New metro system opens in Almaty, Kazakhstan
Thousands of people in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, boarded underground trains on their new metro system for the first time on Friday, an experience they have waited 23 years to savour.
By James Kilner, Almaty
02 Dec 2011
It was a surreal first ride and not one Londoners would recognise.
Rather than the dirt and the oppressive grind of the London Underground, the seven marble-floored stations of Almay’s metro were spotless. There was also a carnival atmosphere. People grinned, took photos and joyfully rode from station to station.
“It’s great. It’s beautiful, I am proud of Kazakhstan,” said Svetlana Dustanova, a 54-year-old businesswoman as she sat on one of the blue and white trains.
“I’m so happy I could cry.”
Almaty’s metro system consists of just one line running about five miles across the centre of the city. A single journey costs around 30p. By comparison the London Underground has 250 miles of tracks and 275 stations.
Not that anybody riding on the line on Friday really cared that it had a limited range.
“It may be short but it is comfortable,” said a middle-aged woman wearing a full length fur coat.
Almaty’s residents have had to endure a long wait for their metro.
In the mid-1980s the population of Almaty, then the capital of Soviet Kazakhstan, surpassed 1 million. Under the Soviet Union’s central planning rules this triggered the construction of a metro which the authorities began in 1988.
But in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and an impoverished Kazakhstan reluctantly accepted independence. Construction of the metro was put on hold.
Twenty years later Kazakhstan is proudly independent, has a new capital, is wealthy from energy exports and can now afford the estimated ?700 million to finally finish building the metro in Almaty, Central Asia’s financial centre.
And it is needed. This surge in wealth has also triggered a huge rise in the number of cars in Almaty, clogging up its streets and causing pollution.
A second line is planned, although it is not clear when this will open.
“It could take another 23 years,” Kairat Toizhanov, 18, said with a laugh as he stood with a group of friend on a train.