In this review, we will travel on the Astra Trans Carpatic overnight train between Arad and Bucharest in a ‘lux’ sleeper compartment.
After a recent trip to the city of Arad in western Romania, I had to return to the capital of Bucharest. As I vehemently detest bus travel, going by train was the only reasonable option to cover the 368 miles (592 kilometres) between the two cities.
There are several day and night trains linking the two cities separated by the Carpathian Mountains. Although the day trains pass through some pretty scenery on the way, it is a long journey which at 11 hours or even more takes at least a full day.
Therefore, the overnight train is a better alternative as you can sleep in comfort in your own bed and wake up well-rested at your destination. In summer this service is even extended beyond Bucharest running on to the Romanian seaside at Constanța.
CFR vs. Astra Trans Carpatic
Almost all overnight services as well as daytime trains in Romania are run by CFR Călători – the national rail transport company. However, on the route from Arad and Timișoara to Bucharest, a private competitor called Astra Trans Carpatic runs its own night train service.
Astra Trans Carpatic is owned by a businessman who also owns a rolling stock manufacturing company based in Arad called Astra Vagoane Călători Arad which makes train wagons, trams and buses.
The Arad-Timișoara-Bucharest train by Astra Trans Carpatic therefore uses railway wagons made by Astra. According to the manufacturer, these wagons have state of the art interior and facilities. Compared to CFR, which often uses old (but admittedly comfortable and charming) rolling stock from decades back, the difference is startling.
Given that prices in all ticket categories are more or less similar as those CFR charges, there are some very good reasons to select Astra Trans Carpatic above CFR.
Booking the ticket
The website of Astra Trans Carpatic looks like it has been designed 20 years ago in the beginning of the internet era. It a bit clunky in its English version as not every page has been translated. However, with a bit of help from Google Translate nobody should have any problems booking an online ticket.
You have to register an account first before you can buy a ticket. At least searching for a train connection, date and selecting the class you want to travel in is all relatively straightforward.
After successfully buying a ticket you receive an email with attached PDF file, which is your ticket. There is no need to print this, you can just show it on your phone to the train conductor on board the train. On major stations en route such as Arad, Timișoara and Bucharest, Astra Trans Carpatic also has its own ticket booth (with very limited opening hours) where you can buy tickets in person.
I booked the most luxurious and private option available, a ‘lux’ sleeper compartment with en-suite shower, which for sole occupancy was just 330 RON (68 EUR).
On the evening of departure, I arrived a good 30 minutes early at Arad’s renovated train station. The central hall, with the escalators going up to the overhead passage, looked a bit like a smaller version of Kiev’s central station.
Although the conductor on board the train does sell a limited selection of snacks and drinks from his own compartment, it is highly advisable to bring your own picnic on board as there is no proper restaurant wagon. There are several supermarkets and kebab places and the like just outside of Arad’s station.
Boarding the train
Even though I arrived a good 30 minutes before departure at the station, the Trans Carpatic was already waiting on platform 1, with passengers being free to board.
With its yellow-and-green livery, the Astra Trans Carpatic looked absolutely striking.
Before I headed to my own compartment, I asked the conductor if I could peek around in the other wagons too and snap some pictures, which he kindly allowed.
There are basically four different classes on the Astra Trans Carpatic. The cheapest way to travel is in a second class seat. The open saloon car definitely looked miles better than most of the CFR trains and had a modern, fresh look to it.
Although the leather seats were certainly comfortable, I would not recommend it for a long overnight trip given that a proper couchette or sleeper only costs a fraction more.
For what it’s worth, a ticket in a 2nd class seat (listed in Romanian as ‘Clasa II – Vagon Clasa’) costs 101 RON (20.9 EUR) for the ride from Arad or Timișoara to Bucharest.
A category up from a second class seat is a berth in a couchette compartment. In Romanian, this is listed as ‘Vagon Cuseta cu 4 paturi in cabina’, meaning that there are four berths in each compartment.
If you book as a family of four, you will get your own private couchette compartment. Booking as a solo traveller or as a couple means you have to share with others if the train is full unless you book all berths.
Couchettes are definitely a step up from a normal seat as you can at least sleep in a normal bed. Pillows and blankets are already put on each bed. Upon departure, you receive the bed linen and have to make up your own bed.
A ticket from Arad or Timișoara to Bucharest in a couchette costs just 147 RON (30 EUR) – so for a about a tenner more than a regular seat you can sleep in a proper bed and arrive well rested in the morning.
The most comfortable way to travel is in a bed in the sleeper wagon, called in Romanian ‘vagon de dormit’. This is basically the first class option on overnight trains.
Sleeper wagon compartments have two beds, which is ideal when travelling as a couple. If you are travelling solo, you can choose between booking just a single bed in a compartment and potentially sharing it with a stranger, or to book the compartment for sole occupancy.
One bed in a (shared) sleeper compartment costs 210 RON for the ride between Arad or Timișoara and Bucharest, while sole occupancy of such a compartment (‘vagon de dormit in regim single’) costs 270 RON.
Besides offering more privacy, these compartments are also larger and offer more storage space and comfort, with beds which are already made up with fresh linen.
Inside the sleeper wagon, some compartments are designated as ‘lux’ – more spacious and luxurious compartments with en-suite toilet and shower. While other passengers have to share the toilets at the end of the corridor, you have your private bathroom inside your compartment. Also the prospect of taking a refreshing shower shortly before arrival is another huge benefit.
Of course, this comes with a small surcharge as well over a normal sleeper compartment. You pay 240 RON (49.50 EUR) for a bed in a lux compartment between Arad or Timisoara and Bucharest, which means that when travelling as a couple you can have the entire two-bed lux compartment for less than 100 euro.
As a solo traveller, single occupancy of the compartment costs 330 RON (68 euro).
A look inside the lux compartment
Having booked a lux compartment for sole occupancy myself, I easily found my assigned compartment and slowly settled in. The first thing you will probably note is how much space there is in these compartments.
Even if you find yourself travelling with four huge suitcases and some rucksacks, there will be enough space to store all of this. Next to the entrance to the en-suite bathroom there is a nook in which several suitcases can be easily put.
Just like any other train compartment, you will also find lots of storage space overhead overhead the door to the aisle if you turn around and look up.
The lux compartment consists out of two proper beds which have already been made up with fresh linen. The quality of the mattress and bedding is quite good making for a comfortable place to sleep.
While sometimes beds can be rather narrow on trains, it is not the case in the lux compartments of Astra Trans Carpatic. The beds have been moved a bit away from the wall, leaving a small gap between the actual bed and the wall. This way, there is a lot more shoulder room if you move around at night in your sleep. You will certainly not feel like you are constrained by the size of the bed.
If you are travelling together, one person has to occupy the top bunk bed, which can be easily reached by a small ladder attached to every compartment.
In each compartment you can find two power sockets to charge your electric devices, as well as another in the bathroom meant for shavers. My only complaint here is that these sockets are located way too high on the wall making them highly unpractical.
Although this didn’t pose a problem when it came to charging my laptop as the cord was long enough, this wasn’t the case for my mobile phone which was bungling down the wall as I could not find a place to put it safely down.
Fortunately that was the only design flaw which I managed to spot. Each compartment also has a rubbish bin, as well as plenty of buttons to control the lights and temperature.
The compartments have air-conditioning – a must in the hot Romanian summers. You can control the temperature of the compartment by just pressing the button up (red) or down (blue).
With similar buttons, you can control the main compartment lights as well as the individual reading lights at both beds. You can also put the lights of the bathroom on and off, as well as control the bathroom ventilation (which is a wee bit noisy, so it’s better to turn it off as you go to sleep).
There is also a button which you can press to call the conductor to your compartment if you require any assistance much like the call button on an aeroplane. Of course, there is also a red emergency brake – although I would not recommend trying this out!
The Astra Trans Carpatic is equipped with WiFi internet which was fairly reliable. Speeds weren’t very impressive however. Although it was barely usable for basic surfing, it didn’t really work to upload any files or watch videos.
Of course, one of the main reasons to select a lux compartment is the fact that you have your private en-suite bathroom, which includes both a toilet, wash basin and shower.
For a train bathroom, it was certainly fairly large and there was a wee bit of space to move around. I certainly appreciated the fact that the shower cabin is fully enclosed so you won’t wet the floor while showering.
The shower itself worked perfectly fine, including the hot water. The only slight disadvantage was that the water pressure was a bit weak and the shower head very small. You will certainly manage to take a refreshing shower in the morning, although it won’t be the best shower you ever had.
That said, you can’t complain much as it is a lot better than not having any shower at all – which is the case on most overnight trains in Europe.
The bathroom is fairly well-equipped with a hair dryer, soap and shower gel and shampoo from refillable dispensers – so you may want to bring your own if you are looking for higher quality products. There is no towel in the bathroom, but if you ask the conductor you will be handed one straight away.
At 8.27pm on the dot, the train departed Arad and made its way towards its first stop at Timișoara. There isn’t too much to see at this part of the journey, the highlight basically being the crossing of the bridge over the River Mureș shortly after leaving Arad.
Arad and Timișoara are both located in the Banat – a region shared between Romania, Hungary and Serbia which mostly consists out of fertile plains and some rolling hills.
There isn’t too much to see from the window except some small villages and factories in different states of disrepair and abandonment, although the beautiful sunset over the plains made up for it.
Although the night train is by far the most convenient option to travel from Arad or Timișoara to Bucharest, it does mean that you miss out on scenic views of the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River between Caransebeș and Drobeta-Turnu Severin, arguably the most scenic part of this railway line.
When you wake up in the morning, the train will be on the Wallachian plains way past Craiova, with the final miles to Bucharest being equally boring when it comes to the scenery from the window.
Being comfortable in your own compartment, it doesn’t matter too much. I enjoyed getting snug under the blanket, reading a book and watching a bit out of the window. Before going to sleep, I also drank a beer or two which I brought along as a wee nightcap.
Going to sleep
When the train arrived at Timișoara some 50 minutes after the departure from Arad, I closed the window shade and slowly prepared to go to sleep. After closing the lights, I slept in within minutes on the rickety sounds of the railway tracks.
Although light sleepers might have some problems with these sounds and movement, I absolutely love it as it rocks me asleep like a baby.
You can (and should!) of course close the compartment door from the inside when you go to sleep to ensure that nobody can enter at night. This ensures maximum safety, and you can rest assured that all your personal belongings will be safe.
I managed to sleep extremely well and only woke up to the sound of my alarm clock about an hour out of Bucharest. As I had the schedule of my train on my mobile phone, I soon found out that we were running half an hour behind schedule as the train hasn’t even pulled into the station of Roșiorii de Vede yet.
Unfortunately, Romania’s ageing railway network often sees delays and average speeds are low. If you book any journey by train in Romania, be extremely careful with making non-refundable bookings (such as a connecting train or worse – a flight departure) at the other end within a few hours of arrival.
As I had all the time in the world, I didn’t mind too much. I took a refreshing shower and read a bit more from my book as we slowly made our way to Bucharest’s Gara de Nord (Northern Railway Station).
Astra Trans Carpatic does serve a small breakfast to passengers booked in the sleeper wagon. Upon boarding, the conductor will ask you whether you want a sandwich, coffee or tea, and a bottle of water in the morning. The bottle of water can also be given immediately if you want to have one before going to sleep.
Of course, you can also take your own provisions on board the train.
In the end, the Astra Trans Carpatic arrived at Bucharest’s main railway terminal at 7.45am – some 40 minutes behind schedule.
Travelling on the overnight Astra Trans Carpatic train in a lux sleeper is certainly a luxurious experience. The train looks fresh and modern in all classes, a stark contrast to the trains of national railway operator CFR which are often decades old.
The biggest draw of the lux sleeper compartment is the fact that you do not only have maximum privacy but also have your own en-suite bathroom. You can therefore sleep well on the comfortable beds and arrive fully rested in the morning at your destination after having taken a refreshing shower just before arrival.
Overall, the carriages and compartments of the Astra Trans Carpatic train are smartly designed, with easy-to-operate buttons to control the air-con, heating and lights. The only real drawback is the weird location of the power sockets, which makes charging your mobile phone a slight hassle.
In the grand scheme of things that is however a minor issue. What matters most is that you can travel a large distance overnight and maximise your days on the ground sightseeing or working, making this train popular among both tourists as well as businessmen.
At just 100 euro for a couple travelling together (or 68 euro for a solo traveller when booking the compartment for single occupancy) it is also an extremely affordable way to travel, especially when you take into account that you save a night’s hotel bill too.
The prices of privately-owned Astra Trans Carpatic are roughly the same as national operator CFR, making it a no-brainer to opt for Astra instead of CFR when travelling between Arad or Timișoara and Bucharest.
Although Astra operates a few of day trains as well, it is a pity that this product is not available on more Romanian routes or journeys beyond to neighbouring countries, making the service somewhat of a well-kept secret among the handful of people normally travelling the Arad-Timișoara-Bucharest route. It would be great if more train operators could offer similar comfortable services!
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