Thursday, November 08, 2012

Ostorozhnya, Dveri Zekravyetza! (5/15/08)

Those words may look like an eye chart, but that phrase is one that the riders of the subways of Moscow and St. Petersburg know very well: it’s Russian for "Caution! The doors are closing!"

Say what you will about the
Soviet Union, workers were treated well (at least in the beginning), and no one was treated better than those who commuted by subway.

On May 15, 1935, the
Moscow Metro began operation. In most cities, subway stations are bland and utilitarian, lined with nondescript white tiles and advertising. Not so in Moscow. There, each station is unique, accompanied by lavish decor, pillars, and chandeliers fit for a palace. Many are themed with tributes to pilots, poets, and heroes of the Revolution.

The Moscow Metro is
elaborate in its scope, but the process of building it was nothing compared to those in St. Petersburg (or Leningrad, as it was then called). When Peter the Great ordered that Petersburg be built, he won renown as a visionary -- but not as a civil engineer. The land his metropolis was built on is a swamp, so the city has been slowly sinking for over 200 years. To build the subway, engineers had to dig down past that swampland, so that the Metro's platforms are dozens of meters below the surface, making for lengthy escalator rides (up to two minutes or more) up and down dizzying steps that are nearly vertical.

Both systems are
marvels, transporting millions of riders each day in trains that are inexpensive (19 rubles; less than $1), clean, and reliable. If you’ve never envied the Russians, you might think of Comrade Kommutersky the next time you complain about your own trip to work.

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