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Famed Moscow Metro turns 75

May 15, 2010 - RUSSIA

The first line of Moscow's architecturally-extravagent Metro train system, the Sokolnicheskaya Line, with just 13 stations, was opened on 15 May 1935. Seventy-five years on, the Metro system has grown into a network of 11 lines and over 160 stations, and new stations open every year. Two recent suicide bombings are likely to accelerate the steep fall in ridership. Officials blame the fall on the country's economic crisis, which has put many Russians out of work.

Two women blew themselves up on a Metro train in March, killing 40 and injuring dozens more. And a Metro bombing killed 41 people in 2004. Officials blame the economic crisis, which has put many Russians out of work. The number of passengers fell by an average of about 700,000 a day in Apr and May 2009, Metro chief Dmitry Gayev told reporters in May 2008. He said the fall was steeper than during the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union or during the 1998 financial crisis, when Russia defaulted on its domestic bonds. The new crisis has slashed Russia's US $1.7 trillion economy, which is reported to be heading into the deepest recession in a decade. Government statistics show unemployment is at an 8-year high of 9.5 per cent in the first quarter. The country's financial crisis is likely to slow Metro construction, just as it has stalled the building boom in the city. The tight money supply has also put restoration of the original stations, such as Mayakovskaya, on hold. The Metro stations are famed for their elegant designs and lavish and profuse use of marble, mosaics, sculptures and chandeliers. Many are more like underground palaces than functioning train stations. Ploschad Revolutsii Station, which was opened on 13 Mar 1938, is thick with bronze figures of the creators of the new socialist order, nestled into niches between the station's broad columns. The sculptor Manizer created a total of 76 statues of soldiers, workers and collective farm workers, as well as the soldiers and sailors who defended the country. Each station had its own themes and combinations of embellishments. Built during Josef Stalin's rule, they were aimed at displaying the best of Soviet architecture and design, while conveying the idea that the Russian lifestyle was privileged. During the Cold War era, Nikita Khrushchev opted for simple Metro stations. The style associated with him features plain columns aligned in rows down either side of the platform, with very few individual differences between stations. Architectural extravagance was restored in the 1970s, and lavish designs once again became popular. Plans for the Metro were drawn up in 1902, but WWI and the Revolution halted the start of construction until the 1930s. Construction continued throughout WWII, and the stations were used as air-raid shelters. The Council of Ministers moved its offices to the platforms of Mayakovskaya station. During the war the Chistiye Prudy station was used as the nerve center for Supreme Command HQ and the Soviet Army General Staff. The Arbatsky line stations, built during the Cold War, were meant to double as shelters in the event of nuclear war with the United States. The train systems of St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Minsk, Kiev, Kharkov, Budapest, Prague, Sofia and Warsaw are modeled on the Moscow Metrow. UPDATED May/10

Court upholds ban on female train drivers (Moscow Times 28 May 2009)

The Moscow Metro (Moscow-Taxi)

Crisis bad news for Russia's shrinking population (AFP 16 May 2009)

Date written/update: 2010-05-15