As you’ve no doubt seen in the news, Russia is currently experiencing severe difficulties with wild fires, especially in the Moscow region, caused in part by a prolonged drought and extreme temperatures.
With this in mind, we wanted to cover how things stand with respects to the Trans-Siberian:
- There are no fires in any of our destinations.
- The nearest fires to Moscow are about 75 miles away to the east, and these are the ones causing the problem. In the 1930s the Soviet government tried to create an alternative source of energy, by cultivating peat-bogs. They never amounted to anything, or produced commercial fuel, and were abandoned. It’s these untended peat-bogs which have caught fire – they became dried out in the 2-3 weeks of intense daily 35°C to 37°C temperatures, and then somehow caught alight – no-one knows how yet. It’s the smoke from the distant peat-bogs which is causing most of the problems in Moscow. In other words, there is no direct risk from the fires. It’s the smoke.
- There are some other towns where wild fires are a problem – Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod. These aren’t on our destination list, and the smoke from these fires isn’t causing any problems for Moscow or our destinations. There may be some smoke hanging over the Trans-Siberian line from them, but the actual fires are a long way from the line itself (80+ miles at closest) and present no risk to travel. The smoke from them affecting Moscow either.
- There are reports of small-scale crop fires too, but this is confined to areas near to the Ukrainian border – there’s no agriculture of that kind close to Moscow, as the land value is too great, and the climate is too chilly to be worth it.
St Petersburg is entirely unaffected so far. There are some small wild fires about 70-80 miles from the city, but nothing which seems likely to get worse.
- All of our Trans-Siberian destinations – starting from Ekaterinburg and going east – are hundreds of miles from any of the fires, and thankfully they are all completely unaffected.
The situation in Moscow as of today
- There is a cloud of grey smoke hanging over the city – it looks like a very cloudy day. There’s a tang of smoke in the air in some areas of the city (especially the south part of the city), but this varies according to which direction the wind is coming from. There was very dense smoke in the city on Friday (which is when most of the press pictures were taken!) but this has eased a bit now.
- The smoke-cloud is trapping the normal pollution (such as car exhaust fumes, etcetera) which would normally blow away. This means that pollution levels in the city are higher than normal (the Mayor’s office says three times higher – newspapers are claiming six times higher). The elderly and very young are being advised to stay indoors.
- The intense heat is a separate problem, and the smoke-cloud has trapped the hot air over the city – it’s been a very sticky 35°C for at least 2 weeks now. However, the temperature dropped yesterday and today it’s only 29°C.
- Many people are wearing face-masks – the same kind as during the avian flu scare. But frankly they have no effect whatsoever, and the press are already criticising shops for cashing in.
- Because the smoke is particulate in nature (i.e. made up of tiny particles of dust) and not a vapour (such as fog), it’s heavier than air, and naturally tends to sink if not blown by the wind. The bad news here is that it has sunk into the metro tunnels, and the visibility in some stations is quite poor (exactly where depends on lots of factors – location, closeness to open-air sections of the system, ventilation systems, etcetera). The Metro system is running normally, however, and all stations are open.
- Quite a lot of offices and companies are giving their staff unpaid leave, or asking them to work from home. The city authorities are asking people to avoid unnecessary car journeys and travel by public transport instead, but the city seems half-deserted. I went on the Metro yesterday and there were only two other people.
- There is not a declared State Of Emergency in Moscow (although there is in other places), and the British Embassy haven’t suggested avoiding travel.
- All trains are running normally on all lines and networks. There are no cancellations or delays. There’s been a lot of demand for tickets for suburban destinations – people have been moving to their dachas until the smoke thing dies down. There’s heavy demand for rail tickets to the southern coasts – the Black Sea, Sochi, Crimea, etcetera – but that’s normal seasonal demand… August is the big month for summer holidays. The press have been trying to make this look like a “panic exodus”, but Russian Railways were quick to damp down that nonsense, in a very funny TV interview which made the journalists look like chumps.
- SCHEREMETYEVO AIRPORT is operating almost entirely normally – it closed for 2-3 hours on Friday, and the backlog caused severe delays. But since then it’s been service as usual. SVO has superior fly-by-wire equipment (it is still officially equipped to “military” standards – it’s the Governmental airport, and home to the Presidential plane) and planes can land there in total-zero visibility safely. (NB it is only ultra-modern jets which have the onboard gear to take advantage of this. A lot of smaller modern jets don’t – which is why their flights were cancelled on Friday).
- DOMODEDOVO AIRPORT is a strictly civilian-aviation airport, and does not have this “higher than any world norm” equipment for blind landings installed. DME was closed for several hours on Friday – some flights were diverted to SVO, and some even to other cities (such as Kazan). International flights were mostly handled at SVO, because nearby cities haven’t got immigration facilitie. But DME is fully operational today.
- VNUKOVO AIRPORT handles almost exclusively domestic flights (although Air Berlin go from there) and flights to the former USSR countries. Cancellations have been worst here, but they don’t normally affect international travellers.
If you have any questions or concerns about travelling to Russia at the moment, please get in touch with us:
0845 521 2910