Building the Moscow Metro, or the brief history of the underground city

Building the Moscow Metro, or the brief history of the underground city
Construction of the southern surface-level hall for Krymskaya Ploshchad metro station (now Park Kultury). Unknown photographer. Early 1930s
It is impossible to imagine Moscow without a metro system today. The Moscow Metro could almost be called an underground city with its own rules, rhythms and landmarks. It functions as a separate organism, but is, no matter what, an irreplaceable part of the city. Every decade in the history of the Moscow Metro has been different. To find out more about the history of the Moscow Metro, read this article.

The idea to build an underground railway in Moscow was proposed half a century before the project actually began. From 1875 to 1930, at least five projects for a metro system had been developed. But construction only began in the 1930s, when it became obvious that the existing public transport (mostly trams) could not keep up with passenger traffic. After the giant traffic gridlock of 6 January 1931 which froze the movement of every vehicle, including trams and carriages, construction of the Moscow Metro finally began.

1931−1940: Palace for the people

On 10 December 1931, seven construction workers came into the inner yard of 13 Rusakovskaya Street (located on the future Sokolniki-Krasnoselskaya metro section) and dug their shovels into the frozen ground. Within a month the whole first metro line from Sokolniki to the Palace of the Soviets (now Kropotkinskaya) was under construction. At first the metro was supposed to be based on shallow level stations and tunnels, but that would have meant digging up the entire city. A young engineer Veniamin Makovsky suggested a progressive solution: build the system deep underground. This fresh idea caused a lot of protests, but was approved by the Moscow Mayor Lazar Kaganovich. The dispute ended with Joseph Stalin’s approval of the deep level construction project.

During Moscow Metro construction. Photo by Naum Granovsky. 1930s

The construction was slow and hard: there was neither enough experience, nor enough people, so Muscovites had to turn to their foreign colleagues for help. In 1934 one British tunneling shield was deployed for construction; a second shield based on the existing British model was built in the USSR and the pace of construction immediately begun to speed up. On 15 October 1934, the first train in the history of the Moscow Metro left the Severnoye maintenance facility for the Komsomolskaya metro station and its first trip down the new metro line.

By 15 May 1935, the first 13 stations were opened: Sokolniki, Krasnoselskaya, Komsomolskaya, Krasnye Vorota, Kirovskaya (now Chistye Prudy), Dzerzhinskaya (now Lubyanka), Okhotny Ryad, Biblioteka Imeni Lenina, Dvorets Sovetov, Park Kultury, and on the branch line, Ulitsa Kominterna (until November 1990, then Kalininskaya, now Aleksandrovsky Sad), Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya. The symbol of the Moscow Metro – the red letter M – was designed by architect Ivan Taranov.

The first Moscow Metro train, 1934. Photo provided by the Moscow Metro

The second stage of Moscow Metro construction was completed in 1937−1938. Kiyevskaya metro station (on the future Filyovskaya Line) and the Smolensky metro bridge – the first metro bridge in the history of the USSR – were opened. Ploshchad Revolutsii and Kurskaya metro stations on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line were opened as well. Six months later six new stations on the Gorkovsky metro line (Green Line) were opened: Sokol, Aeroport, Dinamo, Belorusskaya, Mayakovskaya, and Ploshchad Sverdlova ( now Teatralnaya).

The project was carried out under the slogan, Building a Palace for the People! This is why the metro’s architecture is now described as monumental and solemn. Ploshchad Revolutsii, Mayakovskaya and Teatralnaya metro stations can easily be described as architectural masterpieces. The designs of these stations were recognised by foreign architects as well: in 1939 the design for Mayakovskaya metro station (architect – Alexei Dushkin, designer – Alexander Deineka) won a Grand Prix at the World’s Fair in New York.

Construction of the southern surface-level hall for Krymskaya Ploshchad metro station (now Park Kultury). Unknown photographer. Early 1930s

During 1931−1940, 24.25 kilometres of metro lines and 22 stations were constructed in total.

1941–1950: Shelter in time of war

During the Great Patriotic War the metro was used as a bomb shelter. During air raids, almost half a million people would go down into metro stations, hiding on the platforms as well as in the tunnels. Soon underground life became common: shops, hairdressers and even a library opened in the stations, and 217 babies were born in the metro during air raids. Departments of the General Staff were set up at Kirovskaya station (now Chistye Prudy). The tracks were blocked off, and the trains didn’t enter the station.

The metro was on the verge of destruction at one point. The order was given by Kaganovich on 15 October 1941, when the Nazis came close to Moscow. The plan was to flood part of the metro, and to plant bombs in another part. On the morning of 16 October, the metro stopped operating for the first time in history. By that evening, the destruction order was rescinded.

Despite the martial law, construction of the third line continued. During 1943−1944, Zavod imeni Stalina (Avtozavodskaya since 1956), Paveletskaya, Novokuznetskaya, Stalinskaya (Semyonovskaya since 1961), Izmailovsky Park Kultury I Otdykha (the station changed its name several times, it has been Partizanskaya since 2005), Baumanskaya and Elektrozavodskaya stations were opened. The tunnels between Ploshchad Sverdlova and Zavod imeni Stalina stations were built under the Moskva River. All the stations built during those years have commemorative plaques, “Built in the days of the Great Patriotic War.”

During the war years, over 13 km of tracks and 7 stations were built. Between 1941 and 1950, the metro grew by 19.66 km and 13 stations in total.

1951–1960: From luxury to simplicity

After the war, the construction of the fourth stage began, including the Circle Line and Arbatskaya Line (Lines 5 and 3, respectively). This stage was completed in the 1950s.

At first the Circle Line was to be built under the Garden Ring, but the designers decided to connect it to the railway squares. On 1 January 1950 the first section from Park Kultury to Kurskaya stations was put into service running just under the Garden Ring. On 30 January 1952 the second section was launched: from Kurskaya to Belorusskaya stations. The Circle Line stations were the peak of Stalin empire style. All 12 stations were designed with sculptures, murals and original lighting, every one of them unique.

Construction of the Arbatskaya Line (Line 3, the Blue Line) coincided with the beginning of the Cold War. The new line was never mentioned in newspapers until 1952, because these stations could have become bomb shelters in case of nuclear attack.

In 1955, the government decided “to eradicate luxury in designing and building.” Stations were built to standard designs, not individual designs, so VSKhV (VDNKh today), Sportivnaya and other stations look simpler compared to previous efforts. Surface stations were used (Studenckeskaya, Kutuzovskaya and Fili), because it was a less costly engineering process. The cost cutting resulted in construction errors when Leninskiye Gory station (now Vorobyovy Gory) and the Luzhentsky metro bridge were built, and endurance problems soon surfaced.

During 1951−1960, 33.5 km of tracks and 21 stations were built in total.

1961–1970: “Glass” and “centipedes”

The simple style adopted during the 1950s survived until 1970, when “glass” stations (with glass entrance halls) and “centipedes” (stations with 40 columns in two lines) began appearing. New stations were different only in the colour of the covering stone. The first “centipede” station was Pervomayskaya. The least expensive section built during this decade was on Filyovskaya Line (Line 4) from Fili station to Molodyozhnaya station. This line (Light Blue Line) is almost entirely a surface level line.

The radial lines were also extended during the 1960s. On the eve of 1967 the Purple Line (Line 7), including Taganskaya, Proletarskaya, Volgogradsky Prospekt, Tekstilshchiki, Kuzminki, Ryazansky Prospekt, and Zhdanovskaya (now Vykhino) stations, was opened. In 1969, the Green Line (Line 2) was extended southwards: Kolomenskaya, Kashirskaya, Varshavskaya and Kakhovskaya stations were opened.

One station was closed forever during this decade. At first, Pervomayskaya station was opened in 1954 at today’s Izmailovo facility, but when the Arbatskaya Line (Line 3) was extended it became redundant. The station was converted into a maintenance shop, and the entrance hall was changed into a hall for the maintenance facility employees.

A similar story happened at Kaluzhskaya temporary station in the next decade. The station existed at the Kaluzhskoye maintenance facility between 1964 and 1974. That means that the Moscow Metro has sections that are not used by passengers: about 4 km of metro lines and two stations.

During 1961−1970, 58 km of tracks and 31 stations were built in total.

1971–1980: Connecting the lines

From 1971 to 1980, the metro not only kept extending towards the outskirts, but also connected radial lines and filled gaps inside the Circle Line. In early 1972, the Ploshchad Nogina (now Kitai-Gorod) and Kolkhoznaya (now Sukharevskaya) stations opened.

An esthetic design concept was developed. The interiors combined the individuality of Stalin’s metro and the industrial look of Khrushchev’s metro. Deep level stations were built in the city centre. Kuznetsky Most, Pushkinskaya, Gorkovskaya (now Tverskaya) stations were built in a 1930’s style. Standard design stations were modernised with a more individual approach. Svibolovo station was decorated with smalt panels and miniatures; Marksistskaya station features Florentine mosaics, while Shabolovskaya station has a stained glass panel.

In the 1970s, 52.8 kilometres of lines and 30 stations were built.

1981–1990: Exchanging metro gifts

The end of the 1970s and the early 1980s were the most productive in terms of metro construction. In 1983, the Serpukhovskaya Line (Gray Line) opened with eight stations, from Serpukhovskaya to Yuzhnaya.

In 1985, the Moscow Metro received a station designed by Czechoslovakian architects. While the architects and engineers from Russia were building Prazhskaya station, Soviet designers worked on Moskevská station in Prague.

Prazhskaya station

After Perestroika, the pace of the metro construction slowed. From 1985 to 1988 three stations opened each year. In 1989, only one was built – Krylatskoye on the Filyovskaya Line. Four stations opened in 1990: Yasenevo and Bitsevsky Park (now Novoyasenevskaya) on the Kaluzhsko-Rizhskaya Line, and Cherkizovskaya and Ulitsa Podbelskogo (now Bulvar Rokossovskogo) on the Kirovsko-Frunzenskaya (now Sokolnicheskaya) Line.

In the 1980s, 46.5 km of tracks and 28 stations were built in total.

1991–2000: The first stations in a new country

In the tumultuous 1990s, metro construction slowed sharply. However, a few projects that had started before the end of the USSR were finished. In 1991–1994, the northern part of the Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya Line (Gray Line) opened from Savyolovskaya to Altufyevo. In 1995−1999 the Lyublinskaya Line (Light Green Line) from Chkalovskaya to Maryino opened after a long construction period. In August 2000, Ulitsa Akademika Yangelya station opened on the Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya Line.

In this difficult decade the state had little money, so the metro had to use its own funds to build new stations. Despite the harsh economic conditions, the stations looked quite good.

In the 1990s, 32.8 km of tracks and 19 stations built in total.

2001–2010: Beyond Moscow  

In the new century, the metro lines were extended not only to the suburbs, but also beyond the Moscow Ring Road. The first station built outside Moscow was Bulvar Dmitriya Donskogo, opened at the end of 2002. In the same year, after two decades of reconstruction, the Vorobyovy Gory station on the rebuilt Luzhnetsky metro bridge was opened. The deepest station, Park Pobedy, opened in May 2003; six months later, the Butovo light railway line opened for service. In 2004, the monorail was launched in the north to connect the Ostankinsky and Timiryazevsky districts. In 2009, the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line (Blue Line) was extended to the west. In addition to running outside the MKAD, Myakinino became the first station built in the Moscow Region. New stations also appeared on the Filyovskaya and Lyublinsko-Dmitrovskaya lines.

The architecture also changed and new styles were adopted. The most beautiful are Slavyansky Bulvar, Park Pobedy, Annino and Volokolamskaya.

In the 2000s, 37.5 km of tracks and 21 stations were built. Including the monorail, Moscow received 42 km of tracks and 27 stations.

Since 2011: The fellowship of the rings  

Today, the metro is reaching the most remote districts thus making the life of Muscovites easier. In the past six years, the metro has been extended to Brateyevo, Orekhovo-Borisovo, Troparyovo, and the Novokosino and Vykhino-Zhulebino districts that are outside the MKAD. Old districts are also receiving new stations: in September 2016, in Moscow’s north and northeast, three stations were opened: Butyrskaya, Fonvizinskaya and Petrovsko-Razumovskaya. In March 2017 three stations were opened: Minskaya, Lomonosovsky Prospekt and Ramenki. Many interchanges have appeared beyond the Circle Line: Zyablikovo, Delovoi Tsentr, Park Pobedy, Bitsevsky Park, and Petrovsko-Razumovskaya. They help optimise traffic flow and allow passengers to get around Moscow without going through the centre.

A highlight of 2016 was the launch of the Moscow Central Circle, a traditional urban railway that is integrated into the metro system. Its 31 stations allow passengers to travel quickly while avoiding the city centre.

The Moscow Metro continues to be developed. In less than seven years, 55 stations and 101 kilometres of track, including the MCC, have opened: much more than in any other period. When the first five stations of the Third Interchange Circuit are open, there will be 111.5 kilometres of track and 60 stations.

Construction is almost finished at the Rechnoi Vokzal–Khovrino; Ramenki–Rasskazovka; and Petrovsko-Razumovskaya–Seligerskaya lines. In 2018, plans call for opening the new 17.5 km Kozhukovskaya Line; in 2019, the Sokolnicheskaya Line will reach Stolbovo; in 2020−2021, the entire Third Interchange Circuit will be opened for service. The length of this line will be about 65 km.

In all, from 2011 to 2020, Moscow will get some 200 km of tracks and over 100 new stations, including the MCC. It took about 45 years (from 1965 to 2010) to build the same number of stations.

Photo courtesy of Moscow’s Main Archive Directorate