnumbers passengers anytime I am there. Young women also walked through train at suppertime to sell some take-out items.

Train continues across table-top plain.

Alexander has joined the coupe in Lower 18 from Omsk to Tomsk. He was feeling the heat there as he hurried to the train. [Omsk was the furthest west post for the American railway advisors in World War I.]

Ride continues to be smooth enough. Every now and then a slow order, possibly where trackwork is underway at other times, or will be,

Note that much of the double-track is actually on separate alignments, especially at bridges, so is easier to do MofW. However, we’ve not run wrong way to my knowledge since leaving Moscow. [So, lines may be dispatched separately, like the Joint Line in Colorado, rather than as a CTC-equipped double-track, like the UP Main Line in Wyoming.]

We’re in Asia, but I’ve seen fewer “Asians” than in Denver.

Alexander is a river captain on the Tom and Ob Rivers. He goes all the way to the Arctic Circle and the Gulf of Ob. Interesting fellow – has a shot of liquor before sleeping, but otherwise not drinking. Explains that there is not much passenger traffic, but busy with freight. [Confirmed later at Tomsk River Terminal. Gulf of Ob is a big play for Gazprom.] Is laid off when ice closes rivers.


24 Jul 10

We both sleep well, and, in the morning, I wake up in time for Taiga. [The Tomsk branch splits off from the Trans-Siberian main here.] In this railroad town the train changed direction after a long dwell. From Taiga I was surprised that there were no intermediate stops, but there were no towns. Just some picturesque log cabins and lots of trees and bushes, a few farms and then some old factories – one actually identified with a “1943” sign.

This was one of the areas where production was moved in World War II and now these [quickie] plants are mostly forlorn or underutilized.

Pulled into Tomsk #1 Station a few minutes ahead of time. Irina and her friend Tania [from the English Language club] were there to meet me.

Alexander:

2010 Russia 065k b-w.jpg

Dinner in the diner:

2010 Russia 042k dinner in diner.jpg

Raymond Loewy did NOT design this dining car:

2010 Russia 031k Diner.jpg

###​
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,874
Location
Denver
That Dining Car setup looks very typical Russian. Surprisingly similar to that in a Russian restaurant in Tallinn where I have been for Dinner a couple of times. No Borscht on the menu?
I think I had finished the Borscht first.

I had enjoyed Russian cuisine in San Francisco and Denver/Glendale, so I was looking forward to the dining car. I enjoyed what they had to offer but was disappointed to have items out of stock.
 

Willbridge

50+ Year Amtrak Rider
AU Supporting Member
Joined
Mar 30, 2019
Messages
1,874
Location
Denver
And here's the return trip. During my visit we did drop by Tomsk Station-2 and went for a ride on the tram.

27 Jul 10 Back to Moscow

Irina reappeared at the station as Tania tried to say good-bye. As farewell gifts, Irina had a leather handmade basket and a magnetic plaque with a photo of the historic Tomsk university building. They were presented in an official manner.

We pull out on time, in a drizzle. The cooler weather is a blessing. [Westbound was to be a two night – three business day trip, crossing the Urals in daylight.] On this day from Tomsk to Ekaterinburg the other passenger in the four-berth coupe is Ms. Girina, the principal of a juvenile delinquent home’s school. Her British English is lovely; occasionally she needs some vocabulary.

We have a good discussion about education and juvenile delinquents’ potential for reform. She has a very diverse student body. She is going to Ekaterinburg, where apparently there is a U.S. consulate, for a visa [currently that service is suspended]. She plans to visit the U.S. One son lives in Germany and one in Florida. I went over the Amtrak System Timetable with her. She may take a train trip while in the U.S. [I had brought it to trade in case I met an interested railroader. She read the rules and regulations and helpful hints section first.]

In Novosibirsk we pick up some younger passengers. Two young men in the uppers. One’s colleague, a young woman, is in the next compartment. Also picked up a fifth passenger, because it turns out that Compartment 7 is across from a much-needed plug-in, and he had a laptop.

We have a pleasant evening with people in and out of the compartment. I decline offer of fish bought from a platform vendor because I plan to have dinner in the diner.

In diner – [illegible] Irony – in spite of not taking credit cards, they have to scramble to make change for a R1000 bill, even late in the evening. Hard sell from waitress whose blouse is one button short of being professional. She sits next to me to take my order.

After dinner, long conversation with Irina, a Polish-American lady who is a chemical engineer in the oil business, returning from Tomsk. She went to U.S. in the 1960’s. Told me of positive views of her life in Houston, culture there. Is negative about old Polish communities in Rust Belt cities, they are especially “old-fashioned.” Politically out of tune with the times.

Ready for bed a big jigsaw puzzle to get changed, due to co-ed, but also because all [assume] that I want privacy. Not that I ask for it.

28 Jul 10

In morning a similar jigsaw puzzle, but I change while the two guys in uppers are still sleeping, and Ms. Girina is down the corridor.

It turns out that the young man and young woman are railway trainees on their way to Ekaterinburg. She, in Finance, knows a little school English and wanted to practice with me. The guy is an electrical engineer. We talk about our respective school programs and about railways.

Finally get to wear my jacket! On platform in light drizzle.

Early lunch in diner (opens at 9 a.m.). Busty waitress is more professionally dressed, but again sits down with me to take my order. I run up a big enough bill and she takes it into the kitchen.

Then -- очень интересно – hostess arrives with a full-size bottle (750 ml?) of Liebfraumilch and asks if I “would like it with this beautiful girl!” Apparently, my growing suspicion that I am being hustled is warranted. Despite the suggestive behavior, the crew will make a tight turn at Moscow; they are based in Tomsk. So, there was no intention of doing anything except peddling liquor.

The dining car operation – doubling as a lounge –aids/abets excessive drinking. When I decline Liebfraumilch she thinks perhaps I might instead like vodka or beer, etc. I have to reiterate as best as I can that I think that drinking [that much] alcohol on a train is a safety hazard.

For example – last night in the dining car while Irina and I were talking, a passenger literally fell over drunk in the aisle. There were other obvious drunks on the train, either from sales through the train or on the station platforms or in the diner.

Into the Urals from Ekaterinburg. I am now the only passenger in the compartment. This is logging country, cattails, tall firs, actual cuts for the line through gray stone. Pedestrians randomly crossing the line. The railroad now is on big fills.

Waitress and her boss come through train selling beer from a basket. She comes into compartment and sits down opposite me to try sales after I have already said no. Nyet! This while crossing the Urals. Did I miss the summit marker because of them?

More heat-stressed trees on the west side of the Urals than on the east.

Just before Pervouralsk, the Tomich rounds a big curve and a kid with a bicycle is taking a photo of the train. I note smokestacks of a 1955-1960 factory just afterward. [And thereby found his approximate location in Google Streetview while preparing these typewritten notes. Someday the Russian version of Classic Trains will publish his photo. I recall meeting eisenbahnfreunde in Germany and amis du rail in France but am not sure what the Russian counterpart would be. Perhaps железнодорожные друзья?]

The worst problem is a middle of the night boarding. A drunk young man crashes into the other lower at Balezino while I am asleep. I forget that I have left some small coins on the table. He falls asleep without setting up his berth.

At Glazov an older man boards and properly sets up his berth.

29 Jul 10

In the morning the coins are gone. I think he accidentally swept them off the table. Numerous items are on the floor. As of 1135 Moscow Time he is still sleeping, although sometime in the night he got his berth set up.

I have a good conversation with the older man in the morning. He is an atomic power plant technician. His son is in university in St. Petersburg to be a quality control engineer. He was off at Nizhny-Novgorod (which was Gorky before the fall of Communism). [In the night we went through Kirov, which was named in 1934 for the assassinated party leader of Leningrad, and it had retained its name. A newspaper article along the way said that it was to change its name in 2011 back to its older name of Vyatka. That has not happened, although some institutions use the Vyatka name. This sounds like a good urban argument.]

The air is smoky, probably from forest fires.

Off on the platform at Vladimir, last stop before Moscow. Hot and dry, like The Dalles with a dry wind. Thick smoke in the air. Made cross-platform connection for passengers with Kirov-Simferopol train. Its older cars limited to 140 km/h and are not air-conditioned. We pull out before them, about seven minutes late. Visibility about 500m.

[My notes end here. We arrived in Moscow on time. However, as my roommate refused to wake up, I did notify the car attendant so that he would not be switched out into the yard.]

Approximate exchange rate at this time: R30 = $1

###
Ms. Girina

2010 Russia 270k b-w.jpg

Engineering trainee

2010 Russia 271k b-w.jpg

Legacy of the Milwaukee Road - a wooden pole for 3000V DC feeder line.
2010 Russia 289kk pole.jpg
 
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