Russian high-speed trains comparison: Sapsan, Strizh, and Lastochka
Which high-speed train is better – Sapsan, Strizh or Lastochka?
- Sapsan: undoubtedly the leader for Moscow – St Petersburg travel. Sapsan is the fastest train in Russia, offers dozens of departures each day, and boasts the most modern and comprehensive on-board facilities and services. Sapsan’s downsides are expensive ticket prices and only one other, limited route from Moscow to Nizhny Novgorod
- Strizh: the best carrier for journeys between Moscow – Vladimir – Nizhny Novgorod, with more frequent departures than Sapsan and Lastochka, cheaper tickets than Sapsan, and comfortable sleeper carriages. Strizh also offers an infrequent but decently priced St Petersburg – Samara service
- Lastochka: what Lastochka lacks in luxury it makes up for in ticket price and the sheer variety of routes around popular tourists destinations in European Russia, as well as a handful of routes in Siberia. Unless you’re travelling from Moscow – St Petersburg or Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod, Lastochka is the best option for you
Visiting Russia is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Many travellers want to combine several cities into one trip, yet would prefer a more comfortable form of travel than sleeper train or airplane. Thanks to the high-speed trains which serve Russia’s railways, intercity travel across this vast land couldn’t be easier, and you can make the most of every hour spent in this magnificent country. Let’s explore three different high-speed trains which are ready to whisk you around Russia – the Sapsan, Strizh, and Lastochka trains.
Photo by RussianRail Staff
Aptly named after the peregrine falcon, the Sapsan train is the fastest train in the country. Since its launch in 2009 it has revolutionised train travel in Russia, reaching speeds of up to 250 km/h as it hurtles through the Russian countryside. The Sapsan service cuts the journey time in half for passengers travelling between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod.
Sapsan is not just valued for its speed. It is a high-quality Siemens train, whose modern interior is equipped with special soundproofing, day and night lighting, curtains on the windows, air conditioning and heating, ample luggage and coat storage, decent toilet facilities and a good restaurant car. The train offers every service you could possibly desire while travelling – tour booking and taxi ordering services, a souvenir shop for those last-minute gifts, and a ‘mini office’ which includes a photocopier, printer and scanner (a lifesaver if you’ve forgotten to print the museum tickets for your destination).
What’s more, the Sapsan is a great method of travel for disabled passengers. Carriage doors are wide and automatic and the floor in all areas of the train is the same level, allowing passengers in wheelchairs to easily move around. One carriage is specially equipped with a wheelchair space, call button, and disabled toilet.
On-board perks depend on your chosen Sapsan ticket and seat class, which includes Basic, Economy, Economy+, Business, First, and Dining Class.
Basic and Economy seats are essentially the same, with the exception that Economy passengers have access to the entertainment portal (complete with films, music, newspapers, books and audiobooks, kids’ entertainment, and information about the Sapsan, Moscow and St Petersburg).
- Economy+ passengers receive all this plus a complimentary cold meal and a personal electric socket at their seat.
- Dining Class passengers are allocated a table in the restaurant car for the duration of their journey, and pay a 2,000 rouble deposit when booking their ticket to be spent on refreshments en route.
- Business Class tickets include a free travel kit, pillow, hot meal and use of the Business Lounge at the station.
- First Class passengers receive all of the above plus personal reading lamps and spacious reclining seats, so you can lie back, relax and admire the passing landscape.
- There is one more level of luxury aboard the Sapsan train. At the head of the train in the First Class carriage is the Conference Suite – a separate four-person compartment with a minibar, reclining chairs, sofa, television and a PlayStation games console.
On the newest Sapsan trains introduced in 2020, all seat classes have personal plug sockets, there are water coolers in every carriage, and there is new Family Carriage with entertainment and a play area for small children.
- Routes: the Moscow – St Petersburg route whisks you between the two capitals in as little as three-and-a-half hours. Sapsan also serves the route between St Petersburg – Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod, which runs via the Golden Ring city of Vladimir. The entire journey takes eight hours and the Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod leg takes less than four hours.
- Departures: between St Petersburg and Moscow there are over a dozen departures per day in each direction, so the journey can easily fit around your itinerary. There is one St Petersburg – Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod service per day in each direction, arriving at Nizhny Novgorod at 01:00 and in St Petersburg at 13:30. At peak times, the Sapsan is comprised of a double train (20 carriages), making it 500 metres in length – the longest high-speed train in the world!
- Prices: between St Petersburg and Moscow, Sapsan train tickets generally start from 2,500 roubles for an Economy ticket and 5,700 roubles for Business Class. Between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod, tickets start from 1,400 roubles for Economy and 4,500 for Business.
- Speed: the Sapsan travels at a maximum speed of 250 km/h.
Photo on RZD.ru
The Strizh train takes its name from another superb flier, the swift. Served by Spanish-built Talgo trains, this service was first launched in Russia in 2014 and today it serves the Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod and St Petersburg – Samara routes. Unlike Sapsan, the Strizh also served one international route between Moscow – Warsaw – Berlin, although this was sadly cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic.
On board, the Strizh is not as modern as the Sapsan, but you can still expect a high level of comfort, with Wi-Fi, air conditioning, and heating in every carriage. Passengers in any seat class also have access to the ‘Fellow Traveller’ multimedia portal, where you can see an interactive map of your journey, read information about the train, order meals from the restaurant and read news. Passengers in premium classes also have access to films, books, music and Wi-Fi through their portal. As well as a restaurant car, the Strizh also has a bar-style buffet car serving snacks.
Those travelling the daytime Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod route can choose between Second or First Class seating or First Class sleeping compartments (the ideal way to rest on your inter-city journey!) All seated carriages are equipped with spacious seats, reading lights and power outlets, and First Class also includes a complimentary meal. In the First Class sleeper cabins are two beds, sockets, hygiene kits, towels and bed linen, and some cabins also include a television, private toilet and shower.
Those making the longer journey aboard the night train between St Petersburg – Nizhny Novgorod – Samara can sit in First or Second Class seats, or alternatively stay in Deluxe, First or Second Class compartments:
- Second Class sleeping compartments accommodate four passengers.
- First Class cabins sleep either one or two passengers (on this train, they do not have private facilities).
- Deluxe Class cabins sleep one or two people and are equipped with a television, private shower and toilet. There is also one Deluxe cabin equipped for disabled passengers.
- Routes: Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod, with a journey time of less than four hours. St Petersburg – Nizhny Novgorod – Samara (no stopping in Moscow) takes between 19 – 20 hours.
- Departures: up to seven departures per day between Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. One departure every other day between St Petersburg and Samara. There is also one high-speed departure every four days from St Petersburg to Moscow only, although this route is hardly preferable for tourists as it departs after midnight and arrives before 6am. There is only an overnight Strizh service once every four days in the other direction.
- Prices: Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod tickets cost around 1,200 roubles for Economy Class, 2,000 roubles for Business Class, and 3,000 roubles for First Class sleeper. St Petersburg – Samara tickets cost from 3,300 roubles for Second Class sleeper and 8,000 roubles for a First Class sleeper.
- Speed: the Strizh train travels at a maximum speed of 200 km/h.
The final high-speed bird-themed train on our list today is the Lastochka (‘swallow’ in Russian) which serves numerous routes around European Russia as well as a handful of routes in Siberia too. The Lastochka is the most basic of the three trains we have discussed, yet is still a quality carrier served by German-built trains.
There are no sleeper wagons aboard the Lastochka service, only seated carriages in Basic, Economy, Economy+ and Business Classes. In Economy you have a personal plug socket, in Economy+ you travel in a comfortable, adjustable leather seat, and in Business Class you have all of the above plus a complimentary meal. The Standard type of Lastochka trains only have Basic Class seated carriages, however the Premium Lastochka trains serving southern Russian routes and the Standard Premium trains on various services around St Petersburg and Moscow offer the full range of seat classes. There are seats and toilets for disabled passengers on all trains.
- Routes: of Lastochka’s many routes, the ones most popular among tourists include: Krasnodar - Imeretinsky Resort, where the Sochi Winter Olympic Park is located (just under five hours); Krasnodar - Rostov-on-Don (less than three-and-a-half hours); Ekaterinburg - Tyumen (four-and-a-half hours); Moscow to the Golden Ring cities of Kostroma and Ivanovo (four hours or less); Moscow - Nizhny Novgorod (four hours); St Petersburg - Vyborg (one hour); St Petersburg - Oranienbaum (50 minutes); St Petersburg - Petrozavodsk (approximately five hours); and St Petersburg - Pskov (three-and-a-half hours). There is a St Petersburg – Moscow Lastochka service, but this is a daytime journey taking nearly seven hours, so most tourists prefer to take the quicker daytime Sapsan or the longer overnight train.
- Departures: on most Lastochka services there are one or two departures per day, but on shorter suburban services or commuter routes there are more frequent departures.
- Prices: ticket prices vary greatly depending on the service. For an average comparison, a Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod ticket costs 900 roubles for a Basic Class seat.
- Speed: the Lastochka train travels at a maximum speed of 160 km/h.
Which train is best – Sapsan, Strizh or Lastochka?
On the surface, these high-speed Russian trains seem similar. However there are some key factors which influence which service is the best for your journey.
- Sapsan: the Moscow – St Petersburg journey is definitely best with Sapsan in terms of travel times, flexible departures, and superior on-board facilities – Sapsan boasts every facility you could possibly think of and several carriage classes depending on the exact level of comfort and services you desire. The downside of Sapsan is the cost. Any ticket from Business Class and upwards is relatively expensive – First Class tickets cost five or six times that of an Economy ticket. Aside from this, while Sapsan is without a doubt the best choice for St Petersburg – Moscow travel, it only has one other service – and an infrequent one at that.
- Strizh: for those who want to travel to Nizhny Novgorod or Vladimir from Moscow, Strizh is certainly the best option. Not only is the journey time the same as Sapsan and with many more departures each day, but the tickets are much cheaper – you can get a private sleeping cabin with toilet and shower for less than the price of a Business Class Sapsan ticket. However, much like Sapsan, Strizh only offers one amazing service. The St Petersburg – Samara train departs fairly infrequently (although this is still a cheap and great option if it does fit into your itinerary), and the Moscow – St Petersburg service is far overshadowed by regular sleeper trains or the Sapsan.
- Lastochka: although it has more basic facilities and services than Sapsan or Strizh, the Lastochka boasts a far superior variety of routes. Instead of prioritising just one service, you are guaranteed a reliable, high-speed and quality journey when travelling all around Russia. For journeys between Moscow – St Petersburg or Moscow – Nizhny Novgorod you should travel by Sapsan or Strizh. But for any other route, Lastochka is the best!
Once you have your tickets, look forward to a wonderful, smooth
and enjoyable journey through the Russian countryside.
Buy your ticket safely and securely and then sit back
and enjoy the ride!
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