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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Notes From Underground: To the Daring Belongs the Future!
Text Ray Nayler
Photos Alevtina Kashitsina

Like a fellow traveler, the Moscow metro has suffered, along with its city, through all the vagaries of Russian history. It bears traces of that history in the architecture of its stations and the design of its trains. Overloaded and overcrowded to what seems like the bursting point, much like the city itself, the Moscow metro slogged through the slow collapse of perestroika, groaned through the neglectful ‘90s, and reeled from the terrorist bombings of the early 21st century. And, like the rest of Russia, it is now both struggling with and benefiting from the economic boom pushing the country’s economy forward, with new plans for expansion, new stations opening, and an even higher demand being placed on its amazingly efficient, but increasingly antiquated, lines. It’s incredible that the Moscow metro system — one of the world’s busiest with 6.8 million riders daily and trains arriving every 60 seconds during peak hours — is run manually using signaling techniques almost as old as some of the historical stations themselves.

M. Park Pobedy

An integral part of the metro’s expansion plans has been the development of the Butovskaya Light Rail, a pilot version of a scheme to extend the current metro system beyond MKAD while avoiding expensive tunneling. However, the viability of this new system is limited for a number of reasons. First, construction of the line has proved more expensive than anticipated, going well over budget. In addition, problems with the new system ranging from poor station design to longer waits between trains have led to significant customer dissatisfaction. The line’s above-ground flyover system heavily impacts the surrounding environment, and noise complaints and unexpected retrofits have resulted in the canceling of future light metro projects, including the Solntsevskaya Light Metro Line, which had been planned to open in 2006. There is currently even talk of dismantling the Butovskaya Light Rail and replacing it with a more traditional extension of the metro itself.

One positive result of the line, however, was the introduction of the Rusich trains, built specifi cally to serve this new system and thus designed to cope with the harsh above-ground climate and tighter bends in the track. These quieter, more modern trains have replaced the old stock on the Filyovskaya (light blue) and Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (dark blue) lines, and hopefully will appear on the other metro lines in the years to come.

M. Vorobyovy Gory

Other metro projects are also faring well. Recent years have seen the opening of some beautiful new stations as well as the remodeling and upgrading of older ones. In a departure from the simple, repetitive designs that dominated the system under Khrushchev, today’s Moscow metro, fueled by the economic boom in the capital and in the country as a whole, has been seeking modern, architecturally impressive designs for its new stations and lavishly cladding them, once again, in marble from the furthest reaches of the Russian Federation.

One impressive newcomer, opened in 2003, is Park Pobedy. With a platform a full 97 meters below the surface, this is the deepest of all Moscow metro stations. Constructed as a transfer point between the Dark Blue Line and the still-unfinished Solntsevskaya Line, this cross-platform complex features a pair of underground platforms. The two platforms have identical designs and complementary color schemes: The vertical faces of the outbound platform are clad in red marble and the horizontal in gray, while the inbound platform has exactly the opposite. The outbound platform features a cartoony, retro panel of the Great Patriotic War by Zurab Tsereteli, the Moscow artist beloved by some and loathed by others; the inbound platform features a similar panel of the War of 1812. Since only the inbound platform has an exit vestibule, passengers arriving from the outbound direction must cross the other platform before exiting. With completion of the Solntsevskaya Line scheduled for 2013, it will be five more years before this station is fully functioning. Considering that construction on the station began in 1986, that’s a long time to wait for a transfer.

M. Park Pobedy

A station that has seen extensive remodeling and is now one of the more elegant is Vorobyovy Gory, named for and serving the nearby elevated section of Sparrow Hills. To provide access from both sides of the Moscow River, the station spans the entire lower section of the Metromost Bridge, making it, at 270 meters, the longest station in the Moscow system as well as the highest, at 15 meters above ground. One of the few aboveground stations in the central part of the system, it is also the only station with windows, which offer a breathtaking view of Sparrow Hills and the Moscow River.

However, this station has a particularly troubled history. Opened in 1959 and christened Leninsky Gory, the station’s bridge fell into disrepair. By 1984, the corroded and neglected condition of the bridge forced the station’s “temporary” closure, and trains passed through the empty platforms for years until the entire bridge was finally closed. The station would never reopen under that name. In 2003, the new Vorobyovy Gory opened, with a total length (including exits) of 530 meters and clad not in marble but a modern marble-like aluminum composite material known as “Alucobond.” The station is beautifully fitted on the inside, but perhaps the best view is at night from the observation platform of Sparrow Hills, when the glowing station is reflected in the Moscow River and the trains can be seen arriving and departing on the eerily floating platform.

Other notable stations include Mezhdunarodnaya, which opened in 2006 on the Filyovskaya Line, and the recently constructed new entrances to Mayakovskaya, which gracefully blend the old design of the station platform with new techniques and materials. For those of you keeping track of upcoming projects and station openings, has a complete guide to current projects.

The Moscow metro continues to expand with its indefatigable, unique, frustrating, and beautiful city, and everyone who rides its trains and relies on its lines to take them where they want to go hopes this growth will continue and its future will be as bright as its past. And with those words I’ll close the last article in my nine-part series on the Moscow metro. Happy riding!

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