The isn't an overwhelming possibility that you're going to need this kind of train as a more mainstream tourist that only has 3-5 days here and would rather spend them on the city center.
But as an expat or a business traveler that might have some work-related activities or conferences outside of the city, a more adventurous kind of traveler that wants to see the Golden Ring on his own, or someone attending some sort of a sporting competition, for which the government has been trying to engage more places than just Moscow - you might find this article pretty useful.
It certainly won't be the most recommendable means of travelling there. If you have some budget to spare, you might want to find some reliable company for long-distance transfers. The train can be overcrowded on certain hours, might have some nasty people there, and will certainly have a metric ton of peddlers that'll introduce you to their latest collections of fantastic 100-ruble products that range from extremely useless to shockingly bizarre.
But... That company, if you're trying to find it on your own as a foreigner, can charge you some seeerious money. And a tram ticket even for the longest distances possible (over 200 km sometimes) will cost you only about 200-350 RUB. And if you decide to have the most authentic Russian experience on it, it can literally cost you nothing regardless of the distance.
Yes, Russia has one of the most functional and useful tram systems in the world (!) that should probably be charging even more for their services. But people in the suburbs with monthly incomes of 20000-30000 RUB just don't always feel like paying for it at all. And instead, it operates on that sort of semi-free basis. Where the final decision rests on your conscience and desire to seem like a law-abiding citizen on that particular day. But if you're in a serious pinch, the system doesn't really force you overspend on it.
It's not how I would encourage you to do it. But it's something you can read an entire separate article about on this blog.
Figuring the names of platforms you start from and go to
First, you have to find out what are the beginning and end platforms of your trip.
Open Google Maps. type in the address of the place you're going to. Then click a blue arrow that says 'Directions'. Set the starting point if doesn't automatically find your location. And then click one of the tiny blue icons on top that shows a tram and is called 'Transit' if you hover over it. That will show you all possible ways to reach that address by public transport. And if the point is outside of the city, most of those options will include a tram trip.
Click 'Details' below any of the suggested routes. See if it includes traveling by tram. The tram section will have an icon of a tine grey tram next to it. If you don't see it there, choose another route that does.
The whole tram part will be marked with a straight line of the same color. At the beginning and the end of it you'll see the names of the departure and arrival platforms. Write them down or copy them somewhere.
If there are any difficulty with Google Maps, you can also download this app called WikiRoutes (download for iOS, download for Android). It's an app that shows you quickest ways from A to B only by public transport in Moscow. So you won't have to click through different categories there.
Finding your train's schedule
Then go to this wonderfully named website - http://tutu.ru
(Kind of like the train says, 'toooo-toooo', you know. Then there's also a canteen chain Mu-mu, after the c... The country of hyper-creative names, that's what I'm saying).
This is the main web portal of Russia to find your train's, tram's or plane's schedule, period.
Sadly, the only section of the site that's properly translated (as of January 2019) is for long-distance trains, which is not our case. At this point you might start thinking that, 'Hey, maybe it's not translated because no one is expecting a foreigner to use trams in Russia?' Those thoughts should not distract you. Push forward.
In the top right corner, next to the Union Jack, click on the word 'Электрички' (Trams in Russian). You'll see three consecutive horizontal fields under the main logo with your departure station, arrival station and date. The departure station should be by default filled with Москва (Moscow). All you need to do, considering you're starting from Moscow, is to type the name of your arrival station in the next field, choose a date and click that big blue button next to the date. But it'll only work if you spell that name in Cyrillic.
If you have no idea how to spell it in Russian neither an installed Russian keyboard for that matter, then just copy the name first to Google Translate.
Paste any English-spelled Russian word in the Russian field in Google Translate and Google will automatically tell you, 'Did you mean: ...?' And suggest you a Cyrillic, transliterated spelling of the same word. Copy that spelling back to the TuTu site, choose a date and click 'Показать Расписание' (Show the Schedule).
And here you have it. In the first column are departure times, second - arrival times, third - trip duration, fifth - train's full route (save this field somewhere to find your train at the platform later), final column - ticket price.
Choose the time that fits you and go to your train station on the chosen date (Vokzal).
Buying tickets and finding your train
Make sure you arrive to the train station at least 40-45 minutes before the train's departure time (just in case). Thankfully, all the stations in Moscow are more or less translated after the World Cup. So just look for ticket windows that say 'Suburban Trains' or 'Trams'.
Try to tell the lady in the window the name of the platform you're going to. But better write it down in both Latin and Cyrillic the best you can and show it to her.
Pay up, collect your ticket and proceed to the platform. Scan your ticket's bar code to pass through the turnstiles along the way.
The most important part here, after all you've done so far, is to take the right train. Seriously. No one will double check your ticket and tell you if something doesn't check out. You just get into a train and hope that it's yours.
I mean, you try to do and double-check everything possible to make sure it's the right train before boarding it. But eventually, even for local people there's always this surreal, almost magical feeling that there's only about 98% chance that you're going in the right direction when the doors finally close. If you have that feeling too, it's alright. Half of all people on that train most likely have no idea where they're going.
The best way to make sure it's yours is to find the screen next to one of the rail tracks that perfectly matches your train's info from TuTu. The final station and departure time.
The platform that you're going to is most likely just a stop along a much longer route. All trains are announced and written on all station screens by their final destinations. So, if in you train's schedule on TuTu, in the fifth column it says, 'Москва - Балашиха', and the first column says, '10:15' - just look for a screen that says 'Балашиха 10:15'. That'll 98% be your train.
You can also just look for the matching departure time. The time used on platforms always matches TuTu schedules 100%. And there's almost no chance that two trains will have the exact same departure times down to a minute. If it happens, consider it an incredible cosmic coincidence. And doing it this way should decrease your certainty only to around 95% instead of 98%.
Also, open your maps app on your phone and turn on location services to triple-check that you're going in the right way and not to skip your station. Better do it through that aforementioned WikiRoutes app (download for iOS, download for Android). As it is significantly better at showing you between which two stations you're currently moving (you have to set the route first).
Although, there also will be announcements every station, possibly even in English. So listen to them if you don't have a chance to use your phone all throughout.
Then jump off at the right station and have fun figuring the rest of your trip ;)
As always, share anywhere you can online if you found it useful and read more of the blog below. Thanks for reading!