London Underground Vs Moscow Metro

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 7 months ago

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London Underground Vs Moscow Metro

Londonist took a trip to Moscow; before long we were exploring the famous metro system.

Why did this place seem so familiar and yet so different to us? And did we like it more than the London Underground itself?

We decided to weigh up the pros and cons of each. Feel free to argue with us though.

We're not sure which Moscow station this is, because it probably isn't labelled

History

London's was, famously, the first underground system in the world, meaning all others took their lead from it.

With Moscow (built in the 1930s under the steely glare/moustache of Stalin), that influence permeates deeper. Not only is it believed the Russian word for station, voksal, derives from a simple misunderstanding regarding Vauxhall, but London Underground staff advised on the construction of Moscow's own subterranean transport network.

Interestingly, the Moscowesque barrel-vaulted ceiling of Gants Hill station is architect Charles Holden's own tribute to the Russians, and completed in 1947 after they'd helped us win the war. Still, at the very least, the tube directly influenced Moscow's first 13 underground stations.

Result: London wins

The Moscowesque Gants Hill station. Photo by Sean Batten in the Londonist Flickr pool

Trains

Just like London, Moscow's metro system has a historical hodgepodge of trains threading through it — everything from wheezing stock that's decades old and noisy as hell, to slinky, open-plan air-conditioned numbers (it was one of Moscow's newer trains that veered off the rails in 2014, killing scores).

The Russian capital's trains are noticeably roomier (more on size later), but as with all non-London metro systems, the lack of moquette leaves seats feeling naked and cold.

As for punctuality; you may think it's a negative thing to have no 'next train' countdown, that is, until you realise you don't really need them — during peak times, the average interval time between trains in Moscow is a mere 90 seconds, and outside these hours it doesn't feel like you're hanging around much longer (that might explain why the Moscow Metro has few ads — there's no time to read them).

Result: It's a draw

Price

Don't, alright? Just don't.

Result: Moscow wins

Cockfosters could do with one of these

Information and navigation

Non-Cyrillic comprehending members of the public are at a distinct disadvantage on the Moscow Metro, and you can soon find yourself in a right pickle trying to needle your way through the cavernous system.

And while we know London's underground network is about as bilingual as Del Boy, even if you were to take away the language factor, the general dearth of information on the Moscow Metro is conspicuous.

Some stations don't have their names written on the platform, maps in the stations are scarce, and you can forget about handy pocket maps altogether.

Something that sums up the sense of befuddlement: we had to catch a train to St Petersburg from what we were told was Oktyabrskaya; when we arrived at Oktyabrskaya though, we were informed the train actually went from a totally different station, which was on a ROAD called Oktyabrskaya, but itself called Leningradsky.

London Underground, we're proud to say, is a right jobsworth when it comes to signage, and info in general.

Result: London wins

TfL gives good signage. Photo by Edward Kimber in the Londonist Flickr pool

Décor

Stalin did some abysmal things, but while the people who built the Moscow Metro didn't exactly have a ball, you cannot deny that the fruits of their labours are almost overwhelming.

Many of the central stations are buried time capsules of grandiloquent communism — underground cathedrals flaunting stained glass (Novoslobodskaya); inundated with bronze statues (Ploshchad Revolyutsii, which was Stalin's personal favourite); studded with mosaics depicting feats of athleticism, science and general outs of doing communism (Mayakovskaya); Grecian marble friezes (Elektrozavodksaya); and bombastic vaulted ceilings that drip with chandeliers (any number of stations).

The London Underground is an altogether humbler beast; a rambling patchwork of eras and styles that have their own personality, yet fit in as a coherent part of the network (TfL has branding down to a tee).

And while the tube might not have Moscow's stately swagger, if you seek them out, you'll find find stained glass (Uxbridge), bronze statues (positioned outside many stations, including Stockwell and Liverpool Street), marble (Marble Arch, yes we cheated) and storytelling mosaics (Leytonstone), and chandeliers (Clapham South).

We're going out on a limb here: London's underground is more eclectic, and no way near as specious.

Result: London wins

Stained glass and a resolute looking passenger in the background, at Novoslobodskaya

Size

Both London and Moscow may be gargantuan metropolises, but only one of them has an underground system that feels it can comfortably accommodate its denizens.

Moscow's advantage is that its metro was built some 70 years later that London's, and constructed by a regime with ideas so massive, most of them ultimately imploded.

The vaulted metro stations, however, remain, and jostling for space on platforms, or letting three trains go by, doesn't appear to be a thing in Moscow.

Another thing; escalators here plunge DEEP (Park Pobedy has Europe's longest escalator, going up which is a bit like that scene from A Matter of Life and Death), so it's rare you'll see people barging past on the left, because the things are simply too long to run up/down.

Ultimately, more space means less stress, means improved passenger etiquette. Although who's overall better mannered out of Muscovites and Londoners, is another article altogether.

Result: Moscow wins

And this is just a SUNDAY (possibly). Photo by Doug in the Londonist Flickr pool

Final score

London: 3 Moscow: 2. Now tell us why we're wrong, in the comments below.

Last Updated 03 April 2017

Sergiu George

Brilliant piece

Mark

If you are still in St. Petersburg, check out the weird 'Horizontal Lift' that is Line 3. 1960s interpretation of platform-edge doors.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/...

Alex

London over moscow on decor? are you serious! Moscow metro was designed to be a palace below ground so people would feel better after their crappy lives above ground! hence the variety and the size ... and the artwork

Sam

I'm just back from Moscow too. Moscow stations are hands-down the best for décor. No missing tiles and crumbling walls and no garish digital adverts on the escalators. The lighting is exquisite and the stations are all unique and spotless. Also, although there is no countdown, the Moscow metro promises a wait of no longer than 3 minutes between trains and on each platform there is a count-up of how long they've inconvenienced you by making you wait for a train (over 2 minutes - shame on the Moscow metro!). The old rolling stock is crumbly but the newest displays your route and which station is next which would surely be a useful addition in London. Something negative that you don't mention is that at interchanges each line has its own individually named station (even though it is really just one big station-interchange) which can be very confusing. You don't exit the system and it's no different from changing line in a London interchange station except that you have to follow the signs for a different station name rather than just a different line/platform.

Juno

Moscow platforms had time countdowns 40 years ago - I remember being deeply impressed - but perhaps, as you say, they've decided they aren't actually needed now. So they were years ahead on that one.

Kanda Yuu

Very pro-London point of view here as I see, huh

It'd better be more objective but well, it's quite reasonable for a londonist, I guess

Kate

What a shame. Pro Londonist view about a decor.
Even though I hate Moscow metro for it's connections, no other metro in the world can win Moscow for decor.
Also a pro western attitude about a WWII "they helped us to win a war" is not doing Londonist a favour.

Ephim Shluger

Well done. I have used both London and Moscow underground systems. The impressive architecture of Moscow stations--both robust and excessively decorated in the stalinist style, as transportation goes it is actually a very efficient transportation mode, moving great number of passengers per day due to the high frequency of trains running all day long on an interconnected radial system. Underlying the exuberance of large scale bronze sculptures and lighting features, marble and stained glass lies the early soviet intent of giving to citizenry what was reserved only to the delight of noble classes in the imperial past. Hence, the great halls filled with art and luxury if it is only for a fleeting moments while going from point A to B... London's tube on the other hand was conceived for an emerging metropolis of an industrial society. Also with a complex interconnected lines, however due to the cost efficiency considerations, it's rationalist architecture is not as grandiose or thematic as it is in Moscow.

Anastasia

As a Muscovite myself, I agree on all the points above, including the decor. The central stations in Moscow do look pompous and unique, but travel a few stops away from the centre and you'll meet the ugliest and not the best kept stations in the world. It is efficient and gets you to where you want to be relatively quickly, yet the distance between stops is massive and some of the areas are simply not covered by the tube at all. Now, one might say that there's no tube in South London either. But London has a very developed public transport system, meaning the lack of tube is compensated by busses, trains, and overground. Which is not the case in Moscow. If you don't live close to the tube station, you are pretty much cut off from the efficient public transport system.

And lastly, as horrid as London underground might seem during the rush hour, people at least pretend to be polite and mindful of personal space, unlike the Moscow's grim faces and constant pushing with no excuses... I absolutely prefer the London tube, even despite the price.

Zaur

For the Decor Moscow wins, not London. London's warmhole-likey underground has nothing unique or artistic, on the other hand Moscow Metro is sometimes called "The underground museum". So the winner is Moscow. Which makes the result Moscow 3, London 2.

Mark

Typical British arrogance. Tube is rubbish. Expensive, unreliable (massive delays every other day), tiny (f.e. I need to bend my neck when stand next to the door), not very clean (left papers, coffee cups and banana skins almost in every carriage). Can you say so about Moscow?
I Agree with Anastasia people smile to you and say sorry and thank you, but on my morning commute I value much more that they care enough to move when blocking opening doors. People, how hard is this to move inside carriage or let others passed you?
Oh, yes .. and If you have not done your homework and did not check which station do you need to catch right train, don`t blame the map.

Acton Dave

Decor in London cannot be better than Moscow! Seriously! Moscow is far more impressive. Although like Anastasia says, you either live next to the Metro or you are stuffed, which means Moscow's horrendous road traffic.

Alex

First, you should learn history when it comes to stating who helped who in winning the war.
1) no zones in moscow underground. It's not exactly about the price. It allows you to travel across whole city without being restricted to certain zone. You don't need to take long journeys to avoid zone 1. That's an advantage.
2) peak hours - even crowded stations will never look as crowded as in London, because they are built for people, not for just trains to stop.
3) delays. There's no such thing in Moscow (as well as other russian cities with underground). Even in case of any emergency, or even a terrorist attack service resumes within a shortest period of time. Most of the time you wouldn't even know there was an emergency just minutes ago.
4) Why did you forget to mention tube strikes??? It's a reality of London Underground service. Every londoner knows that there will be 2-3 tube strikes lasting up to 3 working days every year. Causes biiiiig problems to everyone.
5) christmas service??? Tube runs their trains every day, all year round.

Dayana Gordina

'..after they'd helped us win the war" History lesson for a second maybe?

Alexander

Sorry, the article is rubbish.
1. "after they'd helped us win the war"... Was Stalingrad in the UK??? Or I misunderstood something in my history lessons? Why didn't you mention that the Metro was used as a shelter during the Nazi's bombing Moscow? It's a greatest part of its history, in my opinion.
2. Does London win in punctuality? Tell it someone else. I had to commute from Brixton to Tottenham Court Road every day and it could take from 20 to 40 min. Such an amazing difference, isn't it?
3. Decor. Just let me not comment it...
4. "Non-Cyrillic comprehending members of the public are at a distinct disadvantage on the Moscow Metro". Probably, British should start learn foreign languages? I haven't seen signs in other languages in the Tube. Moscow metro have started translating the navigation to English (at the line 7 at least, unfortunately, but it is going to be spread to all the Metro in few years). The Paris metro has announcement in different languages, by the way. Does the tube have?

Koko Peach

I thing for decor you should give Moscow a score and not London. I don't think that guided tours in the London Underground could be as exciting as Moscow's. Therefore 3 for Moscow and 2 for London

Daniel

Typical British snobbery . The article is awful

fahrender

I lived in London for two years. I lived in Moscow for seven years. I found the Moscow Metro to be quick and dependable. I never found myself stranded in a tunnel on a Moscow train (unlike in London), and as stated in the article the trains in Moscow are very punctual and frequent. The design and decor of the Moscow Metro stations are varied and, for the most part, worth a look. Some of them in fact are quite grand. I left Moscow in 1997 so I don't know how much the cost of a ticket is now but since it was about 20 kopecks then I would venture to guess that it remains considerably less (roughly 1/10th) the price of a London Tube ticket. I find it absurd to think that anyone would find the London Tube to be a better, more appealing system. However, jingoism aside, there is no accounting for taste.

Moritz Lesche

You did not just say that London wins in Decor, right? Please tell me I read that wrong... Stations in Moscow are unique and look like underground cathedrals, while London's underground stations are pretty much the same, except for maybe the tiles.

I love your webpage, but you come off as a little arrogant.

Punit Daga

Here's the deal though: Moscow has maps in every metro station (since you definitely wrote this after 2014, you should know) and along with the map, the is an info and SOS button for help if needed. Doesn't Moscow win there then?