Riding on the CFR

While in Romania to take care of family matters, I’ve had the displeasure of riding on the CFR (Caile Ferate Romane), which can be translated as the Romanian Ferovial Transport, or Romanian Railroads. Its equivalent in the States is Amtrak. They’re both state-run, and that’s where the similarity ends.

There are four classes of trains that run in Romania. I’ll give you the four Romanian terms, then explain what each means. The following trains are available: InterCity, Rapid, Accelerat and Personal.

  • InterCity: clean, relatively fast train; more expensive than others, routes are limited to certain cities, and during certain times of the year.
  • Rapid: the term means “fast” in Romanian, and it’s a misnomer. It’s not fast, and it’s not clean. As a matter of fact, it’s downright disgusting on most Rapid trains. Some are indeed acceptable, but that’s about the nicest thing one can say about them. The Rapid is cheaper than the InterCity and more expensive than the Accelerat.
  • Accelerat: the term means “acceleration” in Romanian, and it’s somewhat true. The train stops (a lot) then it accelerates back to its usual speed, which is a snail-like 40-70 km/h. It’s not clean, but it’s somewhat cheaper than the Rapid.
  • Personal: the term means the same thing in Romanian as in English. It’s a train meant for moving people back and forth, as compared to goods/merchandise. If you’ve ever seen a cattle train, the similarities are striking: the wagons are rusty, hot, dirty, and smelly. It’s also slow as molasses, and stops at every possible station, sometimes even in the middle of nowhere. It’s the cheapest train one can get a ticket on, and it’s also a train one should avoid at all cost.

There are also two price-levels on Romanian trains: first class, and second class. Unless one is talking about InterCity trains, the two are misnomers. On most trains, there is no difference between first class and second class but the price. Indeed, first class is filthier than second class. At any rate, if it’s possible, one should avoid second class, unless one enjoys the smells of stale beer and spoiled food, and the possible unwelcome odors of perspiration (there is no air conditioning on any train, in any class, except on the InterCity.) I should mention these are identifiable odors. There are plenty of mystery odors that I dare not guess at.

Why am I writing this? Because as I mentioned at the start of my post, I’ve had the distinct displeasure of having to use rail transport while in Romania, and I can tell you that the experience stinks, both literally and figuratively speaking. To illustrate my point, I took photos, which I’ll display below.

The one highlight of our trip was the InterCity, which was indeed clean and looked and smelled adequately in first class. The experience was on par with American Amtrak standards. The only negative thing I can say is that the paper in the bathroom ran out during the trip. Thankfully, it was the paper towels that ran out, not the toilet paper. Here are some photos.

For most of our rail travels, there was no InterCity service on the routes we needed to take – these were major cities, by the way, Iasi being one example. What’s more, we travelled overnight, but there were no first class sleeping accommodations. We had to use the regular first class. One would think that since this was an overnight train with no sleeping wagons, the chairs in first class would recline, so one could get some sleep. Well, you’d be wrong if you assumed that. They reclined about two inches, just enough to put one in an uncomfortable position, halfway between upright and reclined. The conditions were miserable. There was visible filth and muck on the floors, chairs, headrests, walls, bathroom – just about everywhere.

On the seat assigned to me, wet engine grease was smeared on the backrest. There were more stains of unknown nature on the seats. The bathroom floor and walls wore caked patches of filth and who knows what… Keep in mind this is supposed to be 1st class! To add insult to injury, our window was stuck open, all night long. And… it also rained. It was the train ride from hell.

Again, to recap, these photos were taken in 1st class, on a Rapid. I also had the displeasure and discomfort of riding on a Personal, in 1st class. I dared not take photos. I recoil at the memory of that horrid experience. It was all you could imagine about a filthy train, and more. It stank horribly, it was hot, even with all the windows open, there were odors galore, the seats were stained, and you could scrape the muck off the armrests, the floors and the windows… did I mention it stank?

As a native Romanian, I am ashamed to write this post. I thought long about whether or not to publish it, but I decided for it. The CFR needs to be shamed into fixing what’s wrong. No company or organization should be allowed to run trains like this. It’s absolutely unacceptable that trains and wagons meant for transporting people should be this filthy, this disgusting. And when one pays a premium for 1st class, no matter which train that 1st class is on, they should get premium service and accommodations, not muck, filth and engine grease.

The InterCity service is obviously done right. Sure, if one is picky, they can still find hygiene lacking here and there, but overall, it’s a good thing. So the CFR knows how to do something right if needed. Why not take that same level of service, and expand it to the other trains in their fleet? In a country where most people travel by train, it’s unacceptable that one should put up with the inferior accommodations and service that’s so predominant on today’s CFR. Do you know what the conductor said when I pointed out the window was stuck open? He shrugged his shoulders and moved on! Is that acceptable? I think not!

The CFR also has a welfare program for certain retired people and their spouses. I believe it’s limited to those who served in the military. They get 12 travel passes a year, which allow them to ride for free on any train, in any class they desire. While it’s a laudable program, because it makes travel possible for those who may not be able to afford it since they’re on fixed and very limited incomes, it has its shortcomings. People from all walks of life can use the passes, and they usually end up in 1st class. Who wouldn’t take a seat in 1st class if they could get it for free?

What this means, and I’ve seen it myself, is that someone from the country, used to working in the field, ends up in 1st class. Mind you, their hygiene is not the same as that of a city fellow. They’ll spread on three seats and sleep, with their shoes on. They usually smell, and their shoes are dusty or muddy. Imagine what this will do to a 1st class compartment, and to those who paid a premium in order to get better accommodations. It destroys the whole rationale for purchasing a 1st class ticket in the first place. Why should I pay extra to get a nice, quiet seat, when I’m going to have to smell some country folk with no manners?

This ends up being a losing situation for the CFR. People who usually travel in 1st class choose other means of transport, like the car or the airplane, and 1st class becomes a commoditized product, where any smelly Joe Blow from the country can get a seat. The CFR then ends up losing funds. It’s no wonder things go down the hill. I think the travel pass service should restrict the seating to 2nd class. Or, there should be special wagons set aside in each train, with seating reserved for those with free passes. Those who wish to pay a sum to upgrade to 1st class seating can do so. This will end up filtering out most of the abusers of the system, who, unwittingly or not, ruin the experience for the regular paying travellers.

Furthermore, the CFR should take its job of ensuring quality accommodations seriously, and invest in proper sanitization of all compartments, including all the nooks and crannies. It also better make sure there’s plenty of paper in the bathrooms, and they’re clean and usable! This is basic stuff, but they seem to forget about it when it comes to any other train but the InterCity. That’s not right! Finally, they should retrofit all trains, especially 1st class compartments, with air conditioning! It’s absolutely unbearable to travel by train in the heat of summer without A/C. We’re not in the 19th century anymore. A/C shouldn’t be an afterthought, it should be a necessity where mass travel is concerned.


3 thoughts on “Riding on the CFR

  1. Whilst I agree conditions on CFR trains should be improved, the Romanian people are very crafty and will find a way to sneak into 1st class whatever the circumstances.

    Keep in mind that the people have no consideration for others (I’m Romanian by the way) and no consideration for what does not belong to them. Added the fact that CFR treats most people like dirt (as the conductor with the window situation), it is quite normal that these trains seem deplorable to most people.

    That being said, it is necessary for CFR to have better conditions. When Romania enters the EU, Accelerat and Rapid trains will be merged into IntreRegional trains. This should put an end to Accelerat wagons (which are deemed by many the most horrible, especially on Iasi-Timisoara trains, called “Hunger” trains). Of course, knowing CFR it means only… well, nothing.

    I planned to make a tour of Romania with my friends with mostly Rapid trains… However, I realized the money spent on “better” conditions means basically nothing. Accelerat and Personal are the same. So why choose Accelerat? Less time in those conditions? Not really.

    Rapid… well they’re ok… But because of the A and P trains’ deplorable state many people elected to travel thusly… And bringing the cleanliness to previously mentioned levels. I won’t consider 1st class in any train… They’re only different in A and P by the way, a fact which no one knows.

    Oh, and there are no overnight InterCity trains. Why? Because CFR deemed them useless overnight. Except the 2 AM train from Bicaz to Bucharest.

    Unfortunately the roads are pretty much untravellable also.

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