Friday 40th anniversary of day first, three-carriage metros entered service in Prague

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

This coming Friday marks a significant anniversary in the history of Czech transportation as it will be exactly 40 years since Prague’s Metro went into operation. The first underground trains carried passengers between nine stations on one line – and consisted of only three carriages.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Prague’s Metro went into service on May 9 1974, though the idea had been discussed for many years previously.

The original plan had been for regular trams to run on ordinary tram lines in tunnels in the city centre and the projected intersecting routes were preserved when the government opted to build an underground rail network instead.

The first trains were considerably shorter than those we know today and significant track-side parts of station platforms were cordoned off by nothing but a red rope.

Pavel Fojtík is head of the Prague transport authority’s archive.

“The trains had three carriages. That was according to plan, because there was lower ridership. As ridership grew, so did the number of carriages, and the five-carriage trains we know today were introduced in 1979.”

Nusle Bridge,  photo: Jiří Němec
The first line, the C or red line, ran for nine stations from Florenc (then Sokolovská) to Kačerov, while its dozen trains had been imported from the Soviet Union.

“The purchase of those trains caused problems. Nusle Bridge had to be fitted with a special steel mesh to carry the weight, as the Soviet trains were about a third heavier than it was originally conceived for. The authorities had planned on Czech trains but their development and construction fell behind schedule and the government decided to buy tried and tested Soviet trains instead.”

Prague got an underground rail service long after some European metropolises. Indeed, Pavel Fojtík points out that the city hadn’t even considered introducing horse-drawn trams when the London Underground opened in the 1860s. But he cautions against comparing different networks.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
“They all originated in specific conditions, not only in transport or social terms, but also in terms of terrain. Prague is a hilly city, so it has specific requirements when it comes to designing metro lines. Paris, for instance, is very flat so they could build a lot of shallow lines, just below the surface. But in Prague a lot of sections had to be built using classic tunnelling methods.”

Other changes were also made to the Prague public transport system on May 9 1974. Naturally many tram and bus routes were altered to allow integration with the Metro. In addition, conductors were done away with and some trams that had been in operation since before World War II were retired.