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Do summer trains to Russia from Poland, Germany, or France really sell out as soon as their booking opens (apparently 45 days before departure, but other sources say 60 days? I have a hard time booking a train ticket from Germany to Russia. Do they all get bought by agencies?

For example, Frankfurt-Moscow shows as sold out on 12 July, 19 July, 9 August, and only De Luxe Sleeping left on 26 July and 2 August (unavailable on 16, 23, or 30 August, probably because it's more than 60 days from today). Berlin-Moscow on 27 July or 3 August (43 and 50 days respectively from today, so not exactly a late booking) has only two sleeping places per car left: one for a disabled person and one for a person accompanying a disabled person:

Berlin-Moscow

Warsaw-Moscow for 10 August (57 days from today) shows 1 place available. Milano-Moscow shows as sold out for 4 August, but has a few places available for 11 August, which must have only just gone on sale.

Long distance domestic trains within Russia show up fine with plenty of seats available.

Is there a problem with the online booking system, or do international trains to Russia apparently really get sold out as soon as tickets go on sale? Do they all get pre-booked by travel agencies?


According to the Real Russia travel agency, "due to the high demand, all cheapest tickets will be highly likely sold out within few sales hours. Thus we recommend to take an advantage of pre-booking.", it seems that indeed travel agencies buy all the cheapest tickets within the first few sales hours...


Some trains are sold out on RZD but available on Polrail:

RZD
RZD sold out

Polrail
Polrail available

With RZD advising:

Уважаемые пассажиры! Для продажи на сайте ОАО «РЖД» в поезд №10 Варшава-Москва «Полонез» предложено 12 мест. Продажа остальных мест на данный поезд осуществляется в международной билетной кассе. При отсутствии свободных мест на сайте, просьба обратиться в международную билетную кассу.

which seems to mean that only a limited number of tickets are available online via RZD for this train — so even when it shows as sold out there, there may still be tickets available elsewhere...

  • My understanding is that your final answer nails it: all the cheap, fixed-fare tickets are snapped up by travel agencies and resold at as much profit as they can get. FWIW, the situation in China is very similar, particularly for routes like trains to Tibet in summertime. – lambshaanxy Jun 14 at 7:51
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    @jpatokal One would hope that competition between travel agencies limits the amount of profit they can make this way... I'll shop around a bit. – gerrit Jun 14 at 7:54
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There are several things going on here:

Popular summer travel

Travel in July and August is popular; there are likely many Russians on vacation in Europe.

Trackworks

Specifically for the Paris-Frankfurt-Berlin-Moscow train, there appear to be track works in France in summer. Tickets between Paris and Berlin are not available beyond 15 August. When looking at the train Berlin-Moscow for 16 August, RZD reports:

Временно закрыта продажа билетов на участке Париж – Берлин для поездов, отправляющихся из Парижа с 15 августа. На участке Берлин – Москва продажа осуществляется в обычном режиме.

And the arrivals and departures at Berlin Hbf show that the Moscow-Paris train is shortened between 5 July and 9 August and between 14 August and 6 September, running only as far west as Offenburg (westbound arrival Offenburg 03:51 or 04:56, eastbound departure 23:39 or 0:18). When searching through bahn.de / HAFAS the train shows up normally from Paris until 8 August, but not from 15 August, when HAFAS also shows it as running only from Offenburg:

screenshot HAFAS

So it looks like there is something going on (I guess trackworks on France). The train may not be running to or from Paris on those dates at all (I've read before that the English language interface at RZD shows trains as "sold out" when they are unavailable for booking for any other reason, such as when searching too far into the future, so that is consistent), or even when it will, by the time RZD opens the Paris-Berlin section for booking the train may be sold out between Berlin and Moscow! So it looks like travellers in this period may need to travel on different trains to Berlin then get on the train to Moscow there.

Tickets available, but not (all) through RZD

For the Warszawa-Moscow train, there is yet another message from RZD:

Уважаемые пассажиры! Для продажи на сайте ОАО «РЖД» в поезд №10 Варшава-Москва «Полонез» предложено 12 мест. Продажа остальных мест на данный поезд осуществляется в международной билетной кассе. При отсутствии свободных мест на сайте, просьба обратиться в международную билетную кассу.

which appears to mean that RZD only sells a limited number of tickets for this train. Indeed, as shown by the screenshots in the question, even when RZD reports a train as sold out, Polrail may still be able to sell tickets.

Tickets made available later

I have checked the departures for 2 August, 9 August, and 16 August again. When I checked those on 22 June (5 days ago), they all showed as sold out. Checking them again today (27 June), there are (in second class) 7 seats available on 2 August, as well as 43 on 9 August, 49 on 16 August, and 39 on 23 August. So it seems that some tickets are made available only later — perhaps extra carriages were added to trains that had sold out.

  • And why the downvote? – gerrit Jun 19 at 7:35
  • Interesting research, but do note that RZD's announcement you're quoting explicitly says that the Berlin-Moscow segment you were asking about will be unaffected and the tickets will be sold as usual. Furthermore, the suspension on ticket sales to and from Paris only affects trains operating on August 15 onwards, so the train from your original query for August 3 should be unaffected by that. It's certainly possible though the announcement does not disclose the full scope of the schedule disruption as it so often happens with RZD. – undercat supports Monica Jun 21 at 1:48
  • @undercat RZD not disclosing the full scope of the disruption, that would explain some things — bahn.de also discloses inconsistent information about the Paris-Offenburg section. I was originally asking about Frankfurt am Main-Moscow, which should run if the train is indeed limited to Offenburg but may not be bookable if it's only bookable from Berlin (confusingly, this train calls at both Frankfurt am Main and Frankfurt an der Oder). – gerrit Jun 21 at 7:53
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Traveling to or from Russia by train is neither time nor money efficient, what with the different gauge system and the lack of proper high speed rail infrastracture anywhere between Moscow and Brest.

You can easily see it yourself by comparing travel times for the Paris-Berlin-Moscow train. The cheapest ticket you could get from Berlin to Moscow would cost approximately €160, with the trip taking a whopping 24 hours. Compare this to the cost of the cheapest non-stop airplane ticket of €90, with the flight taking less than 3 hours.

Traveling abroad by train is and has always been a luxury tourist attraction in Russia. As such, the wait line can get pretty long throughout the vacation season when everyone wants to get the fun train ride.

One could make an argument that with increased demand there should be greater supply. One reason that is not the case might be the fact that there is only one state-owned rail company operating in that region, yet there are multiple fully competitive airlines that operate in Russia.

The only fast and affordable train connecting Russia with a non-Soviet bloc country I can think of would be the Helsinki-St. Petersburg train. Note that the train is operated by the Finnish VR group (as opposed to RZD). A seat in the second class car would cost mere €39, getting you to your destination in just 3 hours. Moreover, you could book it for almost any day, even tomorrow.

To summarize, the likely (though admittedly unsatisfying) answer to your question "why do almost all international trains show as sold out" would be "because the Russian government wants it this way, or just does not care enough".

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    A comment explaining the downvote would be appreciated. It will inform other users about any potential problem this answer might have, and help me in understanding how to improve it. – undercat supports Monica Jun 14 at 1:22
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    I didn't vote either way, but I found it hard to follow why the unattractiveness of most international trains to/from Russia explains why they sell out very quickly. This seems counter-intuitive at first reading. Perhaps the argument is that international trains are a highly seasonal luxury product and since they are not popular for most of the year, the supply is limited, meaning that at peak times they are very quickly sold out? – Martin Jun 14 at 7:33
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    I am downvoting, because this is an essay advising not to travel by train, it does not answer the question. I don't need a commentary on why I should fly when the experience of train travel is a major part of my travel motivation in the first place. There used to be daily trains from many western European capitals to Russia, and the Moscow-Paris train was reduced from three times to once a week, apparently due to lack of demand. The final paragraph might be true, but needs sources to back it up, and most of the rest of the answer is really just noise. – gerrit Jun 14 at 7:40
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    @gerrit The answer is by no means advising to travel by plane! :) Train travel is beautiful and it's awesome you are willing to go through the hassle to make that trip. However, as a long-time RZD passenger/sufferer I've lost any hope to find any rhyme or reason to many of their business decisions. You are also correct that the answer makes a conjecture about the lack of competition being the main reason for the ticket shortage, however for the same reason I highly doubt you will ever find an unbiased source explaining the decision due to its nature. I do hope I'm wrong here though! – undercat supports Monica Jun 14 at 10:31

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