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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Trans-Siberian Gets a Royal Send-Off

ReutersBritish Prince Michael of Kent playing the role of engineer in the locomotive of the Golden Eagle train Thursday.
Once considered the preserve of scruffy backpackers, hardy adventurers and vodka swigging businessmen, a new train on Russia's trans-Siberian route aims to lure wealthy tourists with luxury.

British Prince Michael of Kent on Thursday at Belorussky Station unveiled the Golden Eagle, which offers passengers bathrooms, underfloor heating and plasma screen televisions in every cabin along the 9,300-kilometer, Moscow-to-Vladivostok route, one of the longest train trips in the world.

"Russia and trains are two great passions of mine, and I'm looking forward to traveling on the Golden Eagle," said Prince Michael, a Russian speaker who is related through his grandmother to Tsar Nicholas II.

The Trans-Siberian Railroad, built from 1891 to 1916, travels from Moscow through vast pine forests, over the Ural Mountains and across the Siberian tundra to the Pacific Ocean.

A single ticket on the Golden Eagle will cost up to ?9,595 ($19,235) for the 13- to 15-day journey. The project has cost $25 million and been seven years in the planning.

A ticket on a normal Russian train costs around 10,000 rubles ($400) for the seven-day, nonstop trip. The Golden Eagle, a joint project of Russian Railways, RZD Tour, GW Travel and the Trans-Siberian Express Group, will take double the time from Moscow to Vladivostok by stopping for excursions. The train will be operated by British firm GW Travel.

The Golden Eagle will also service other specially developed routes, including one along the historic Silk Road through the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, stopping off at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan before crossing the Gobi Desert, a news release said.

The trans-Siberian rail traveler previously had to cope with random compartment companions, a restaurant menu that stretched from beetroot soup to dried fish and no shower.

But those aren't problems the Golden Eagle traveler will have to worry about, said Tim Littler, GW Travel boss.

"This is a luxury hotel on wheels," he said. "We are selling a luxury window on Russia."

GW Travel already operates high-end rail journeys in the former Soviet Union and other parts of the world. Most of its clients are from the United States and Europe, and the average age is 66, Littler said.

Gregory Tepper, a tour operator from the United States, stood in the crowd listening to the speeches and looking at the gold and blue train.

"There is a real romance about the trans-Siberian," he said. "But it is still a long time on a train."

On bridges and walkways above the platform, dozens of slightly bewildered commuters leaned on rails watching the ceremony, listening to the brass band and admiring the train.

Most had not taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad and did not intend to.

"Why go by train when you can fly?" said a bystander. "Just think how much vodka you would drink in that time on the train? Much cheaper and safer to fly."

Reuters, MT