While I liked my quick flight from Tashkent to Samarkand on Uzbekistan Airways, I wanted to try out the train as well. Uzbekistan has quite a well-developed train system and recently invested in a high-speed rail system. The train is called Afrosiyob (named after the oldest part and the ruined site of the ancient and medieval city of Samarkand) and is frequently paraded as one of Uzbekistan’s modern achievements.
You can only look up timetables online and I did not trust them much. You also can’t buy tickets online; for that you need to go to the train station with your passport (to enter the ticket office!) and it is only open at certain times. We just got dinner instead of waiting more than an hour outside.
The staff speak only Russian but they are friendly (as usual) and they ran us through the options. Well, on weekends there is just a morning train and an evening train from Samarkand to Tashkent. I chose the evening train (and my friends chose to go on to Bukhara instead). I was under the impression that I would be on the Afrosiyob train as this was shown on the posted timetable, although I did not actually verify that when my ticket was printed. It was only $9 for business class, though.
The next day I showed up an hour early and was waved through the 4 different security check points rather quickly. When I walked up to the train (nobody stops you an hour before departure to do this) I was surprised to see an old train on my track. I then learned that no express would operate that particular evening but instead the ‘Registan’ train would have to do the trick. There was no air conditioning and everyone just hung out at the makeshift benches outside.
Eventually I settled into the compartment as I wanted to do some writing. It was 150 degrees from the hot afternoon sun, though once we got going the air conditioning came up quickly and cooled it to a pleasant 80 degrees.
The seats were very comfortable and my Skyroam router was able to give me a signal most of the time (read my Skyroam review here). The train ride seemed fast, but it was completely dark outside and hard to track and there was a lot of horizontal shaking at any time. There was tea for purchase and the occasional bread was served, and there was an LCD screen with Russian movies for your entertainment.
In total, the ride took 3 hours and we did not stop once. It all seemed pretty efficient, especially compared to my last train trip from Bandung to Jakarta. I would have liked to take the Afrosiyob express, but the Registan fit the bill anyway and I entertained myself perfectly. The price of $9 (using the black market rate) was awesome, too.