End of the line for last Soviet carriages on Prague metro

Prague’s transport system is marking the end of an era on Thursday. The capital’s underground system is taking the last of its original Soviet-built carriages out of every day service on the metro network. The milestone event has sparked a mixture of nostalgia but also relief.

Fans of the Moscow-built 81-71 carriages had a last chance to travel on the rather box-like and spartan wagons on Thursday. The city’s transport bosses officially said goodbye a day earlier to the carriages that have carried millions of Czechs and foreigners for the last 31 years.

Radovan Šteiner is the Prague city councillor in charge of its transport network. He was asked for his feelings at the official farewell.

“I would say they are mixed feelings. On the one hand a nostalgic feeling – memories of childhood in Russian trains on the Prague metro. On the other hand a strong feeling of, let’s say, modern Prague. The 21st century Prague metro is now operating very modern new trains on the C line and modernised trains on the A and B lines.”

Photo: CTK
The carriages were first delivered to the then Soviet-bloc Czechoslovakia in January 1978. They started to replace a previous Soviet model, the ECS, which were not suited for the newly built A line. And the new rolling stock soon became the workhorse of the developing three line network.

Soviet-made carriages had been forced on the newly created Prague metro as a symbol of the fraternal relations between the two Socialist states even though alternative Czechoslovak carriage had been designed and could have easily been built.

Josef Němeček is currently Prague transport company’s general manager of rolling stock. He complains the Russian-built carriages developed a reputation as unreliable soon after they were first delivered. They demanded constant adaptations and there were annual arguments with the manufacturers about replacement parts and improvements. He adds that the Moscow manufacturers just could not understand why the Czechs were complaining.

Radovan Šteiner and The Prague Public Transit CEO Martin Dvořák (right), photo: CTK
Mr Němeček has no regrets now about the final farewell after already ending deliveries of Russian rolling stock in 1990 following the Velvet Revolution.

“After these political changes in the Czech Republic, I was director of the metro and I had the very, very pleasant situation that I went to Russia and finished delivery of these cars. It was the best day of my life.”

He witnessed the 81-71 carriages take a symbolic penultimate trip at Prague’s Kačerov depot, where they were introduced 31 years earlier.

In a certain sense the 81-71 carriages will still be in service after a fashion. Most of the 507 units originally transported 2,500 kilometres to Prague have been almost been completely rebuilt and transformed at Škoda’s Pilsen works. These hybrids - regarded it seems as more Czech than Russian - will continue in service for years to come. Some of the unchanged originals are off to a Czech museum and some will still be used for special historic metro trips.