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October 4, 2012

The secret key

The magic key and cork – an unlikely combination?

The only reason I discovered the existence of the “golden key” was when I started looking into how to open the window to my compartment if it got too hot. I understand that in the winter it can do owing to the Russian desire for a “toasty feel” to the carriage. Given I’m hoping not to share my first SV compartment with anyone, there should be no arguments and I’m hoping to secretly get some ventilation.

Rumours are to be found in several travel blogs that the key to the windows, the compartment doors and the toilet door are in fact identical to the humble British Gas meter cupboard key. This would be what the Provodnitsa carries too for the same purpose.. I hope you don’t think I’m a bad person for telling you this!

Given then how easy it is then to thwart Trans-Siberian on board security, a few other things to consider…

Firstly, toilets. Apparently these are locked before arriving into stations as some trains just empty straight onto the tracks. I’m not for a moment suggesting that you open this door as it does not sound like a pleasant idea. However, I also hear that some trains now use a pressurised system with a holding tank, so they would not be locked. I’ll get back to you on that one. One alarming report I heard was of a Provodnitsa actually opening the door and evicting someone “ablouting”as the train was approaching a station..!

Secondly, your compartment door. It has two locks. The one you lock inside that can be opened by this key above, and a second latch that you can only open from the inside. I’m going to use both. I have read an article by Bryn Thomas on Wanderlust that there is a technique to improve security further by using a cork from a wine bottle to stop someone using a knife to open this (second latch?)

Here are some useful words from Poezda.net on security aboard (it has a great “guidebook” section)

There is no particular need to worry about security on Russian trains, as long as you use common sense, lock your door at night and don’t leave valuables unattended in your compartment. In addition to the normal lock on the compartment door, ‘Spalny Wagon’ and ‘kupe’ compartments have a security latch which stops the door opening more than an inch or two, and which cannot be released from outside. 
  There’s also a safe place for your bags at night – if you have a bottom bunk, there is a metal box underneath the bunk which you can only get to by lifting up the bunk – in other words, for anyone to get to your bags, they will have to shift you off your bunk first! Your provodniks will probably also lock the access doors at each end of the corridor at night to prevent unwanted guests.”

Its food for thought that if you and I know about this, so too might Siberian bandits and Mongolian marauders, so I think getting the Provodnitsa on side sounds like it might be a good idea..

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