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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Man Who Kept the Moscow Metro Moving

MTBolotov demonstrating how to drive a train in the Metro Museum, where he has worked since retiring from the metro in 1988.
The Moscow metro, with its palatial interiors and frequent-running trains, is a rare combination of architectural virtuosity and practical usefulness.

And for Valentin Bolotov, the director of the Metro Museum, the metro has been something rarer still: It has been a lifelong companion.

Construction began on the original subway when Bolotov was 4 years old, and it took just four years for the first 13 stations to be built.

When the metro opened in 1935, jubilant Muscovites marched in the streets with banners, and balloons flew in the sky above the city to celebrate one of the Soviet Union's proudest achievements.

Bolotov believes the builders were right to turn the subway into such a grandiose spectacle.

"The metro should be one of the great sights of a big capital," he says. "It shouldn't just be a way of getting from A to B. It should be a place that is open to everyone, a place where people can meet and relax."

Bolotov's earliest memories of the subway go back to World War II, when he, along with other Muscovites, sheltered in the metro from German air raids. Bolotov remembers the sense of solidarity and optimism that pervaded the metro-dwellers. "We had this shared faith that no matter what happened, even if Moscow fell, we would eventually be victorious," he says.

When the worst of the bombing was over, Bolotov went back to school and then worked in a factory for two years -- but in his free time, he traveled on the metro and dreamed of becoming a driver. "I liked to stand in the station watching the trains come and go," he said. "I was impressed by their power and noise."

In 1944, at age 17, Bolotov went to study at a training college for metro drivers. He earned his qualification in 1947 and spent 15 happy years working the lines. "It was a dream for me to work as a driver," he says, his face lighting up at the memories. "I was lucky: Work was also my hobby."

Work as a metro driver was never boring for Bolotov, and certainly not repetitive. "Each station has its own face, each train and stretch of tunnel its own special character and sound," he says. "And, of course, the passengers constantly change as well."

Bolotov worked seven-hour shifts as a driver, leaving him enough time to study for a degree in electromechanics.

After completing his degree in 1962, Bolotov was given a job as manager of a metro depot. He enjoyed the responsibilities the job entailed: checking that the drivers were doing their jobs properly and that the train carriages were all in good condition. He was also able to get a better look at how the metro worked and keep track of technological advances.

In 1980, Bolotov took over as boss of all the depots. Although he missed the hands-on nature of his work as a depot manager, he was able to exert more influence over the running of the network as a whole.

It was his job to identify which lines were not working properly -- and to find out why. Seventy percent of the time it was down to personnel problems, he says, though accidents and faulty lines were occasionally to blame.

Since retiring in 1988, Bolotov has maintained his connection with the metro through the museum. Located in Sportivnaya metro station, at Khamovnichesky Val, Building 36, the museum takes you on a leisurely ramble through the metro's history using a mixture of old photos, models of carriages and artifacts taken from stations, such as old ticket barriers and ticket machines.

Bolotov approves of the new stations being built, for example, on the Lyublinskaya line, although they are constructed on a more modest scale than their opulent predecessors.

"Simple designs can be just as powerful [as ornate designs]," Bolotov said. "The most important thing is that the new stations are comfortable and long-lasting."

Bolotov sees overcrowding as the biggest problem facing the metro today -- 9 million trips are taken daily -- and believes that the only solution is to build more track.

He points out that cities such as London and New York, which have around half Moscow's subway traffic, have almost twice Moscow's 264 kilometers of line.

Bolotov thinks the city must forge ahead with plans to build two new circle lines around Moscow's outskirts, scheduled for 2003-2030. Though he recognizes that it will be difficult to raise funds, he is convinced the new lines will offer future generations a better life.

If the lines are not built, he believes the metro will eventually clog up and grind to a standstill, with damaging consequences for everyone. "The metro is the city's heart," he says. "If the metro stops, the city will stop."