Ретропоезд – the heritage trains of Russia

In Russian there is a word for old time trains such as steam engines – «Ретропоезд». It roughly translates to “retro train”, and on my visit to Russia, I stumbled upon a handful of them.

View of Leningradsky station from Komsomolskaya Square

In Saint Petersburg I visited the October Railroad Museum (Музей Октябрьской железной дороги), which held a collection of over 80 steam, electric and diesel locomotives.

Collection of locomotives at the south end of the museum

While in Moscow at the railway yards outside Kiyevsky railway station, I spotted steam locomotive ЛВ-0192 hidden among much more modern electric locomotives.

Steam locomotives parked beside modern electric units

And on the Moscow Metro I stumbled upon a replica of an 1934-vintage train in passenger service.

Replica of the original 1934-vintage Moscow Metro train in service


From time to time steam trains operate on the mainline railways of Russia – they are operated by a private company called «Проект Ретропоезд» (Project Retropoezd).

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Icebreakers on the River Neva, Saint Petersburg

During cold Russian winters the River Neva through Saint Petersburg becomes covered with ice, with icebreakers required to keep the waterway open. On my visit to Saint Petersburg I saw them at work.

A few more chunks of ice to go

The icebreaker headed upriver through a clear channel.

Looking downstream to Дворцо́вый мост (Palace Bridge)

Until it encountered the first ice floe.

Heading upriver, the Peter and Paul Fortress in the background

The icebreaker lined up towards the ice.

Manoeuvring towards a large slab of ice

Then charged into it.

Breaking up slabs of ice on the River Neva

Crashing over the top.

Icebreaker mounting a slab of ice

And breaking up the slab.

Bow of the icebreaker breaking through another slab

Which then flowed downstream towards the Gulf of Finland.

Broken up ice flows downstream from Тро́ицкий мост (Trinity Bridge)


The icebreaker I watched was named ‘Минск’ (‘Minsk’) but there is at least one sister vessel – icebreaker ‘Одесса’ (‘Odessa’).

Icebreaker at work beneath Тро́ицкий мост (Trinity Bridge)

While downstream I saw the much larger oceangoing icebreaker ‘Красин’ (Krasin) – now a museum ship.

Icebreaker 'Красин' (Krasin) moored on the River Neva, now a museum ship

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Learner drivers in Russia

A few times in Russia I spotted an odd sticker affixed to car windshields – an exclamation mark inside a yellow box. But what do they indicate?

Exclamation sticker on the windscreen of a Russian car

After a bit of digging I discovered that the stickers indicate a motorist with less than two years of driving experience.

The literal Russian translation is восклицательный знак в желтом квадрате, but some jokers have nicknamed them «Желтый квадрат Путина» (Putin’s yellow square) after Vladimir Putin, who drove the introduction of the stickers in 2009.

Online newspaper «Свободная пресса» (“Free Press”) has more on the stickers in this piece from February 2009:

Novice drivers trailing “Putin’s yellow square”
February 2, 2009
Valery Tsygankov

All drivers, whose experience is less than two years will be required to attach to their cars a yellow square with an exclamation mark. Decision of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is the innovation come into force from 1 March 2009.

Thus, the dream came true the traffic police, which has long insisted on the introduction of special signs for the “Dummies”. According to Deputy Head of the Department of Road Safety (DOBDD) Ministry of Internal Affairs Vladimir Kuzin, “the introduction of such a sign is necessary because both novice drivers and their surrounding motorists on the road will feel much calmer and more confident.”

New special signs “novice drivers” is a yellow square with a side of 15 cm. Inside the square shows the exclamation mark in black height 11 cm. It should be attached to the rear window of vehicles, run drivers, whose driving experience is less than two years. Under the new rule does not fall only tractors, self-propelled vehicles and motorcycles.

A possible punishment for refusing to use similar distinctive signs so far nothing concrete has been reported. Earlier, Deputy Head of the Department of Road Safety (Traffic Safety), Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation Vladimir Kuzin already made ​​a statement from which it follows that certain repression still be. Even before the publication of the decree of the Prime Minister of the new special characters, gaishnaya Head Kuzin warned: “Without it, you do not pass the inspection, as well as without the” spikes “if studded tires installed on your vehicle.”

But not all traffic cops so categorical. For example, according to the chief of traffic police Pskov Sergei Litsovskogo no guarantees in this business formalism does not, because “you can get right, but in the car to drive all the time on the side (passenger seat), and the experience will be 5 years, and the skills of practical driving 3:00 , 10 hours of the day 2 ” . In other words, the driver, did not obtain the necessary experience, can easily withdraw from his car yellow sign, but it is safer on the road from it will not be in two years.

With that problem solved, I faced a new one – what does a triple exclamation mark sticker signify.

Exclamation sticker on the windscreen of a Russian car

An even less experienced driver perhaps?

Further reading

From David Burghardt’s blog at RIA Novosti – Rear-end someone else, I have a sign!

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Freight wagon codes of the Russian Railways

While travelling across Russia I saw plenty of freight trains, each made up of a variety of different rolling stock. So how are each of these freight wagons identified?

The kicked up snow starts to settle

As with every other rail operator, the Russian Railways have a classification system – one inherited from the former USSR and also used by other operators in the Commonwealth of Independent States. Each wagon has a eight digit number to uniquely identify it, as well as a model number from the «Единая нумерация моделей вагонов» (Uniform System for Classification of Rolling Stock).

Roughly translated, Russian language Wikipedia describes the system as such

The Uniform System for Classification of Rolling Stock is a system to identify freight wagons, passenger carriages, electric and diesel railcars, metro trains, and trams in the former-USSR and now the CIS and Russia. Put into effect in 1976, all rolling stock produced by domestic enterprises is assigned a model number.

This model number consists of two parts, separated by a hyphen. The first part indicates the type of the rolling stock, while the second part refers to a specific model of rolling stock. The second part is usually divided again into two parts – the first digit usually indicates the company that developed the design, and the second part being the relevant drawing number.

The top level classification groups as as follows:

10 – covered hopper wagons with bottom discharge for apatite concentrate (fertiliser)
11 – boxcars
12 – gondola
13 – flat wagon with sides
14 – Транспортёр wagon (Schnabel car)
15 – tank wagon
16 – refrigerated wagons
17 – covered hopper wagon
18 – freight wagon bogies
19 – grain hopper wagon
20, 22, 23, 25, 26 – specialised industrial product wagon
31, 32 – 4-axle wagons, dump trucks
33 – 6-axle wagons, dump trucks
34 – 8-axle wagons, dump trucks
41 – narrow gauge boxcars
42 – narrow gauge rail cars and hopper cars
43 – narrow-gauge platform cars
45 – narrow-gauge tank cars
47 – narrow gauge wagons, dump trucks
48 – narrow gauge passenger cars
52 – narrow-gauge self propelled railcars
55 – hopper cars
61 – passenger cars
62 – electric multiple units
63 – diesel multiple units
65 – passenger train power van
68 – passenger car bogies
71 – trams
81 – subway cars
RA – rail buses

Note the appearance of two non-rail vehicles items in the list – type 18 “freight wagon bogies” and type 68 “passenger car bogies”.

In most cases the most visible number on the side of a piece of rolling stock is the wagon number – with the model number nowhere to be found. This makes identifying wagon types difficult – a wagon number to model lookup is required. Some wagon lookups I’ve completed include:

Model 12-1704-04 “4 axle gondola with floor hatches” – numbered #54042643.

Open wagon #54042643 owned by Eastcomtrans - the largest private freight operator in Kazakhstan

Model 11-270 boxvan #24582983.

Ukrainian Railways boxvan

Model 11-739 covered grain hopper #95055836.

Ukrainian Railways grain wagons

Model 20-4015 “4 axle wagon for transportation of pellets and sinter” #58804816.

Ukrainian Railways bottom discharge hopper wagons

Model 15-1780 liquefied gas tank wagon #76605112.

Russian Railways tank wagon 76605112 at Липецк (Lipetsk)

Model 31-673 side dump car #55824874.

Russian Railways side dump wagons loaded with sand

And model 23-4000 log wagon #91503227.

Ukrainian Railways log wagon in the yard at Fastiv

Further reading

You can find an extensive list of wagon model numbers at the rail enthusiast managed vagon.by website, who also offer the previously mentioned wagon number to model lookup tool.

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Riding the Nizhny Novgorod cable car

Cable cars are usually something associated with tourist resorts and snowfields, but they can be used for public transport – with the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod being one example.

Cable car station at the Nizhny Novgorod side

Some background

Nizhny Novgorod is the fifth largest city in Russia and located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers, a feature that has long constrained development of the city.

The old town of Nizhny Novgorod is located on the south-eastern banks of the river.

National Unity Square in Nizhny Novgorod

But it took the building of a bridge over the Oak River in the Soviet era for development to move to the western bank of the river.

Soviet-era apartment blocks in the modern part of Nizhny Novgorod

But crossing the Volga River was a step too far, even with the building of a bridge in the 1960s, with the northern bank town of Bor being left behind.

Reaching landfall on the north side of the Volga

As you can see on the map below, the distance as the crow flies between Nizhny Novgorod and Bor is rather short – just four kilometres.

But by road the journey is an incredibly roundabout one – 27 kilometres and 40 minutes on a good day, and much longer than that on a bad one.

Канавинский мост (Kanavinskiy Bridge) over the Oka River

In order to bring the two communities closer today, in 2007 the construction of a cable car across the Volga River was proposed. Operator of the system, «Нижегородские канатные дороги», have this to say on the origins of the cable car (via Google Translate).

The rapid growth of traffic flows, caused by a sharp increase in the number of road transport on the streets of major cities in recent years, far ahead of the dynamics of the development of a network of roads and highways. This is due to dense urban areas, and limited financial resources and the construction of municipal authorities. The result of this imbalance is the growing traffic jams on city and suburban routes.

Alternative solutions to the problem of congestion and traffic jams, in addition to the construction of additional bypass roads, include the construction of bridges, monorail and cable cars. In particular, the cable cars offer a number of advantages:

  • Cheaper construction compared to the trestle bridge and transitions, especially when covering long distances;
  • Cost of transportation is comparable with the cost of transportation by rail;
  • Minimal impact on the environment and the surrounding landscape;
  • Less demand for land areas (land resources) (no more than 0.1 hectares per kilometre of track);
  • Lower energy cost of moving one of the passenger on the 1 kilometre distance (5 times less than transport by road);
  • Modern cabin ropeways meet modern requirements for passenger transport;
  • High degree of reliability and traffic safety.

The use of cable cars, as a modern urban transport, especially if there is cross-country, economically feasible. Cable cars do not depend on the complexity of the landscape and allow the connection of end points for the shortest distance, it is easy to pass over the densely built-up part of the settlements, through the water, and other obstacles, which ultimately will relieve urban traffic arteries and provide sufficient comfort and rhythm of traffic.

Design work commenced in 2009, with construction work starting in 2010, with the cable car opening to passengers in 2012.

Going for a ride

Reaching the cable car station in Nizhny Novgorod was a journey in itself – we strolled along the Volga River trying to find it.

Strolling beside the ice covered Volga River in Nizhny Novgorod

Eventually the cable car towers became visible through the winter fog.

Tiny looking gondolas cross the Volga River

The tower growing taller as we approached.

Spanning the Volga River: the two 82 metre high towers

But we were in the wrong place – the cable car station was at the top of the hill!

Southern terminal perched atop the hillside in Nizhny Novgorod

After trudging through the snow, we made out way to the station.

Cable car station at Nizhny Novgorod

We purchased a ticket, then waited in line.

Passengers wait for the next cable car

Soon enough, it was our turn.

Looking out from the Nizhny Novgorod station

Once onboard, we could see the road we had walked along while looking for the station.

Looking down onto the southern bank of the Volga

Down below locals had drilled holes into the ice in order to go fishing.

Looking down on ice fishermen on the Volga River

The cable car rose upwards, crossing over fishing lodges on the banks of the Volga.

Lakeside cabins down below

And eventually we were out in the middle of the Volga River.

Looking down ~80 metres to an ice covered Volga River

We reached landfall on the north side of the Volga.

Reaching landfall on the north side of the Volga

Then headed back towards ground level.

Approaching the much smaller town of Bor on the north side of the river

Eventually reaching the cable car terminal at Bor.

Arriving into the station at Bor

Bor isn’t exactly a tourist town.

Soviet-era architecture in the town of Bor

So we headed back to the cable car station.

Cable car station on the Bor side

And returned to Nizhny Novgorod.

Arriving back at Nizhny Novgorod

Personally my ride on the Nizhny Novgorod cable car wasn;t anything to write home about, but I’m sure that the gloomy weather was to blame – during nice weather the view is far more impressive.

Riding the Nizhny Novgorod cable car in summer (Photo by Алексей Белобородов, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Алексей Белобородов, via Wikimedia Commons

Technical details

A few technical details can be found on the Nizhny Novgorod cable car website:

  • Minimum operating temperature: -30 C.
  • Passenger capacity: 500 persons / hour
  • Speed: 12.5 metres / minute
  • Number of towers: 10
  • Total length: 3661 m.
  • The number of cars: 28
  • Maximum height: 62 m
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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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