A gym furnished with equipment by American company Hoist, a full cosmetology centre with a high-end massage table and beauty equipment and a Turkish steam bath; leaked photographs and documents offer a glimpse into the luxurious train used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to traverse the country.
Though Putin, who reportedly switched to train travel for security reasons, has been photographed holding meetings in huge boardrooms in his train, the details of the 20-car locomotive have been a closely guarded secret. The documents and photographs, offering a glimpse into the ‘ghost train’, were obtained exclusively by the London-based Russian investigations group the Dossier Center and shared with a few media houses.
According to the Dossier Center, the leaked documents came from an insider at Zircon Service, a Russian company tasked by Russian Railways with renovating the train cars.
The documents throw light on car number 021-78630 of the train which, according to the brochure by Zircon, houses a luxurious gym and spa. The work on the car was finished in 2018 though the gym was outfitted with Technogym weights and resistance equipment then. It was then replaced by Hoist machines.
Gleb Karakulov, a former engineer and caption in the Federal Security Service, told Dossier Center that Putin has increasingly turned to train travel as a way to avoid being tracked. Karakulov, who defected from Russia, added that he first began working on the train, installing communications equipment, around 2014. “It came into much more frequent use in the second half of 2021, as Russia was gearing up for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” CNN quoted him.
Since the war began, the ghost train has been spotted parked near Valdai, a remote Russian region between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Putin is known to maintain a large residence in the area.
He added that the ghost train had FSO staffers who are in quarantine specifically for this special train. “Since the beginning of the war, guys said that they left somewhere in the direction of Valdai for 40 or even 45 days. Maybe there will be no train departure on a particular watch, but people are always ready,” Karakulov told Dossier Center.
While the production costs for the train amounted to $74 million, the annual upkeep cost $ 15.8 million, according to the Dossier Center. Besides a movie theatre and cars filled with communications systems, the train is also heavily armoured and has bulletproof doors and windows. The rooms are also outfitted to help prevent the use of listening devices.
Interestingly, Putin’s ghost train could barely evade the eyes of trainspotters. A lot of amateur trainspotters have posted images of the train online. “There is a ghost train on the railways of our country,” one trainspotter wrote alongside an image of what appears to be Putin’s train he posted on rutrain.com. “It is not in the timetables or in the Russian Railways systems. “One feature that helped identify the train is its locomotives and a characteristic white dome which contains advanced communications antennae.