Tashkent residents are very proud of their metro system. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in being one of the most beautiful in the world. When it opened in 1977, the Tashkent Metro was the 7th in the USSR, and the first in Central Asia. The latter held true until the opening of the Almaty Metro in 2011.
Planning for Tashkent’s iconic metro system began shortly after the 1966 Tashkent Earthquake. The destruction of the old town gave Soviet planners a blank slate to create a socialist workers’ paradise, complete with modern concrete block apartment buildings, and a state-of-the-art underground mass transit system. In recognition of the area’s seismic risk, engineers planned a shallow system which is mostly just below street level. The deepest section is only 25 meters below the surface, and the whole system is purported to be capable of withstanding a magnitude 9.0 earthquake.
The total system currently consists of 3 lines with 29 stations and a total network length of 36.2 kilometers. The most recent statistics show solid ridership numbers, with nearly 150 thousand people using the metro every day, totaling 62 million passengers per year. Construction on the first line took place during the rebuilding of the city in 1968, and continued through 1977. The Chilanzar (red) line was opened on the 6th of November 1977 with 9 stations and a length of 12.2 kilometers, with 3 additional stations opening in 1980, bringing the total length to 15.5 kilometers. The Uzbekistan (blue) line was opened in stages between 1984 and 1991 linking the northwestern area of the city to the Chilinzar Line, the “Tashkent” station at the Tashkent Train Station, and the city’s southeast suburbs. The Yunusabad (green) Line was opened in 2001 linking the northern Yunusabad district to the city center.
Due to the layout of the system, no single hub station allows passengers to connect to all three lines from any one station. Transfer points operate as two unique stations, with a corridor linking them together, each maintaining a separate name. This can be confusing to visitors at first, but makes sense after a while.
Another problem with the system is the lack of access for residents of outlying areas of the sprawling Uzbek capital city. As the bus and metro systems have no interchangeable fare scheme, transferring from one mode to another is inconvenient and impractical. Despite a metro fare only costing 1,200 сўм ($0.15), commuters find it easier to simply hail a private taxi for about a dollar, or use a fixed route marshrutka for 1,200 сўм, and be delivered directly to their final destination. For those who can afford one, a car, most likely a Chevrolet, is by far the preferred personal commuting method.
Trams were another transport option, but these were unceremoniously removed in 2016 to make room for more cars. Most commuters choose to travel by taxi or car simply because the metro doesn’t go where they want to go. Wait times on the Green line can last up to 10 minutes, while the Red and Blue lines are a more reasonable 4 or 5 minutes, but this pales in comparison to minimum 90 second intervals on the Moscow metro, which was of course the flagship system of the Soviet Union.
Ridership in Tashkent is down from 450,000 per day in the early 2000s to less than 150,000 today, but that hasn’t stopped the city from planning further expansion of its beloved metro system. Navigating it can therefore be an exercise in patience, especially if you hear the train pulling away as you push through the turnstiles. Be prepared for a lengthy wait, but at least the station decor is nice to admire.
The main distinguishing characteristic of the Tashkent Metro which makes it worth riding are the individually themed and decorated stations, most clad in marble, each with its own design corresponding to the original Soviet station names. The most spectacular decorations can be found on the two older lines, Chilanzar and Uzbekistan. With distinctive monumental chandeliers, mosaics, and Uzbek architectural motifs, each station is a work of art, and each is worth visiting as a separate destination just to appreciate no mater what your final destination on the line. The 1,200 сўм price of admission may just be the cheapest art gallery ticket you’ll ever buy.
Despite the beauty of these stations, which are an architecture photographer’s dream come true, until very recently, photography was strictly off limits throughout the entire Tashkent Metro. During the cold war the underground stations also doubled as bomb shelters, and were therefore considered military installations of strategic importance.
After Uzbek independence in 1991, these old rules stayed in place due to continued security concerns by the government. Police are still stationed at all entrances, on platforms, and will check all trains thoroughly at the end of the lines. Bag checks are mandatory, passport checks frequent, and handheld metal detectors probe all shopping bags. The restrictions on photography were only just lifted this year (2018), so tourists supposedly now have undisturbed access to the entire system. Recent trip reports confirm this, with a few exceptions by overly cautious platform attendants slow to warm to the new less draconian policy.
Construction is once again underway on the Tashkent Metro, with the biggest planned expansion in its history breaking ground in 2017. The newest line, Yunusabad, seemed forever stuck in plans for potential extension, maps for years showing new stations in the northern suburbs, and to the airport in the south. Instead, authorities shelved these plans in 2010, but never updated the maps, and are instead building two brand new lines which were announced in 2016. The Sergelskaya line will continue where the Chilanzar left off, expanding west to east along the southern edge of the city. A new ring line is also in the works that will double the number of stations on the system, and extend it by 52 kilometers. These extensions are already making progress, and should be open by 2021.
If both your house and place of employment happen to be near metro stops, the Tashkent Metro is a great option to cheaply get from point A to point B in nostalgic Soviet style. As a tourist, the ornate stations are must see. Even with draconian security measures still in place, any amount of time spent exploring Tashkent is incomplete without a ride on the metro.