Thursday, September 27, 2007

When the train left the station

Beware of the wheels!
Unknown artist, 1926

Tramways were always popular in Russia. The first tramway line in Saint-Petersburg was built in 1894 – the rails were put on the ice of Neva River, so it was operational only in winter. Moscow received the first tramways in 1899, which replaced the omnibuses and horse-cars in no time. Tramway’s main rivals - cars and buses were expensive and unreliable, so until the WW1 tramways ruled the Russian cities.

After the Revolution tramways were still the main means of city transportation. The development of tramways networks was carried out at a fast pace – buses, although offering much more flexibility for the passengers, were far less affordable for the Soviet government. Above all the disadvantages of tramways were evident: the tracks occupied too much road space and the infrastructure was quite expensive to build and maintain. So the Government decided to solve the transportation problem once and for all: in 1935 the first Metro line was opened in Moscow. This was the beginning of the end of tramways: from now on they were moved from all the avenues to the suburbs and small streets. Today there are only a few lines still operational in Moscow.

The poster above says: “Beware of the wheels! In 1925 there were 200 people run over by tramways”. The deadly scull adds dramatic effect to the image. Nowadays the poster has new life, as “wheels” or “kolesa” also stand for drugs in tablets in slang, giving the whole artwork a new meaning. And bearing in mind the drug death statistics in Russia it is probably even more dreadful.