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On Track: The Railway Section

Father Time in Mother Russia
Text Neil McGowan

In Russia, as in other countries, before the days of reliable timetabled intercity transport, most towns and cities would simply decide for themselves what time of day it was — mainly with sundials, which told them when noon was. However, the building of long-distance transport systems like the Trans-Siberian railway produced a need for regularizing the country’s vastly diff ering clocks into some kind of organized system of time zones.

Today’s Russia has 11 time zones — more than any other country in the world (as you might expect for the world’s largest country, sprawling horizontally from Finland in the northwest to North Korea in the southeast).

A peculiarity of railways in Russia is that all trains everywhere run on Moscow time. (This convention was presumably introduced to prevent timetable sabotage by independentminded regional stations.) Although most people who live in the far eastern reaches of the country know where they are on Moscow time, the Moscowcentric system can wreak havoc with the travel plans of the unwary.

An extreme example of the confusion this system can engender is manifested when trying to calculate train departures to Moscow from Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian. These trains depart on alternate days — the odd-dated days in the month. But because of the ten-hour time difference between the two cities, the apparent departure time in the middle of the night is in fact mid-morning the next day. And that next day, of course, is now the even-dated day … so your ticket shows a time in the middle of last night, dated for the day before. Easy, right?

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