A fire in a Moscow subway tunnel led authorities to evacuate about 4,500 people from stations by the Kremlin, choking traffic in the center of the Russian capital.
At least 66 people sought medical assistance and 13 were hospitalized, according to the Emergencies Ministry. Smoke from a power-cable fire clouded the Okhotny Ryad and Lenin Library metro stations at 8:20 a.m. local time, halting trains for almost six hours.
Europe’s busiest subway network opened by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in 1935 and carries more than 8 million people a day on average through 188 stations, according to the Moscow Metropolitan’s website. The city is planning $55 billion of investment in roads, metro lines and infrastructure to boost use of public transportation by 45 percent and ease traffic, Sergey Cheremin, Moscow government minister for external economic and international relations, said in February.
“We’re on our way, we’ve been on our way for three hours already,” Ekaterina Goryacheva, 24, a logistics specialist, said after the incident. She was at the Oktyabrskaya metro stop, located on a different line from where the fire occurred. “Nothing’s working, there’s no information, nothing.”
Moscow last year announced a plan to sell shares of its subway system, one of the world’s busiest, to attract capital for development through 2025.
Crowds formed at bus stops as passengers struggled to get on the overflowing vehicles. Thirty buses and six trolleybuses were added to regular routes, the Moscow government’s transport department said on its website. Psychologists and rescue workers were helping passengers, the Emergencies Ministry said.
Transportation was suspended along the Sokolnicheskaya metro line from Park Kultury to Komsomolskaya, which serves three of the city’s biggest train stations. Service started again after 12 p.m. It was halted again within 40 minutes when smoke was detected once more, before resuming at 2:10 p.m..
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, a former chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin, made easing transportation and uprooting corruption his focus after taking over in 2010 from Yury Luzhkov, who had governed the city of 11.5 million for 18 years.
Sobyanin, 54, resigned today, two years before his term ended, to hold the city’s first direct election in a decade, capitalizing on his popularity for a new five-year term. He would win 46 percent of the vote if elections were held this spring, according to a poll of 3,600 Muscovites conducted April 3-22 by the Public Opinion Foundation. Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who said last year that he would like to run for mayor, would be second with 9 percent, it said.
Moscow was the center of anti-government street protests in 2011 over perceived parliamentary elections and in 2012 after Vladimir Putin’s re-election for a third term as president. The last mayoral election in the capital was in 2003 before legislation was changed the following year, giving the president the right to appoint regional leaders.
After the protests, the capital is seen by the Kremlin as a city that “cannot be trusted,” Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser, said by phone.