Prague Metro marks 55 years since construction began

Photo: archive of Prague Transport Company

This week marks exactly 55 years since the construction of Prague’s Metro began, although at the time, the plan envisaged just building a tunnel for an underground tramway. The Metro went into service eight years later, in May 1974. The first underground train with three carriages ran between nine stations on line C.

When construction works started on January 7, 1966, the workers had no idea that they were laying foundations for the city’s future Metro system. The original plan envisaged regular trams running on ordinary tram lines. It was only during the construction process that the government decided to build an underground rail network instead.

Photo:  Lenka Žižková,  Radio Prague International

Although the Prague Metro system is relatively young, the idea of underground transport in Prague dates back many years. The first proposal to build a sub-surface railway was made by the entrepreneur Ladsilav Rott in 1898. Another proposal came in 1926 from the electrical engineer Vladimír List, who was the first to use the term ‘Metro’:

“Together with my colleague, Bohumil Belada, we submitted a project for an underground tram system to the Prague authorities. Although we were looked upon as fantasists, the Electric Enterprises announced a competition in April 1931 for the solution of Prague’s transport problems.”

However, the project was delayed, partly due to the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1966, the construction of a tunnel for trams to run between the city’s Main Train Station to Pankrác was finally launched.

Pavel Fojtík is a historian for the Prague Transport Company:

Prague metro,  photo: archive of Radio Prague International

“The system was devised for T3 type trams, which still run on the streets of Prague today. The city authorities were deciding between two possible solutions: a subway or sub-surface tramway. They came to the conclusion that the tramway would be more suitable for the city.”

A year later, however, the government decided to build the Metro as we know it today, partly to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. However, the remains of the original plan for sub-surface trams can be seen in some of the metro stations, says Mr Fojtík:

“The remains of the original project can be seen especially at the Hlavní nádraží station. Under the original plan, the tunnels of the underground tram were supposed to be double-track with side platforms.

Nusle Bridge,  photo: Jiří Němec

“While the project documentation and the whole concept of public transport had suddenly changed, the construction process was already in process and couldn’t be stopped.”

After several delays, caused mainly by the construction of the Nusle Bridge, which had to be fitted with special steel mesh to carry the heavy trains imported from the Soviet Union, the Prague metro finally went into operation in 1974.

The first ‘C’ or red line ran between nine stations from Florenc (then Sokolovská) to Kačerov. Today, the Prague Metro comprises three lines, serving 61 stations and consists of a transit network of 65.2 kilometres. The original plans already envisaged four routes, including line ‘D’, which is currently under construction.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Adam Bejšovec
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