Much to my surprise, train travel in Uzbekistan was cheap and easy. The country has a very good rail network, easily comparable to the best you will find in South East Asia (Malaysia, Vietnam etc.), and I found train schedules to be reliable and punctual.
On any trip to Uzbekistan, the probable main point of focus will be the historic city of Samarkand in the centre of the country. Never anywhere else in central Asia have I been as impressed as I was at Samarkand (and in particular at the Registan), and I do not regret making the slightly awkward foray to Uzbekistan to see it. The international airport – and gateway for us foreign tourists – is in Tashkent, which is also the Uzbek capital city. Luckily, trains run smoothly between the two cities and only take around 2 hours each way.
Choosing what train is best for you on your way to Samarkand is important. I would strongly recommend using the early morning departures from Tashkent (07.00hrs or 08.00hrs), as these trains – known as Train 760 & Train 762 respectively – are the fastest, newest, and most comfortable. They are also air-conditioned, which is a luxury not all Uzbek trains have! There are a couple of trains that depart Tashkent for Samarkand in the early evening (19.15hrs & 22.00hrs), but these trains take upwards of 4 hours, plus you will arrive in Samarkand in the early hours of the morning – which is a pretty brainless thing to do!
One way tickets for adults between Tashkent and Samarkand cost around 46,000 Uzbekistani Som (£12, $18) in economy class, and only 88,000 Uzbekistani Som in “VIP class”, which roughly equates to £22 ($29). Neighbouring Kyrgyzstan also uses the Som currency, but has its own stupidly over-inflated local rates, so do not get confused! Tickets can be purchased at the station upon arrival in Tashkent. Like with any train travel, it is wise to buy your tickets at least one day before the date of travel, as seats can get booked up fast – even in Uzbekistan! You MUST bring your passport with you when making the purchase, as not only do you need it for the tickets, you need it to pass through security before you enter the station (security is tight in Tashkent, but that’s no bad thing)! If you really need to purchase your Tashkent to Samarkand train tickets BEFORE you come to Uzbekistan, then you can apparently do so on the official Uzbek Railways site – UZRAILPASS – although even when choosing the English language option, I still couldn’t get any pages to load properly, so I probably wouldn’t risk making a payment through there.
For the record, if you plan to make the return journey from Samarkand to Tashkent, then the train I would recommend would be the 761, which is the newest, air-conditioned train (the same as 760 & 762 trains from Tashkent). The 761 departs Samarkand at 17.00hrs and is scheduled to arrive back in the capital around 19.10hrs. Prices are identical to what you paid on the outbound journey, and, as usual, purchasing your ticket the day before you leave is a good idea.
You can, of course, try to make the journey across Uzbekistan in a public bus or a shared taxi, but the experience will not be enjoyable and I do not recommend it. In September, 2016, it costs around £7 ($10) from Tashkent to Samarkand in a taxi, and the journey can take at least 4 hours. I am told that by opting for a public bus, you could be looking at a slightly cheaper price, but the journey time has been known to take a monstrous 8 hours! The main bus station in Tashkent is the so-called “Tashkent Avtovogzal”, whereas from Samarkand you will need to hop on at the bus station in front of the famous Ulugh Beg Observatory. For more detailed information on travelling by road throughout Uzbekistan, check out Caravanistan – but to be on the safe side, just take the train instead!