Home Romania Travel Romanian Trains: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

Romanian Trains: The Good, the Bad and The Ugly

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As regular readers know, I am a fan of traveling by train and I probably use Romainian trains several times a year to get to my destination, usually on the route Timisoara – Bucharest (and back). I actually prefer trains to driving and even though traveling by train in Romania is slow, I think that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Even more, I have traveled by train in other European countries, so I was able to compare the service and prices and I decided to write this article detailing what it’s like traveling by train in Romania.

I initially wrote this article back in 2015 and decided to update it today wit more details about the Romanian railways (the national train operator), but also the Private companies that popped up in the meantime, as well as everything else that you need to know about traveling by train in Romania. In other words – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Good things about traveling by train in Romania

Trains in Romania

– First, it’s the thing I like about traveling by train anywhere in the world: you get more room to stretch your legs, you can get up and walk and generally feel better than you would if you were to take a car, bus or plane to your destination.

– Trains in Romania are cheap and usually cheaper than driving. First class is really cheap too and I would recommend anybody to take first class instead of second (for the 5 hours long ride that I’m usually on, the difference between 2nd and 1st class is about 7 Euros and for that you get larger, more comfortable chairs, everything is cleaner and even less crowded).

Have in mind, though, that first class in Romanian trains is nowhere near luxury and some older first class carts are now used as second class on some trains. But it’s still a good option, price-wise as well and if you’re lucky to get on a more recent train, you’ll find your ride really nice.

– Unless you’re taking Regio trains (slow and old), they usually have at least decent air conditioning and especially great heating so you should have a comfortable ride. “Usually” is the main word here, as there’s always a chance that air conditioning doesn’t work…

– There are many power outlets available in the carts, so you can watch a movie on your laptop or play games on your smartphone without having to worry about your battery dying on you.

– Even though the overall speed of the trains is slower than what you’d like and some rides take a loooong time (since Romania is a pretty large country too), the connections are usually good and you can get to any interesting destination in Romania by train.

In other words, there are always train routes that you can follow to get to your destination, without the need of having a car.

– New private companies are starting to offer even better prices, modern trains and overall better value (perfect air con, cleanliness, free wi fi and so on), even though at the moment their destinations are limited. Look for companies like Softrans, Regiotrans or Astra Trans as these are the current private train operators in the country – more on these later though.

The nice looking Hyperion train from Softrans
The nice looking Hyperion train from Softrans

– You can buy tickets online and there’s no need to print them. Just visit the official website to purchase your tickets (at least 6 hours before departure) and make sure you have the document saved on your phone. You do have to show the ticket, but you don’t have to have it printed (also make sure you have ID with you!).

Bad things about trains in Romania

– The trains and wagons are in a pretty poor condition: expect them to be pretty dirty and expect stuff not to work properly – like the electrical doors, the water faucets in the toilets and so on. And yes, sometimes the toilets are a nightmare to visit!

– They rarely get to their destination on time. There are horror moments when trains that travel on very long distances can get delays of 90 minutes and sometimes more. On my route to Bucharest, the trains rarely arrive in time, even though they keep increasing the estimated time to get there.

The same goes for many other routes as well, with at least a few minutes of delays to be expected. Usually, the longer the distance, the higher the chances of your train getting a delay.

So it’s always a good idea to leave a longer amount of time in between trains if you have connections to catch – and definitely tell the train inspector if you’re supposed to catch a train connection. Surprisingly (or not), they will usually hold the other train until you get there (unless there are other better options)

The train that I am constantly on, for example, is usually 20 minutes late (from Drobeta Turnu Severin to Bucharest or vice-versa).

– Sometimes, air conditioning won’t work – or won’t be able to keep up with the heat outside. I never had problems with the heating during the winter, but very hot summer days can prove to be a problem to the probably old air conditioning systems in Romanian trains.

It does’t matter if you’re traveling first class or second class: some wagons can have no problems with a/c, while others won’t be able to run it at all. There’s always this risk, so prepare for that or try to travel early in the morning.

– I haven’t seen a working restaurant/bar in a Romanian train for quite some time now. The best you can expect is for a guy to hop in with overpriced snacks and drinks, carrying them in a huge basket (usually traveling just between two, usually close-by destination then hopping off).

However, there are a few trains that come equipped with a restaurant/bar wagon so with a bit of research (or luck) you can get one! But most of the trains don’t offer it.

– Although Romania is one of the countries with the fastest internet in the world, there is no WiFi in the state-owned trains. Some of the private companies are starting to offer free Internet in their trains, but it’s usually very slow.

– Some trains can get extremely crowded. It’s not uncommon to see people standing up because there were o chairs available. There are some trains that suffer from this more than others (and, strangely, the national Romanian railways company does nothing about this), so make sure you always purchase your ticket in advance.

The Ugly about traveling by train in Romania

This is how a 2nd class carriage usually looks like
This is how a 2nd class carriage usually looks like

Sometimes, things can get really ugly when you’re traveling by train in Romania. This happened to me during a short return trip to Craiova, sometime during the winter: I took an early morning train to the destination, one that left the Drobeta train station at 6 AM.

I was shocked to find out that the lights were not working anywhere in the train and neither did the heating: so the conductor was sporting a cool flashlight to check out the tickets, while her teeth were chattering because, you see, the weather is pretty cold in Romania during the winter.

It was insane – and it never happened to me before, nor I heard it happen to somebody else. Still, I was there and it happened and we rode in the dark for almost an hour until the sun came up!

It was a cursed return trip, apparently, because the train that took me back home was packed. They were probably not expecting as many passengers as they had on this particular occasion, so the train only had 3 carriages – which were not enough to offer seating to everybody there.

So I had to – just like tens of other people – stand for the entire duration of the journey. The fact that all cars were packed also meant that the air con was not working properly, so this time it was insanely hot and the air was sultry because of all the people crammed in there.

Overall, it was a nightmare. So things, if you are terribly unlucky, can get really ugly when it comes to riding a train in Romania, but usually you won’t have to go through bad things like those I went through.

Now here is an useful link for you: Infofer (the English version). Here you can find information about CFR trains (it doesn’t show departures and info about private company trains), as well as use the “My Train” link on the left hand side of the page to check out live stats (usually see how late they are) of your train. Just enter the number of the train and you’ll get the info. Really useful, especially since you’re in a foreign country!

Despite the cons and even despite the ugly things that happened recently, I am still using the train to travel in Romania and you can give it a try as well, if you have a chance. It’s still extremely convenient to travel by train in the country and it’s extremely pleasant overall.

Private Train companies in Romania

Only relatively recently have private train companies started to emerge in Romania and they grew quite nicely over the years.

While these private companies are offering cheaper tickets than the CFR (the national railways company) and sometimes additional extras (like bottled water for free or free WiFi), they share the same infrastructure, meaning that they aren’t much faster and there can always be delays in their cases as well. But usually, they get on time and are slightly faster.

Inside an Astra Trans train. Really nice!

Also, the routes offered are still pretty much minimal at the moment (but growing) and sometimes the departure/arrival times are not ideal – since they have to be crammed in between other schedules from the main railway company.

Still, they are considered by many a better alternative to CFR because the quality of the trains is better, just as is the quality of the service offered there. Do have in mind that most of these companies don’t have 1st class wagons, but the 2nd class ones are clean and in a good shape, generally.

A good thing about all these companies is that they allow you to purchase your ticket in the train itself (at no extra cost – but do double check not to have surprises!). You can also buy tickets online and at special counters in the train stations.

Most of these companies offer routes connecting Bucharest to other cities – like nearby Brasov, Constanta or Craiova, but most of the country is covered at least to some extent.

I am listing below the private train companies in Romania, from the one with the most routes offered to the one with the least. Do check them out as an alternative to traveling with CFR:

Regio Calatori (most routes offered)
Astra Transcarpatic (the only private company at the moment to cover the Timisoara – Bucharest route, with sleeper carts too!)
Transferoviar
Softrans

This would be all that I had to tell you about trains in Romania. If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to let me know by commenting below!

13 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Calin: I’ve always been a fan of trains! Are reservations required, or do most people just assume there’s space and buy tickets at the station?
    Are most of the trains electric, or diesel? Are the engines European or Soviet built? (The Soviets make fine engines, too.) Does the main railroad company have a government subsidy (like the AMTRAK in the USA)? Are the privately owned lines which compete with the “state owned” more popular and more expensive? (The Hyperion looks similar to the German ICE.) Are there any plans for high speed rail like the German ICE or the French TGV trains? Are the tracks well maintained, or are they in need of maintenance? Do most people prefer rail to say bus, or air? Would most people pay an extra tax specifically to improve and modernize the railroad? Does the Romanian railroad have any connection with Eurorail? I’ll check out the link–I just didn’t want to do it as I was typing this because my questions disappear;-(
    Did you ever find out why the train on the “cursed return trip” was so packed? Maybe a football match?
    It’s surprising the lack of a dining car or snack bar on longer distance trains. That’s usually a money maker. Do most people just pack a meal or two, not expecting any other meal options?
    What is the safety record? Have there been any fatal accidents within the last five or so years? What is the highest speed service line?
    I am sorry to bog you down with so many questions and to be so willy nilly!
    Do you have any more pictures of say, 1st class accommodations? Are there sleeper cars for the cross country trains? Okay, I’ll let you go, now;-)
    Thanks for this article!
    ~Teil (USA)

    • Wow, I think these are the most questions I’ve got from you, Teil! I didn’t know you like trains too – so let’s answer the questions:

      1. Reservations are required, but most people get their tickets at the station. You can purchase them in the train too, but at a higher rate.

      2. The trains are electric, but I have no idea about the Engines. I’d guess European (some certainly made in Romania). There is no government subsidy that I know of.

      3. The private lines (it’s actually trains, as they all use the same railroads) are gaining popularity and are, actually, cheaper than the state owned.

      4. We have some high(er) speed trains called Sageata Albastra (Blue Arrow) which operate on some short distances, but I don’t think there are any plans for improving the tracks soon. They are in a decent condition, but they could really use some modernization. Because they are not in the best possible condition, there are speed limits set on tracks and this is the main reason why our trains are so slow.

      5. Air travel in the country is not at all common, mostly do the humongous prices. I don’t really know what people prefer best between train and bus – I’d say that they’re pretty much at the same levels.

      6. There was no football match and no real reason why the train was so packed. I believe the real reason was the number of carts (that train usually has 5-6, now it only had 3).

      7. Most people prefer to pack a meal or have some snacks, but when the dining cars were in all trains they were always packed, so I really don’t understand why this happens.

      8. On the top of my head, I’d say that there were no fatal accidents recently. I know there was one accident last year on the line to Timisoara, but there were no casualties. I’d say that they are pretty safe on this matter.

      9. There are sleeper cars, but I have personally never traveled with any. I heard, though, that they are pretty decent and you have all the range: from 2 to 4 and 6 beds. 1st class carriages are similar to 2nd class one, but they have 3 chairs on a row instead of 4 and usually they all have some sort of table. You can check out this google image search: https://www.google.com/search?q=clasa+1+cfr&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAWoVChMIpMC53en6xwIVQVoUCh0jBwCM&biw=1920&bih=943 – a few of the images there are of 1st class carriages (those that have 3 chairs on a row)

      Let me know if there’s something else!

    • International trains will have sleeper cars. No first class seating available, no restaurant carriage but it does have first class single cabins (about 110 £ from Vienna to Bucharest). Reservations are compulsatory , and for the night cabin this cannot be done online so u have no guarantee of getting one. Better to travel outside of the summer holidays season, if u want to find a free cabin. Otherwise train itself is truly horrible. filthy, stikcy, outdated,most of the features unfunctional. First class seats can look way below economy class in the rest of europe. Price wise its fairly cheap but even so you do get less than what you pay due to poor comfort.

  2. I too liked traveling by train in Romania. Traveling second class gets you much more contact with real Romanians who are on a budget. I have only had a few bad experiences with trains late at night when there were drunks staggering down the aisle or screaming out loud. In general, people were curious and talkative (and very generous with their snacks). The people in the first class tended to be aloof. One unpleasant first class trip forced me to listen to some ex-communist now-businessman go on about how the wonderful Romanian chemical industry was bought up by outsiders and shut down. In answer to Mr. Jorgenson, I know that Romania itself made some good diesel and electric locomotives. East Germany used to use the Romanian diesel locomotive on its non-electric routes. As a historical aside, right after the communist takeover of Romania and the establishment of the economic area COMECON, the Soviet Union tried to force Romania into a more agricultural economic role. If I understood correctly, Gheorghiu-Dej was able to thwart these plans and Romania developed its industry independently. I am amazed how Romania stood up to the Russians while the Russians were stomping on uprisings in East Germany and Hungary. Well, I’m off topic again, sorry. The one unhappy aspect of riding Romanian trains is having to look at all the trash thrown next to and on the tracks.

    • Many Romanians would have similar opinions to those of the guy you met in first class, although it’s even more who claim that it’s our leaders who are to blame. And it’s true – the trash on the sides is still there, unfortunately.

  3. Your description of the packed train reminded me of our a Brussels to Ghent trip! We literally got the last 2 seats in the car, and not together. It was so full, people were on the stairs, floor,standing etc. we had to listen to drunk twenty something women with painted faces singing and screaming the whole way. Never seen anything like it….the conductors did not bother coming around to check tickets of course, they couldn’t move if they wanted to. Tourist season l guess will do that..thank god our trip was only 35 minutes and that our return journey on a weekday was empty. I think though, that l would spring for first class tickets if the difference was that small 🙂 . For sure l would have hated to ride in the dark..

    • The two trains didn’t have first class carriages, which is again something that should’ve been probably mentioned as a strange thing for Romanian trains: some are second class only. And in this case, there were no tourists and no touristic destination. At least, thank God, there were no drunken noisy people: that would’ve been fun :))

  4. Having taken trains in Spain now a lot for four years since, I definitely enjoy the train rides in Spain. I can charge my phone or watch a Netflix movie and you don’t have to show up hours ahead of time. I read that they are working on a Eurostar London to Barcelona line. I CAN’T wait! 🙂

    • From what I’ve seen, trains in other countries in Europe are a bit cleaner and in a better shape, but there’s not a huge difference, in the end. With the fight against global warming, I hope that more interesting routes will pop up – I would love it to have a train from here to Spain, even if it would probably take a loooooong time to get there. If I have a laptop and room to stretch my legs, I can take it 🙂

  5. This is really helpful, thanks. I’m planning a solo trip in May, for 18 days. Can you recommend an itinerary that I can manage easily with train journeys of up to 4 hours, where I can definitely get a reserved seat?

    • Hello Rhiannon, I have a 10-day itinerary shared here: https://www.romaniaexperience.com/romania-itinerary-10-days-visiting-the-country/

      It’s not 18 days, but it’s definitely a good place to start. It’s a bit of a race the one that I shared, so you can definitely add 1-2 (or even 3) more days in Brasov and add a day trip to the Rasnov fortress and the Bran Castle (aka Dracula’s castle) – this can be done in a day. Then, add one more day to Timisoara, maybe take a trip by train to nearby Orsova to see the Danube and Decebal’s statue – this can be another extra day. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here!

  6. Hello. I am coming from USA and I am planning a trip in October to Romania. I and am planning to take a sleeper car overnight from Brasov to Budapest Hungary. The price quoted is rather exorbitant at 972 lei for 3 people. Would I get a better rate waiting to arrive in Romania? Do I run the risk of having no sleeper cars available? Thanks in advance.

    • Hello. I am afraid that the price seems correct to me and I don’t think you would get a better deal buying directly from Romania. You might have some sort of a discount if you purchase one week in advance, something like 5% but in the end, this is about 70 Euros per person in a sleeper cart for a ~20 hour train ride. Unless you really want to go by train, I recommend choosing to fly – you would get there much faster but with the current situation in the world, it’s difficult to estimate how easy flying or even train riding will be in October…

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