The Circum-Baikal Railway (Кругобайкальская железная дорога (КБЖД), Krugobaykal'skaya Zheleznaya Doroga) is a railway on the western shore of the Baikal mostly for tourist purposes. The railway stretch used to be part of the Trans-Siberian Railway.
The 89-km–long route from Slyudyanka-2 to port Baikal is a great opportunity to enjoy the changing views of the lake as the train rides along the shoreline from south to north and back. You will pass through 39 tunnels making several 20-min stops to take a stroll outside.
- By Circum-Baikal Express, Кругобайкальский экспресс which departs from Irkutsk. It comprises 1st, 2nd and business-class carriages which are rather relaxing. You can hear the music, listen to the guide or sit at the bar. The ticket usually is being bought at tour agencies as excursions. The train starts from Irkutsk on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 08:00 or from the port Baikal on Thursdays and Sundays. The trip takes about 12-13 hours including stops for a walk. The time of return to Irkutsk is 21:00-22:00.
It is possible to travel independently using local transport at any time of the year, as train #6201 Matanya assures the connection between Slyudyanka 1 (Слюдянка 1) and Port Baikal (Байкал) through the Circumbaikal Railway. The train leaves Slyudyanka at around 13:30 local time four times a week, Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Updated timetables are available online from the Russian Railways website (remember that local trains run in local time). As with any local train, it's not possible to buy tickets online, but they can be bought at the train station, or aboard for cca 70 руб (one-way, July 2014), another 60 руб you pay for a bigger backpack.
Matanya is now a comfortable, hi-tech looking red train, but like other local trains, it has no food for sale aboard and no hot-water dispenser. Water from "drinking water dispenser" was muddy and didn't look drinkable at all. The stops are not long enough to alight and, outside of season, there are no food sellers on the plataforms, so pack your lunch and don't rely on instant noodles.
Note that official Russian train directions are irrelevant to north-south and are only two: to the west (на запад) and to the east (на восток). This is what you will always see when dealing with railway timetables. So in case of Circum-Baikal Raiway to the west means northward to the port Baikal and to the east means southward to Slyudyanka.
- Getting to Slyudyanka from Irkutsk is possible by either marshrutka or eletrichka and takes at least 2.5 hours. If consulting the Russian Railways website, eletrichkas are the trains whose ticket price is not shown (because it's not possible to buy them online). Tickets cost 83 руб aboard (one-way, October 2013). Inquire for a route Irkutsk/Baikal and click on "routes with changes" ("Маршруты с пересадками") for obtaining connection suggestions. If you like to walk, you can walk from Slyudyanka to Kultuk or another further stop and catch the train there.
- From Port Baikal, most tourists cross the Angara river towards Listvianka. Apart from summer season, the Matanya train usually arrives after the departure of the last ferry to port Rogatka[dead link] (49 руб one-way, October 2013), but it's possible to cross on private boats paying about 500 руб pp. There is a new and clean hotel/hostel/museum (restaurant closed outside season) in front of the Matanya last stop, cheapest dorm costs 450 руб for a 10-hr stay, and in summer private accommodation abounds. In July 2014, the last ferry departure was at 20:15, train arrival at 19:30. The Port Baikal/Listvyanka ferry serves the Rogatka port, 5 km (3.1 mi) west of the main Listvyanka settlement. A few meters from the port is a main road where you can catch minibuses to the city center or to Irkutsk.
- From the opposite direction you should first go to Listvyanka and take a boat (ferry) across Angara river to the port Baikal. Departure time for port Baikal: 08:15, 16:15 and 18:15.
Summing up the connection timetables it will need another day for the round journey. In summer 2014, the last minibus to Irkutsk departed Listvyanka at 21:00, so it was possible to complete the journey in one day.
These are major stops as follow:
- Slyudyanka — its station building is covered with white and pink marble.
- Staraya Angasolka — small village and viaduct.
- Mys Stolby
- Polovinny — the location of the shortest and the longest tunnels.
- Shumikha — you can get out and see valleys of two rivers and Italian wall.
- Port Baikal — on the cape Baranchik, it has an early 20th-century lighthouse.
Food stores are scarce on the railway, so take something with you or use the bar.