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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On the Shuttle Train

It's a multibillion-dollar business, but for those involved it's no easy life. The shuttle traders who ply their trade back and forth along the country's railway lines spend most of their time on long train journeys, lugging heavy bags from station to station.

Most of the traders are women — former teachers, engineers — whose wages were not enough to make ends meet for their families.

Catching the train out to their regions at Leningradsky, Kazansky and Yaroslavsky stations, these women are mainly loaded down with clothes bought up at Moscow markets for selling to wholesalers, individuals or kiosks in their home towns.

The clothes are specially chosen, say the traders: They must have mass appeal and keep in sync with changing seasons, tastes and fashion trends.

Easy targets for police searches and customs officials, the traders must regularly pay bribes to get their goods through, said one trader interviewed earlier this year.

The profit from one trip is not likely to be much. One trader estimated she earned about $400 per six-day journey, and made about 30 such trips a year.

A few years ago it was estimated that from 10 million to 20 million Russians worked as shuttle traders of some sort.

Most of the traders go through Moscow, but the spider's web of their routes stretches out from region to region and internationally. Shuttle traders are frequent visitors across the border to Poland, China and to the Middle East.

Although figures can be difficult to pin down, the Central Bank estimated that the shuttle trade was worth $10 billion last year.