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June 26, 2017

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Russian train-surfers, extreme sport or sign of lagging social support systems?

MOSCOW--Since he was 10, Sasha has taken the train everyday between Moscow and his home in the suburbs. Only instead of sitting inside with the other passengers, he runs on its rooftop as the train hurtles along.

Like Sasha, a growing number of young Russians risk their lives for an adrenaline rush by defying speed, the elements and the authorities.

They call themselves "zatseperi," from the Russian word to cling, and take pride in their risky feats.

"I no longer count how many kilometers I've ridden on the roof of trains. When I began, I 'surfed' day and night and didn't go to school," said Sasha.

Barely 18, Sasha's face still bears boyish traits and he speaks with youthful bravado, saying there is no risk "as long as you don't drink."

"I returned one evening with a friend who had been drinking a bit. He fell off the train and was killed instantly," said Sasha. "I stopped surfing for a week, but then I started again."

Sasha's friend Vladimir, 14, has been surfing for a year.

"Being on the roof of a train and watching everything roll by, that's freedom and no one stops us."

Their feeling of impunity is due in large part to the laughable fine the zatseperi risk if caught by police: 100 rubles (2.50 euros, US$3.50). This should soon jump to the theoretically more dissuasive amount of 5,000 rubles, as the national rail company RZhD has sought for years.

"That will change nothing," said Sasha. "On the contrary, it will make us pay more attention to avoiding the police instead of concentrating on our safety and that could cost us our lives."

Two weeks ago Misha, 16, was surfing when Moscow police began chasing him as the train stopped at a station.

"I tried to lose them by jumping but I landed on my head on the pavement. My face was covered in blood," he said.

When Misha returned home his parents simply said "to be more careful."

'Adrenaline rush'

"But now I am bored with the suburban commuter trains. They're too easy. There's no more adrenaline rush. I may try the Sapsan," the high-speed train that links Moscow and Saint Petersburg which hits speeds of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour), more than twice the speed of the commuter train.

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