Construction of the Moscow Metro began on October 3, 1931, and works under the ground has never been stopped since that day. The first metro line going from the station Sokolniki to the Station Park of Culture was opened on May 15, 1935. Veterans who took part in the construction works in the 1930s still remember a lot about the first days of the Moscow metro and can tell how it began.
A legend of the Moscow Underground, Konstantin Ratner, said that he came to the construction works in February 1934. He for the first time in his life got a rock breaker and had no notion how that worked. The young underground constructor had to master the instrument right in the course of the process. The early experience of building the metro tunnels gave wounds to the man’s hands.
At the dawn of the Moscow Metro there was no mechanical trip for constructors which made their work rather complicated. The workers had to use first ladders made of wood and then those made of iron to go down and upstairs. It was dark downstairs and people often stepped on each other’s heels and fell down each time they went downstairs or upstairs.
The 1930s was a really hard period for the underground construction. It is incredible that during such a large-scale construction people could use only picks and spades as rock breakers were not always available. People had to work in four shifts, six exhausting hours each. Another veteran of the underground construction says that sometimes he fell asleep right in a shower cabin when his shift was over as he was so tired and could not walk home.
It was decided that as soon as the Moscow Metro were ready Soviet leader Joseph Stalin would be the first passenger. A motorman who was given the honor of driving the leader spent several days training to drive a car with a stuffed doll resembling Stalin in it. The preliminary training was so good that the motorman drove a car with Stalin so smoothly and the leader thanked him personally after the premier trip in the underground.
It is quite natural that the grandiose construction of the Moscow Metro involved not only men but also women. Chairman of the Underground Construction Veterans’ Committee Valentina Shulgina says that when WWII broke out in 1941 the Moscow Metro Construction Works was evacuated to the Novosibirsk Region. At that time, the woman was just fifteen. The works was producing not cars but shells for the front during the evacuation. About 300 young girls were involved into the important work. In 1944, the enterprise was moved back to Moscow. “And since that time my entire life has been devoted to the Moscow underground,” the woman adds. It is quite natural that many of those males and females who met when building the Moscow Underground got married. So, the underground is not a mere employment for them, it is also the basis of their private life.
Many of those who built the first lines of the Moscow Metro still prefer the metro to other modes of the city transport. However, they are greatly disappointed with the present-day metro passengers as many of them treat the underground stations and cars disrespectfully. It is shocking but Russian underground passengers may actually scatter rubbish about platforms and cars, and spit here and there. Veterans of the underground construction cannot understand why people may act so when they have an opportunity of using the world’s best metro.
Today, the Moscow Metro consists of 12 lines, over 600 kilometers of tunnels. It has 171 stations and 15 depots for metro equipment. About nine million people use the underground every day.
Translated by Maria Gousseva