Insights into St Petersburg

The Birth of the “Blue Express”

“In 1861, the world’s first underground railway was opened in London, while in Russia they abolished serfdom”. So said popular television commercial, aired in ‘bandit’ Russia during the 1990s. In fact, the Metropolitan railway in London was opened in 1863, and at the time was not at all comfortable or efficient, with the first passengers leaving ‘the tube’ covered with soot from the locomotives. The first subway in the US, the New York City subway, was not an underground system, but an elevated railroad that was extremely noisy and shook the nearby buildings. Despite numerous problems of the first underground railroads, it was clear that this mode of transport had a great future. The young state of the workers and peasants was destined to build the world’s most beautiful and efficient rapid transit system. Who else, if not workers, needed to get to factories and plants quickly and comfortably?

The Leningrad Metro opened in November 1955, 20 years after the first line of the Moscow Metro was put into operation. In terms of decoration and size, the underground network of Russia’s old imperial capital is in the shadow of its elder brother, but building a metro in Leningrad posed a bigger challenge, and enormous efforts were spent to complete the construction. Never before had a tunnelling on such a scale been carried out through the nearly impenetrable clay layer of the Cambrian period. This greenish grey foliated clay, which once was the bottom of the prehistoric sea, is as hard as rock and puts extreme pressure on the body of the tunnel. One should also remember that the metro was opened only a decade after the war. Leningrad had just survived the deadly Nazi siege, which brought tremendous destruction to that once flourishing city, and the building of the subway coincided with the re-building of the ruined housing and infrastructure. It was an urgent task to provide the city with enough trams, to say nothing of underground trains. Moreover, the rapid transit system was supposed to become not only a means of transport, but also a glorious monument to the Soviet victory in the war, a palace with a whole suite of rooms dedicated to the Soviet people.

«Our Soviet metro exerts a wholesome influence on those who use its services. The majestic architecture of the metro stations, their impeccable cleanliness, the efficient performance of the maintenance personnel and the whole atmosphere prevailing in the metro make a man stand up straight and behave himself. The passengers of our metro are proud of their country’s achievements and pay great respect to the work of the metro-builders.»
From Kliment Voroshilov’s speech
on the awarding the of builders of the Leningrad metro
The specifications used for building tunnels in Leningrad were different from those used in Moscow: “five and a half instead of six metres” and “tubing ring with variable rigidity instead of an ordinary one”. According to the first specification, the diameter of the tunnel was reduced by half a metre (about 19 inches) to five and a half metres (18 feet), which enabled expenses to be cut down by using fewer cast-iron tubing rings, which are a crucial element of the tunnel vault, because they protect the tunnel from landslip. According to the second specification, the rings were made stronger in the upper part, and less strong in the lower part. Such rings are more resistant to the pressure of the clay, because the force on the tunnel is higher in the upper part of it.

The first line of the underground has connected four of the five major railway hubs of Leningrad - Baltiysky, Varshavsky, Vitebsky and Moskovsky railway terminals - with the industrial area of the Kirovsky Plant. The classical design of Moscow’s Mayakovskaya station, built in 1938, served as a model for Baltiyskaya and Technological Institute stations. In both stations columns are used to support the vault, which makes the stations look spacious and light. Like the Alexandrian Column at the city’s famous Palace Square, the columns have no attachment to the bases, which are smooth and made of steel. The remaining stations, except for Avtovo, have massive pylons to support the vault.

The Leningrad Metro has its own design for the escalators. In Moscow, the escalators had two bearing points - at the surface and below the surface, while in Leningrad, dubbed “the city in the swamp”, there was only one point - at the bottom. The ‘Red Metalist’ Plant made a flexible escalator, which consisted of several sections. If the ground under the bearing subsided, the escalator would bend like a snake following the shift of the ground.

“In the thickness of Cambrian clay high-powered tunnel-boring machines are digging out new tracks for the blue express,” said a chief engineer of the Leningrad Metro in 1956, referring to the new lines of the underground and the colour of the train that would run on it.

Vladimir Ivanov






20th Century aArchitecture
“The St Petersburg metro: palaces for the people”
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