“Moscow’s Metro – Effective And  Affective? ”

Ross Hunter, headmaster, ESS School, Lefortovo

The Moscow Metro is one of the city’s greatest treasures. No question. Well, yes, lots of questions: is this only an expat view; is it a rational view, or is there an emotional edge to the judgement; how does the Metro make you FEEL?  Join me in my underground though hardly deep quest.

Rationally, dispassionately, the Metro is simply brilliant.  As near free as makes no difference (don’t test this claim in London), fast, reliable and frequent.  The scale of the walkways and connecting tunnels is awesome, as is the space in the carriages, thanks to Brunel’s advice to use the widest rail gauge possible.  Think: why is London’s beloved but over-cosy system always called ‘The Tube’?

Two dozen central stations are architectural and artistic wonders, and historical monuments. Choose your favourites – mine are eulogised later.  This already awesome system is still expanding:  new extensions, new lines, improved signage, bilingual announcements, smarter entrances, flash new trains, wifi, charging points and more.  A puzzle for you: are the English language announcements on the trains – men’s voices going into the centre, women’s going homeward, as in Russian – spoken by native English or Russian speakers? I listen at every station, every day, and still can’t decide. I think they are perfectly spoken Russians, but I cannot prove it.

It is obviously not perfect. An inexplicable proportion of Muscovites prefer the wasted aeons and cost of sitting in surface gridlock in their cars. I accept that the rush hour crush is only funny and sociologically fascinating when in a wry and relaxed mood. Knowing what one’s fellow travellers had for dinner last night (garlic), whether they smoke and how recently they enjoyed Russia’s national drink – not tea, the other one – are dubious pleasures. There can be boors in the doorways and elbows on the escalators. Being forced to share someone’s else’s muzak, amplified as it bounces around his (it always is a his) empty head is tedious. But for every slob, there are several young people instantly giving up their seats for the needy, and one can become a connoisseur of fur fairly fast.

So far, so logical. But is there more to it still?  Sometimes, I find my mood alters slightly according to where I am: The Metro can affect my emotional state. This is neither quantifiable, nor secure. I find I respond subtly differently depending which line I am on. Is this simply colour, or prejudice according to memory?  Try these.

The RED Line (No. 1)

Top status of course goes to the Red (No.1) Line. Historically THE line, from the moment Kaganov opened it, complaining that Moscow’s geology was counter-revolutionary.  Who can fail to love travelling along such a brilliant stretch of stations:  Falcon Park to Youth Pioneers’ Place to Beautiful Gate to Clean Ponds to Kuznets’ Bridge to Hunter’s Row (fame at last!) to Lenin’s Library to Kropotkin (my hero) Place to Culture Park to Sportland to Sparrow Hills to The University?  Brilliant.  Inspiring. (You will forgive me a couple of bits of tiny poetic licence, not least as being under Lubyanka can evoke an alternative emotion).

The great Brown Belt (5) of course links everything, and boasts the most ornate stations, despite using it usually being mere transit.  The Green Line (2) always lifts the spirits, as it links the two main airport train termini, as well as many popular evening social and cultural destinations, and enjoys the most beautiful station, and several runners up: Theatreland, Pushkin/Tverskaya and the access to the incomparable Tretyakov art gallery.  The two Blue Lines (3 & 4) are for business, in a hurry, better dressed, getting to a meeting or work. Slightly over self-important, especially near the flash new Moscow City bizzness district. But it is also the route to the best cardiac clinic (‘National Cardiology Medical Research Centre ’ NCMRC) and my favourite doctor, which gets my pulse racing.

The Orange (6) and Purple/Violet (7) lines bustle with workers, always purposeful, nobody frivolous, unless of course visiting the unique VDNKh. For me, the Yellow line (8) is special. A bit of a Cinderella, not properly appreciated, but for years linking flat and work, so a home from home. But if I am on the Silver (9) I feel a bit lost and second rate, not going anywhere useful. Ditto the Pale Green (10), only a holding journey, despite the agreeably trendy new station décor.  I don’t expect you to concur with these results, but do the lines affect you emotionally too?

Finally, my two favourite stations. Mayakovskaya, unquestionably. The light, the space, the complete absence of feeling underground, the sense of travelling business class, are sufficient reasons themselves. Add in the glorious ceiling mosaics and their vertigo-inducing skylight vistas and the sense of joy is complete. As a bonus, add the history, and its use as the war-cabinet meeting place.  My second choice is more personal – my ‘home’ station, Taganska on the Brown Line. More specifically, the glorious circular ante-chamber half way between surface and platform. An improbable and seemingly superfluous cavern. But its story is unique. This is a huge steel cylinder, built above and sunk in stages, with escalator arches cut in it later. Why? It sits next to one of Moscow’s most historic churches, St.Nicholas’, of course. Even during the worst years of atheistic repression, this treasure was too important to risk, but the sub soil was treacherous loose glacial gravel – Kaganov’s curse, again. So, to save the architecture, this monumental buttress was built and buried, and Taganska’s church and character enhanced. I love it.



Ross Hunter, March 2018 © RussiaKnowledge.com