The Sapsan High Speed Train
It is certainly not the Trans-Siberian or Japan’s high speed Shinkansen Train, but the Sapsan (“Perigrine Falcon”) high-speed train from St Petersburg to Moscow is still enjoyable in its own right.
Maxing out at speeds of 250km/h (155mph) this sleek vessel cuts the time in half between the two cities, taking about 3 ½ hours to get the capital city. It’s new – just having started in 2009 and is lovely and plush inside with service the same or better than most airlines.
I arrived in Moscow rested and replenished from a lovely hot dog from the trains cantina. But silly me, I was now in Moscow, but I couldn’t stay. I was quickly whisked away by a driver to head out of town to a travel conference. And when I say whisked, I mean that in a — driven at high speeds, swerving in and out of traffic, white knuckling it and fearing for my life — kind of way. I had already heard how a large percentage of the Russian population was suffering from alcoholism, so this obviously didn’t help ease my fears for this three-hour death drive.
Normally, I just zone out when riding in back seats, but I was painfully aware of the high speed journey and my driver’s “experience.” He told me early on he was just “doing a favor” for a friend and wasn’t normally a driver. Great. The friend was the actual limo driver and this guy appeared to be his skinny, video-game playing cousin. He donned a way-too-large pin-striped zoot suit to play the part, but his haphazard drving abilities belied his well-intentioned attire.
I did a little research on the driving issues here and found this article from the Business Insider about the inordinate number of car accidnents and thusly growing popularity of dash-cams and videos on YouTube of accidents and even schemes of pedestrians to get ‘hit’ by a car just to claim the insurance.
In a post on Animal, Russian ex-pat and journalist Marina Galperina offers a few reasons, which boil down to dangerous driving conditions and the unreliability of Russian traffic police.
Driving in Russia is hazardous: Last year, 200,000 traffic accidents killed 28,000 people. (More than 32,000 died in car accidents in the United States in 2011, a much lower figure per capita.)
Addressing those high levels in 2009, President Dmitry Medvedev blamed the “undisciplined, criminally careless behavior of our drivers,” along with poor road conditions.
Drivers certainly play a role, but Medvedev did not mention Russia’s traffic police, which, Galperina writes, “is known throughout their land for brutality, corruption, extortion and making an income on bribes.”
Here’s just one video example of these schemes:
I am glad I didn’t read most of this stuff until after my journey out of Moscow. And while I didn’t spend any time in Moscow, my brother, David, has been there on quite an adventure of his own. Well, he actually spent a good part of time in the air space above Moscow.
In 2001, just post September 11, my brother David and his wife Shannon came over to Russia to pursue one of his lifelong dreams…to fly. I mean really fly. He went on an Incredible Adventure and flew in a Russian MiG Fighter jet, breaking the sound barrier, soaring at speeds up to Mach 2.4 (1,600 mph) and reaching an altitude of more than 80,000-feet, where he could only see the black of outer space above him and the curvature of the earth beneath him. Take that Richard Branson! Okay, he’s probably done this too. See, I’m not the only adventurous Lubin. Of course, my brother was still probably much safer up there at crazy mach speeds doing loops and rolls, rather than down on the roads of Russia.