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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Metro Fire Snarls Rush-Hour Traffic

An electrical fire crippled the Moscow metro Monday morning, stranding a train between stations, sending one person to the hospital and tying up traffic above and below the streets of the capital.


At about 6:30 a.m., as the morning rush hour began, a high-voltage short circuit in the tunnel between the Prospekt Mira and Novoslobodskaya metro stations ignited a fire that consumed about 60 meters of cable, filling the tunnel and the Novoslobodskaya Station with thick black smoke.


A train in the tunnel was immediately stopped and passengers were escorted through the tunnel to the next station, where they were able to exit. Passengers standing on the platform at Novoslobodskaya were evacuated without incident.


More than 60 fire trucks were dispatched to the scene and the fire was under control within 30 minutes, Itar-Tass reported. There were no injuries due to smoke inhalation, city health officials said, because emergency ventilation shafts flushed the tunnel with fresh air.


Of the three people injured, one was a passenger and two were metro employees. Igor Nadezhdin, spokesman for the city health department, said they all suffered from panic attacks, causing one to be hospitalized.


Immediately after the fire broke out, traffic ground to a halt on the ring line, forcing passengers onto overburdened radial lines and extra trolleybuses placed on surface routes.


"What a smell. It's enough to poison you," said one passenger standing outside the Novoslobodskaya station.


Passengers make more than 9 million trips on the Moscow metro every day, and the ring line, which connects the system's nine other lines, is one of the metro's most heavily traveled routes.


Approximately three hours after the fire broke out, traffic was restored to all but four stations on the ring, according to a drivers' union official.


Shortly after 3 p.m., the entire line was re-opened, heading off a potentially disastrous afternoon rush hour.


The Moscow metro celebrated its 60th birthday last year, and as it ages, its safety depends almost entirely on prompt maintenance -- and prompt funding.


"There's plenty of money, they just don't give it to us," said Vladimir Gurov, vice president of the metro drivers' union. "In a living organism, there are always diseases, you just have to cure them on time. And the metro is the city's largest living organism."


Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov on Monday called for an overhaul of the metro's electrical systems, but said a lack of funds will delay that project. For the months of January and February alone, Luzhkov said, the city has a 1.8 trillion ruble shortfall.


While union and city officials stressed that such occurrences are rare in the metro, Monday's fire was far from an isolated incident, according to Itar-Tass.


Last month, a short circuit caused a small fire at the Okhotny Ryad station. In October, an oil leak from a metro car was ignited by a spark, causing a small fire at the Rechnoi Vokzal station. And in March of last year, smoke began pouring out from underneath a metro car between Sokolniki and Preobrazhenskaya Ploshchad stations. After the passengers were evacuated and the train was heading toward the depot, an axle froze under one car, causing a derailment.


"Our task it make sure this never happens again," said the union's Gurov.