Hitting the tracks: Moscow’s metro, trams and commuter trains

Hitting the tracks: Moscow’s metro, trams and commuter trains
The city’s rapidly developing rail transport system includes modern trams and trains. The Moscow Central Circle opened in 2016, and the metro’s Third Interchange Circuit (TIC) will be opening stage-by-stage. This mos.ru story traces the history of the city’s rail transport and its current status.

Trains with exotic-sounding names like Vityaz (Knight), Moskva and Lastochka (Swallow) form the mainstay of the city’s rail transport system, which is being upgraded and expanded all the time. New metro and tram lines are also under construction. This mos.ru story discusses the city’s rail transport history and unparalleled system expansion.

On the ground

The city launched its first tram route 118 years ago, on 25 March (7 April) 1899, linking Butyrskaya Zastava with Petrovsky Park. Each first-generation electric tram had two long benches for 20 passengers in the summer and 18 in the winter, with four large windows, matt-glass electric lamps and a door opening to talk to the conductor and buy tickets. The first electric tram on Moscow streets looked like this.

Trams have changed beyond recognition since then. They have become more comfortable, quieter, larger and faster. Low-floor Vityaz-M carriages, the latest addition to the city’s tram fleet, have 60 seats and carry 260 passengers each. They are equipped with satellite navigation, video cameras and climate control systems. People with disabilities can contact the tram operator with a push button and can exit the carriage via a folding ramp. The city is to receive 300 new-generation trams in the next three years.

Today, Moscow has 47 tram routes that carried 207 million passengers in 2016.

On weekdays, over 650 trams carry 800,000 people on 417 kilometres of track.

In the past six years, the city has replaced 25 percent of its trams, with 190 new trams hitting the tracks. But there are also plans to open new tram lines. Trams are to link Prazhskaya metro station with the Biryulyovo Zapadnoye (Western)District and the northern section of the Biryulyovo Vostochnoye (Eastern) District. Fast-tram lines are to be built in the Golyanovo, Severny, Biryulyovo  Zapadnoye (Western) and Ivanovskoye districts and later probably extended to Balashikha outside Moscow.

Trams will also return to Tverskaya Zastava Square. The tracks will be extended from Lesnaya Street to Belorussky Railway Station. The Square will receive tram stops and a 1.2 kilometre tram turnaround. Passengers from long-haul trains and commuter trains will be able to change to surface transit systems.

There are plans to introduce a synchronised schedule for all tram routes and to reduce peak-hour service intervals to five-seven minutes by 2020. In 2016, synchronised schedules were stipulated for ten tram routes in northern and northwestern city districts. This was to coordinate schedules and introduce equal service intervals. Trams no longer accumulate at stops, and average waiting times have been reduced by 16 percent. Trams now carry 10 percent more passengers, with average speeds increasing by 15 percent on weekdays and by 30 percent on weekends.


On 15 June 1931, participants in a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided to build the Moscow Metro. The technical design of the metro’s first stage was approved in 1933, and construction began that same year. Authorities decided to replicate the most congested tram routes underground. The Moscow Metro received its first passengers on 15 May 1935. At that time, the first 11.2-kilometre metro line had 13 stations and 12 twin-section trains (now the Red Line). The metro’s first line linked the Sokolniki and Park Kultury stations, with an offshoot towards Smolenskaya station.

The metro continues to be developed rapidly today and has 12 lines with a total length of 346 kilometres, with 206 stations, including 46 that have been designated cultural landmark status.

The metro carries over eight million passengers on weekdays, with average passenger routes totaling about 14.6 kilometres. Each day, over 10,000 trains operate on metro lines, with 90-second service intervals.

Under the General Plan of Moscow, metro routes will total 650 kilometres by 2025.

On 14 April, new-generation Moskva metro trains started running on the Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya Line. They hold 15 percent more passengers than their predecessors, with over 1,500 people. Each train has eight carriages with a corridor connection, wider door openings with visual and audio indicators. The carriages are equipped with HVAC systems that include air filtration and energy-efficient LED lamps. The touchscreens and interactive maps help passengers find a station, plot a route and calculate trip duration. Riders can also recharge their mobile devices using USB outlets. The metro is to receive 114 Moskva trains by 2020.

Moscow’s rapidly developing metro system leads the way in terms of pace of expansion, outpacing Beijing, Mexico City and Istanbul. The city metro carries 2.5 billion passengers annually, with less congestion than other cities. Price Waterhouse Coopers has ranked Moscow first in the transport and infrastructure category. Moscow ranks second after Berlin in terms of rail transport density.

Apart from carrying passengers, the Moscow Metro offers various services, including a passenger mobility centre, information screens, free Wi-Fi, route consultants and bank-card fare payments.

By 2020, the metro’s 61-kilometre Third Interchange Circuit (TIC), it’s second circle line, is to be completed. It is located about ten kilometres from the current Circle Line. The TIC will connect with the existing and planned radial lines and will have 28 stations. The TIC will become the longest national metro line and probably the longest in the world.

Running in circles

In September 2016, the city launched the 54-kilometre Moscow Central Circle (MCC) railway with 31 stations. The MCC provides seamless connections to metro lines at 14 stations, and three more stations will offer metro links soon. Six MCC stations make it possible to change to commuter trains, and four more will provide rail links in the future. The MCC’s modern Lastochka trains carry over 350,000 passengers daily. The number of interchanges and trip durations for MCC passengers has almost been cut in half.

Passengers can pay their fares with Unified travelcard, 90 Minute ticket and Troika card, and they can change from the metro to the MCC free within 90 minutes. The new belt railway is line 14 in the metro system and is shown white, outlined in red line on the metro map.

Lastochka trains have HVAC systems, free Wi Fi, bicycle racks and charging outlets. Service intervals will be reduced on 1 May, dropping to five minutes during peak hours and ten minutes at other times.

The MCC traces its origin to the late 19th century. On 7 November 1897, the Government of the Russian Empire “deemed it necessary to launch construction of the Moscow Belt Railway.” Construction began on 19 July 1903, and the railway was almost ready by the autumn of 1907. There were plans to launch freight and passenger service by late October 1907. But construction delays and upgrades delayed the opening until 19 July 1908.

Those involved liked the way the Moscow Belt Railway handled freight trains, but its passenger service left a lot to be desired. Passenger service was stopped and resumed time and again. In 1914, only two passenger trains used the railway daily and mostly carried railway workers and some tourists. By the late 1920s, the city had received such a ramified tram and bus system that, in 1934, it was decided to end passenger service on the Moscow Belt Railway. Proposals to resume belt service were put forward in 1952, 1966, in the late 1980s and in 2001. But this ambitious project was not implemented before 2016. Last year, the railway infrastructure was finally converted to passenger service, and 31 kilometres of freight train tracks were also built.

Out of town

Commuter trains are another important rail transit component, with many city residents relying on them. In an effort to ensure more comfortable trips, the city and the Moscow Region have signed a 15-year commuter traffic contract with the Central Suburban Passenger Company and the Moscow-Tver Suburban Passenger Company. The former will spend 2.4 billion roubles annually on train maintenance and is set to buy over 400 new trains in the next few years.  

All 6,000-plus commuter trains, the so-called “green” trains, stop at stations with direct Moscow Central Circle connections. Transit authorities are issuing the combined Troika card with the Strelka app for passenger convenience. This card can be used to pay all fares in the city and on every commuter train route.

The Moscow Railway’s nine radial lines link the city with Belarus, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Kiev, Kursk, Riga, Savyolovo, Pavelets and Yaroslavl. All commuter trains switched to the summer schedule this March. Fifteen additional trains operate on the summer schedule.