Train Takes Stress Out of Sheremetyevo

MTA technician preparing the first commuter train, which will connect with Sheremetyevo Airport, at a newly built terminal at Savyolovsky Station on Tuesday.
The unappealing choice between overpriced taxis and overcrowded minibuses stuck in traffic should be a thing of the past, after Sheremetyevo finally became the last of Moscow's big three airports to get a direct rail link to the city center.

At a gala ceremony of balloons, brass bands and red carpets Tuesday morning, ministers and railway officials rode the inaugural train to Sheremetyevo and opened the airport's gleaming new rail terminal.

That means that when the service opens for paying customers Wednesday, air travelers can skip the jams and go from Savyolovsky Station, just off the Third Ring Road in north-central Moscow, direct to Sheremetyevo in 35 minutes, for a price of 250 rubles ($10.50).

Trains will leave from Savyolovsky 24 times per day, at times running a twice-hourly service. Passengers have the option of checking in their luggage at the station and paying 350 rubles for a first-class seat on the train.

During the inaugural trip, journalists settled into the roomy, light-blue leather seats onboard the bright-red, Russian-made train. The latest flight departures scrolled across display screens in the state-of-the-art wagons.

After touring the new three-story rail terminal, the smell of fresh paint still heavy in the air, officials drank a midmorning toast of Moet champagne. Extra wagons had to be laid on after the number of reporters swelled to 250.

The glistening 60,000-square-meter terminal will eventually contain bars, shops and even a Starbucks and be capable of handling 7 million passengers per year. It is currently connected to Terminal 2 by a temporary walkway and to Terminals 1 and C by shuttle buses.

"You can understand how much will be saved by avoiding the transportation problems on Leningradskoye Shosse — all the time, nerves and money that people usually expend," Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said at the opening ceremony.

The long-awaited opening of the first direct link to what was once the capital's leading airport is just the latest step in speeding up the city's transport routes with its airports as part of a 5 trillion ruble ($250 billion) investment program.

By year's end, trains will also run direct to Sheremetyevo from Belorussky Station, and by 2015, one central rail terminal will service all the city's airports. The new link is operated by Russian Railways subsidiary Aeroexpress, which also operates the routes to other Moscow airports.

The 3 billion ruble ($127 million) terminal, funded nearly 50 percent by private investors, is also just the first step in revamping the aging Sheremetyevo Airport. Last year, work began on a long-awaited international terminal, and next year a major overhaul of Terminal 2 is planned for completion.

Explaining the pricing system, Aeroexpress general director Vladimir Petrov said Sheremetyevo had always been the most expensive Moscow airport and that the new service is better that those offered for other airports.

"Muscovites are perfectly able nowadays to pay 250 rubles to get to Sheremetyevo," Petrov said. In comparison, the 40-minute train ride from Paveletsky Station to Domodedovo, operated by Aeroexpress since 2002, costs 150 rubles ($6).

But it's not just potential train users that are set to benefit. The link is expected to alleviate the situation for drivers too — as it helps to take the strain off the often-overburdened roads leading to the airport.

Petrov said he expected the new rail link to cut the number of cars on Leningradskoye Shosse by 1.5 million per year.

Airlines operating out of Sheremetyevo were also breathing a sigh of relief, as the new rail link could help to lure back some of those passengers who have abandoned the airport in favor of its crosstown rivals.

"This has been needed for a long, time and we've been demanding it for a long time. It will help passengers avoid the headaches associated with getting to Sheremetyevo," said Valery Okulov, general director of state-controlled Aeroflot.

"It makes Sheremetyevo more attractive, as the airport lost out to Domodedovo and Vnukovo in large part because of transportations problems," Okulov said. "We are the most interested party and so we're satisfied now."

A gaggle of female Aeroexpress employees, wearing red blazers and skirts, seemed impressed by the new facilities.

"Everything seemed excellent to me and it was all so supermodern," said brunette wagon attendant Nina Zhuralyova, 20, after dozing through the return journey to Savyolovsky.

"I've been on the trains to … Domodedovo and Vnukovo — and this one is definitely the best," Zhuralyova said.

"The train is the very latest model," said train driver Igor Samolyotov, leaning out of the cab window after the journey. "Everything seemed to go well today."

Not quite everything went off without a hitch, however. As the first train pulled into the airport terminal, the glistening front wagon scraped against the platform, leaving an ugly meter-long gash in the paint for dignitaries to walk past. The officials' blushes were saved after the scar was quickly covered up by a conveniently placed bunch of balloons.

That wasn't the only problem. Regnum news agency reported that a later train taking journalists back to Moscow broke down. After a 20-minute wait, a new locomotive arrived to tow them to Savyolovsky.