MCC's predecessor: Moscow belt railway

MCC's predecessor: Moscow belt railway
Substation of Likhobory station of the Moscow railway. 1968. Main Archive Department of Moscow
On the occasion of MCC’s third anniversary, let's recall the history of the Moscow railroad belt, today's Lastochka route

Moscow entrepreneurs came up with the idea of a railroad circling the city that would be in line with the industrial era back in the 1860s―1870s. Moscow was becoming the main Russian railway hub, with its densely populated centre cluttered with transit cargo, too. The new project was to help unload the centre: convenient railway linking the outskirts with the centre was supposed to attract citizens, level up housing prices near the stations, moreover, the construction of new warehouses would free the central streets from carts.

Moscow merchant Grigory Sushkin drafted the first project of this road in 1869. Three years later, a detailed plan based on experience with similar routes in Berlin and Paris was presented by engineers Andrei Gorchakov and Alexander Prokhorshchikov at the City Council. The 25 versts long (26.6 km) belt railway they proposed ran along the Moscow border, Kamer-Kollezhsky Val. This project had been discussed in the Duma commissions for eight years, until the Exchange Committee concluded that its construction is inexpedient.

In 1894, it became clear that the verdict of officials was wrong, when the Russian railway lines had a collapse due to insufficient capacity of the Moscow junction, as the network was overloaded with freight carriages. All the railways connected with Nikolayev, Kazan and Yaroslavl lines, made their transfers of freight carriages on Nikolayevskaya road, while crossing the main railways. That surely caused the collapse.

At that time, Moscow received cargo from six main routes, with four more being under construction. To solve the issue, it was relevant to 'untie' the Moscow railway junction. On 7 November 1897, at the special government meeting, Emperor Nicholas II 'declared as desirable' to construct Moscow belt railway.

The Commission considered 13 options of engineering design taking part in the competition. The traffic schemes proposed by the engineers were mainly aimed at the withdrawal of transit cargo from the most loaded linking lines of the centre of Moscow. In March 1898, the Ministry of Railways approved the project of the Active State Councillor and engineer Pyotr Rashevsky. According to his plan, the double-track belt railway with a length of 51 versts (54.4 km) was to run outside Moscow and link all railway through passages of Moscow junction with 22 single-track lines (with a total length of 62 versts — 66.1 km). The estimated cost of the project made up 55 million roubles, later reduced to 38.7 million.

'Decent look'

On 3 August 1903, construction of the Moscow belt railway launched. It was supervised by the Moscow Governor General Grand Prince Sergei Alexandrovich. The best engineers and architects were invited to take part in the project. Bridges, including Andreyevsky and Dorogomilovsky, had been designed by the famous bridgebuilders Lavr Proskuryakov and Nikolai Belelyubsky. The outstanding architect Alexander Pomerantsev, the author of the Upper Merchants' Row on Red Square (now GUM, State Department Store) worked on the appearance of facilities.

Pomerantsev designed the buildings of the new Moscow ring in the Russian Art Nouveau style. Station pavilions made of white-trimmed red brick were built according to the standard design, except buildings at the Bratsevo, Vladykino, Vorobyovy Gory, Presnya, Serebryany Bor and Likhobory stations and Voyennoye Pole and Potylikha halting points.


Despite the fact that the belt railway had originally been located outside the city limits, all its facilities were created as part of a unified urban ensemble. "The railway must have facilities matching the Moscow buildings," wrote Nicholas II on the title page of the Rashevsky's project. The design was implemented to meet this remark. The roof tiles for pavilions were supplied from Warsaw, with the station clocks ordered from Pavel Buhre (Switzerland). According to Rashevsky's design, the new road, primarily intended for cargo transportation, was to become a passenger one, too. Therefore, the stations had ticket offices and waiting rooms. Moreover, all station rooms were heated.

In addition to 19 buildings at 14 stations and halting points, the architectural and engineering complex of the belt road included four large and 68 small bridges, 30 overpasses, as well as residential houses for railway employees and industrial facilities. All passenger facilities occupied the inner side of the belt, with the freight platforms and station tracks located outside. Counting of versts started on the junction of the Belt Road with Nikolayevskaya railway.

This project was absolutely unique. Special tours along the belt under construction were arranged for foreign engineers who came to Moscow to take a closer look at the outstanding railway.


There and back

On 19 July 1908, the first train ran along the ring. Initially, OV series steam locomotives used to run the line, but later they were replaced by E series trains. As expected, the Belt Road unloaded Moscow railway stations' access tracks.

It became the main freight through-passage of the Moscow railway junction: freight trains leaving Nicholayevskaya railway station run to Presnya station of the Belt Road through Moskovsko-Brestskaya road. Double-heading trains got detached at the station, with one locomotive going clockwise, and the other one running against the clock. After a full circle, the trains came back to Presnya, joined and returned to the Moscow-Brest line.

Railway pavilion of Belokamennaya station of the Moscow Belt Railway. Photo by N. Shchapov. 19 April 1913. Main Archive Department of Moscow

Thanks to the new system, cargo turnover had increased several times. New access tracks joined the road one by one linking it with plants and factories. However, such a system was unsuitable for passenger transport, as detaching train carriages took a lot of time and made a trip too long. Besides, the road ran much farther from the centre than expected at the designing stage, so the outskirts of Moscow were still unpopular.

Tickets were rather expensive, since the tariff system was ill-considered. Passenger traffic was cancelled four months after the Belt Road's launch.

In May 1909, payment fare was revised for citizens to use the railway ring again. Until 1917, workers travelled along it to get to the enterprises adjacent to the belt, those emerged along the road in the years of industrial boost. After the 1990s, when the Russian industry declined, they were called the 'rusty belt of Moscow'.

In the 1920s, convenient bus and tram routes appeared in the adjacent areas that made trains unpopular. In 1934, passenger traffic on the Moscow Belt Road was closed again.

The most valuable idea

During the Great Patriotic War, the freight Belt Road continued to operate. In autumn 1941, major industrial enterprises evacuated from Moscow, and trains with tanks and ammunition headed for the frontline. Moscow Belt Road was managed the by Zinaida Troitskaya, the first woman in the history in the position of Railroad Head.

The issue of the resumption of passenger traffic on the Moscow railway ring was repeatedly addressed in the Soviet years. After the war, the Belt Line, as well as other Moscow railways, was to be electrified, but it turned out that due to the specific design of the old bridges, the reorganisation would be too difficult and expensive.

In the 1960s, the idea to run passenger trains on the Moscow Belt Railway was recalled, but the implementation failed once again. Closed exit in the middle of Leninsky Prospekt metro station reminded passengers of that attempt for a long time, as it was supposed to be a transfer to the Belt Railway. Actually it happened, but Leninsky Prospekt station opened in 1962, and the transfer to the only underground station of Moscow Central Circle (MCC), Ploshchad Gagarina, opened as early as 2016. This transfer has been waiting for its time to come for more than half a century.


Moscow Central Circle's inception

The small ring of the Moscow railway, broken in 2010 due to construction work near Lefortovo metro station and therefore suspended, was transformed in four years. Comprehensive works were carried out to implement the unique project: the line was electrified, with tracks and bridges completely reconstructed, and survived historical buildings restored.

31 stations appeared on the ring, with transport interchange hubs integrated into the metro system located near above-ground transport stops and intercepting parking spaces. On 10 September 2016, passenger traffic launched on the MCC. Trains running along the 'steel ring of Moscow' carried citizens once again after an 82-year break.

Today, Moscow Central Circle is one of the key elements of the new Moscow transport framework. Anytime soon, MCC is to become part of another megaproject — the Moscow Central Diameters (MCD) to link the metro system with suburban lines through the reconstruction of Moscow through radial railway lines. Traffic on MCD-1 (Odintsovo—Lobnya) and MCD-2 (Nakhabino — Podolsk) will open in the late 2019 — early 2020.