Churches of Nizhny Novgorod

One thing struck me when exploring the old town of the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod – just how many churches there were to see.

Церковь Рождества Иоанна Предтечи на Торгу

St. John the Baptist Church – Wikipedia link (Russian language)

National Unity Square in Nizhny Novgorod

Церковь Алексия, митрополита Московского в Благовещенском монастыре

Church of Alexius, Metropolitan of Moscow, at the Annunciation Monastery – Wikipedia link (Russian language)

Church on the banks of the Oka River

Успенская церковь на Ильинской горе

Church of the Assumption on Mount Elias – Wikipedia link (Russian language)

Soviet-era apartments tower over a historic church

Рождественская церковь

Church of the Nativity – Wikipedia link (Russian language)

Looking west over the Oka River in Nizhny Novgorod

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Underground platforms at Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof

My first experience of the railways of Europe was at Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof, which happens to the busiest railway station in Germany – and the scale of the station was amazing, with a total of 32 platforms across three levels.

Main hall at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

At ground level 25 platforms are located beneath a five span train shed.

Setting sun at the station

High speed trains use some of the platforms.

ICE 3 set at Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof

With locomotive hauled double deck trains on regional services also serving the station.

DB 114 016 trails double deck commuter carriages

Along with shorter electric multiple unit sets.

DB class 420 EMU ready to run a line S7 service from Hauptbahnhof

And diesel multiple unit trains.

Bombardier Itino DMU at Frankfurt

Downstairs from the mainline station are another four platforms, called Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof Tiefbahnhof and used by electric multiple trains of the Rhine-Main S-Bahn network.

Changing drivers on S-Bahn line S5

And in a separate underground section are four more platforms, called U-Bahnhof Hauptbahnhof, and served by the much smaller trains of the Frankfurt U-Bahn.

VGF U3-465 arrives at Hauptbahnhof with a U4 line service

Quite a complex station, isn’t it?


I’ve written about Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof before, when I discovered the mysterious ‘Feuerwehr Übungstunnel’ platforms when riding the U-Bahn network.

The impetus for writing this blog post was a comment by @trainspotter67 on Twitter regarding the S-Bahn platforms at Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof.

A simple distinction, but a useful one for new users of the station.

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Electric trains, trams and trolleybuses on movable bridges

The Russian city of Saint Petersburg is a located across a collection of islands, divided by the Neva River, and reconnected by a series of movable bridges that allow boats to head upriver. So how do electric trains, trams and trolleybuses make their way across?

Looking downstream to Дворцо́вый мост (Palace Bridge)

In central Saint Petersburg the bridges are low to the River Neva, and have multiple spans.

Looking over the Тро́ицкий мост (Trinity Bridge) from Petrogradsky District

Some bridges have trolleybus routes passing over them, requiring a pair of wires per lane.

Connection between the two halves of the trolleybus overhead on Birzhevoy Bridge (Биржево́й мост)

While other bridges have tram tracks, which only have a single wire.

Disused tram tracks across Trinity Bridge (Тро́ицкий мост) over the River Neva

In both cases, the overhead wires are terminated at the edge of the opening bridge.

Connection between the two halves of the trolleybus overhead on Birzhevoy Bridge (Биржево́й мост)

A small air gap remains for the trolley pole or pantograph to cross.

Connection between the two halves of the trolleybus overhead on Birzhevoy Bridge (Биржево́й мост)

While at the pivoting end, a small hinge allows the fixed and movable sections of overhead to move separately.

Connection between the two halves of the trolleybus overhead on Birzhevoy Bridge (Биржево́й мост)

Similar techniques are used at the Finland Railway Bridge that carries trains across the Neva River. It consists of two parallel double tracks bridges – the older bridge having a twin-leaf bascule span, the second a single span vertical-lift span.

Finland railway bridge (photo by Ivan Smelov, via Wikimedia Commons)
Finland railway bridge (photo by Ivan Smelov, via Wikimedia Commons)

And some more examples

There are plenty more European bridges where trams and trains cross movable bridges, with the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey being my first find.

Overhead lines aren’t an issue at all – metal structures either side of the opening span provides a secure location for the overhead wires to be terminated.

Tramway overhead at the double leaf bascule section of the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey (photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons

Trams cross the gap without any trouble, with the pantograph following the solid metal bars either side of the air gap.

Tramway overhead at the double leaf bascule section of the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey (photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Roger W Haworth, via Wikimedia Commons

The Netherlands also have a number of tramways crossing movable bridges – the Kattensloot Bridge in Amsterdam is one, and the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam is another.

Rotterdam's Erasmus Bridge in the open position (photo by Ziko van Dijk, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Ziko van Dijk, via Wikimedia Commons

And not quite a tram, but I found a photo of this rolling lift railway bridge over the Hunte river in Oldenburg, Germany – again, overhead wires are no problem.

Rolling lift railroad bridge over the Hunte river in Oldenburg, Germany (photo by Jacek Rużyczka, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Jacek Rużyczka, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m sure there are plenty more examples of electrified railways and tramways crossing movable bridges to be found across the world.

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Moscow trams in the Garden Ring

Moscow is a city with a sizable tram network, but if you only wander around the inner city, you’d never know it. So why are tram routes so sparse in the inner city?

Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Spasskaya Tower on Red Square

Moscow has five ring roads encircling the city:

  • We start with the Central Squares of Moscow encircle Red Square and the Kremlin.
  • Next is the Boulevard Ring with a radius of two kilometres, following the former city wall.
  • With a circumference of 16 kilometres, the Garden Ring marks the edge of the inner city, and is now a major road.
  • The Third Ring Road is a 35 kilometres long freeway, forming a ring approximately 10 kilometres in diameter around the city.
  • And finally, the Moscow Ring Road (MKAD) is an orbital freeway the skitys the edge of of the Moscow urban area.

Horse drawn trams (конка) were the first railed street transport in Moscow, with the first line opening in 1872.

However it took until the 20th century for electric trams to be introduced to the city, and by 1910 a dense network of radial tram routes have been constructed through the Garden Ring and Boulevard Ring. Construction of an electric tramway along the Garden Ring was completed in 1907-1910, it being dubbed the “B” route (букашка) by locals. In 1918 the total length of tram lines in the city amounted to 323 kilometres, expanding to 395 kilometres by 1918, and a peak of 560 kilometres by the 1940s.

However it was construction of the Moscow Metro that changed the face of trams in the city, demoting the tramways to a feeder system for the new network. As a result the size of the network shrunk to 460 kilometres in 1989, and to 420 kilometres in 2004 following route closures in the inner city.

Today only one tram line passes through the Garden Ring of central Moscow – routes A, 3 and 39 between the Chistye Prudy (Чи́стые пруды́) metro station in the north, and Paveletskaya (Павелецкая) metro station in the south.

Moscow tram #1124 on route 39 crosses Большой Устьинский мост (Bolshoy Ustinsky Bridge)

The tram crosses the Moskva River just south of Red Square, via the Bolshoy Ustinsky Bridge (Большой Устьинский мост).

Looking down Raushskaya naberezhnaya along the Moskva River

Despite passing through the inner city, single car trams are used on the line.

Moscow tram #1268 on route 3 heads north from the Zamoskvorechye District

And intending passengers have to cross a multi-lane road to board trams.

Intending tram passengers cross three lanes of traffic: Moscow tram #1269 on route 3

Given the size and importance of Moscow, the low key nature of the Moscow tramways in the inner city is quite surprising.

Further reading

If you can’t read Russian finding the history of the Moscow tramways is rather hard – Wikipedia has a short summary, while Robert Schwandl’s UrbanRail.Net features a very detailed Moscow tramways route map.

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Taking a ride on the Moscow Monorail

When I visited Moscow I was on the hunt for different modes of public transport, and the Московская Монорельсовая Транспортная Система (Moscow Metro) was one of them. So what did I think? In a word – underwhelming.

Westbound train approaches Выставочный центр (Vystavochny Tsentr) station

The straddle-beam monorail stretches 4.7 kilometres (2.9 miles) in the north-eastern outskirts of Moscow, connecting to Line 6, 10 and 9 of the Moscow Metro, with a total of six stations along the way, and a top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph).

Wikipedia has the full history – design work commenced in 1998 and construction starting in 2001, with the first “excursion mode” train running in November 2004, but it took until 2008 for the complete system to be ready for normal public transport operations.

Each train is six cars long.

Six car long monorail train on the reversing loop at Reversing loop at Тимирязевская (Timiryazevskaya)

All monorail tracks and platforms are elevated, with station entrances down at ground level.

Entrance to the monorail station at Тимирязевская (Timiryazevskaya)

All but one of the stations have island platforms, which are open to the weather.

Waiting for a monorail at Выставочный центр (Vystavochny Tsentr)

Resulting in plenty of snow being blown inside.

Monorail train #4 drops off passengers at Телецентр (Teletsentr)

I also noticed at Тимирязевская (Timiryazevskaya) terminus an odd track arrangement – with a reversing loop for normal services.

Reversing loop at Тимирязевская (Timiryazevskaya) station

As well as a dead end siding for the stabling of defective monorail trains.

Timiryazevskaya station on the Moscow Monorail (via KVentz at Wikimedia Commons)
Timiryazevskaya station on the Moscow Monorail (via KVentz at Wikimedia Commons)

And the big question

When I rode on the Moscow Metro, I was pleasantly surprised by how fast trains accelerated out of stations. So were the Russians able to buck the trend of lame monorails, and build one that isn’t just a fairground ride?

Unfortunately not – the Moscow Metro felt just as slow as the joke that was the Sydney Monorail.

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Paris Metro and the ‘bis’ lines

On my trip to Europe I didn’t ride on the Paris Metro, but none the less there was one aspect of it that intrigued me – the ‘3bis’ and ‘7bis’ lines.

Photo via Clicsouris on Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Clicsouris on Wikimedia Commons

On the Paris Metro every line has a number – from 1 to 14, with proposed lines 15 through 18 also on the drawing board. However, the ‘3bis’ and ‘7bis’ lines stand outside this pattern.

Wikipedia has this to say on Line 3bis:

With a length of 1.3 kilometres (0.81 mi) and only four stations, the line is the shortest on the Paris Metro. It is also the least used line, with just over 1.5 million passengers in 2003.

The line was constructed during the 1910s as an extension to line 3, but the two were disconnected in 1971 and from then on Line 3bis was operated separately.

And for Line 7bis:

With a length of 3.1 kilometres (1.9 mi) and only eight stations, Line 7bis is the second shortest and second quietest line on the Paris Metro, with less than 4 million passengers per year in 2003.

The section was put into service in 1911 as a branch of the line 7. It was disconnected in 1967 due to a significant imbalance of traffic and became an independent line.

With both metro lines being branches from a main line, it explains the ‘bis’ name a little. Checking the dictionary sheds a little more lght:


Definition: (adv) – (music) repeat, again, encore; (address) ½, a

À la fin du concert, le groupe a joué deux bis – At the end of the concert, the group played two encores

Il habite 43 bis, rue verte. – He lives at 43½ (or 43a) Green Street

un itinéraire bis – detour, diversion

Diversion – that’s about right.

Other usages

House numbers are another common usage of bis:

Have you ever noticed a number in France followed by bis or ter, particularly on an entrance or gate? Well, it means that a house or property has been divided up, so it’s like our a or b. He lives at 3a = Il habite au 3bis. Bis comes from Latin – twice – while ter means three times.

As well as technical standards:

For example, modem standards are indicated as being V.21, V.22 or V.22 bis.

I have also seen bis on the Paris Metro.

In both cases, the context seems to imply a meaning such as “extension”.

And back roads through the countryside:

A few years ago husband and I did a driving trip through France and were advised to follow routes which were signposted with a green sign with the word “BIS” on it. These routes were developed to get travellers thru the country in heavy travel periods without clogging up the entire road system. We had such a great and easy time driving just following these signs – they’d name a town and point in a direction and off you’d go. Frequently on roads which were lightly travelled. Does anyone know if these routing features still exist?

Yes, the are called “intinéraires bis”. The green sign always indicate the “long road” as opposed to the motorway.


Over the years proposals have been made to merge Line 3bis and 7bis of the Paris Metro: initially as Line 15, and now as Line 19.

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Inspection crews on the Russian Railways

On my way across Russia by train I spent hours staring out the window at the passing scenery, and in that time I found plenty of railway staff looking just as intently at the tracks.

Walking the tracks with a measuring gauge

Inspection crews walk the tracks, using specialised equipment to check the rails for flaws.

Track inspection crew pass the stabled snow clearing train

The snow doesn’t keep them from their work.

Track inspection gang head off through the snow

But passing trains do – thankfully the equipment is easy to move off the tracks.

Russian railway workers wait for our train to pass before resuming their inspection run

To make their job easier on long stretches of track, self powered track inspection vehicles are used.

Russian Railways track inspection vehicle - «Автомотриса дефектоскопная» АДЗ-1

Russian Wikipedia has more on the «Автомотриса дефектоскопная» АДЗ-1 pictured above:

АДЭ-1 is an inspection railcar that uses ultrasound and magnetic flaw detection of rail flaws built by OAO “Kaluga Track Machine and hydraulic drives» (JSC «Kalugaputmash”).

The railcar is self-propelled and has a four person crew. It is maintained in all weather conditions and at any time of the day at an ambient temperature of -40 to + 40°C, with ultrasonic testing being possible at temperatures from -30 to + 40°C.

14.48 metres long and weighting 45 tons, the railcar has a 200 kW engine and 20 – 20 bogies, allowing a maximum speed of 80 km/h.


Wikipedia has more about the detection of rail flaws.

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All aboard for ‘Railway Lottery’

When travelling by train across Russia, a common sight was advertising posters for «Лотерея железных дорог». So what was it advertising?

Flyer for the Russian Railway's «Лотерея железных дорог» ('rail lotto') competition

I saw them as part of the entertainment onboard the Sapsan train.

Advertisement for Russia's 'Rail Lotto' competition

They were on the carriage walls as I walked down the train.

«Лотерея железных дорог» advertisement

They even had stickers reading “Maybe, you are looking at a millionaire?” on the bathroom mirrors.

«Возможно, на тебя смотрит миллионер» (Maybe, you are looking at a millionaire?'

Thankfully «Лотерея железных дорог» was easy to translate – in English it is ‘Railway Lottery’.

The website has more details:

Buy a 100 rouble lottery ticket and be a part of the “Railway Lottery’! For each draw the prize pool is more than 15 000 000 rubles!

Tickets can be brought from the conductor onboard all long-distance trains in Russia, and from ticket offices. They will enter your 13 digit ticket number into the draw.

10% of the revenue from ticket sales is sent to the aid of sick children, charity and social programs.

They also detail the history of the lottery:

First edition of “Railways Lottery” was held in October 2010. Since then:

  • raffled 706,324,337 rubles,
  • 1,646,096 lottery winners,
  • 55 of them have won the sum of over one million rubles
  • The largest prize – 16,127,106 rubles – was won on August 30, 2013 in draw 35. The winner was 28-year-old resident of the Belgorod region.
  • In August 2011, “Railway Lottery” and Charity Foundation “Spread Your wings!” concluded a cooperation agreement in the framework of which the “Helping Hand” project. During the years of cooperation 161,272,106 rubles were transferred to charity. Together with the Foundation “Spread Your Wings!” was provided targeted assistance to 880 kids with diseases of the central nervous system, birth defects and cancer.
  • Most importantly, during the existence of the “Lottery railways’ help more than 1,500 children have received.


When I travelled to Russia in 2012 entries in the Railway Lottery were train ticket numbers. In 2014 the rules were changed to make things simpler – each entry was for six numbers between 1 and 36, and whoever picked all six numbers won the prize pool.

Drawing out six lucky numbers is a lot simpler than putting a set of non-sequential 13 digit numbers into a barrel, and picking out a single winner.

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Travelling first class on the Russian Railways

On our visit to Russia we spent most of the time travelling in second class, but for Christmas Eve we decided to spend the extra money and book out a Spalny Vagon (1st class) compartment for just us.

Boarding the train, our first class compartment ready for our night crossing Russia

On arrival a РЖД branded teaset was on the table, along with two copies of their inhouse magazine.

РЖД branded teaset, and two copies of their inhouse magazine

And the wall behind us even had a TV!

We can even watch Russian TV on the train!

Money well spent, but something that sure adds up when travelling from one end of Russia to another.


There are three classes of accommodation on Russian long distance trains:

  • Spalny Vagon (1st class): 2-berth compartments, with two single beds located either side of the compartment.
  • Kupé (2nd class): 4-berth compartments, with top and bottom bunk beds either of the compartment.
  • Platskartny (3rd class): open dormitory carriages, with 54 berths arranged in bays of 4 on one side of the aisle and bays of 2 along the carriage wall.

On our trip we didn’t slum it down in 3rd class – and due to our holiday being in the middle of winter, we were lucky enough to get a 2nd class compartment to ourselves on every journey.

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Track workers of the Russian Railways

As I travelled by train across Russia, one of the things that stood out was how often I’d find workers lineside, busy repairing the tracks.

Another railway work crew waits for our train to pass

They could be found in railway yards in urban areas.

РЖД worker waiting for our train to pass at Липецк (Lipetsk)

Out in the woods, repairing the rails.

Russian railway workers repairing the tracks

In the middle of nowhere, inspecting signalling equipment.

Railway worker inspecting a signalling equipment cabinet

And even the stereotypical pose of leaning on their shovels.

Stereotypical workers: leaning on their shovels, as they wait for our train to pass

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