It’s not the biggest underground railway system in the world, it isn’t the prettiest, and it certainly isn’t the most efficient. But for the hundreds of thousands of people who use the Bucharest metro every day (over 650,000 daily journeys are made, to be precise) it’s the easiest, quickest and – walking aside – cheapest way to and from work. The first section, from Semanatoarea (now Petrache Poenaru) to Timpuri Noi, was opened by none other than Nicolae Ceausescu himself, on November 16, 1979.
In the beginningThe idea of building an underground railway in Bucharest was apparently first mooted in the 1930s, with construction allegedly due to begin in 1941. Alas, the war intervened, and it would be another four decades before construction began, in the summer of 1976.
Once it did begin, however, construction preceded at breakneck speed: the first part of the metro opening just over three years later. No mean feat, especially given that the mix of sedimentary rock and soft clay on which Bucharest sits made tunneling an engineering nightmare.
That the first section to open should be Semanatoarea to Timpuri Noi says much about the original purpose of the metro. As visitors to Bucharest are amongst the first to notice, the metro isn’t all that useful for traveling around the city centre. Damn right it isn’t: that was not what it was built for.
Indeed, the Bucharest metro is one of the most revealing legacies of the Ceausescu regime. It was designed to get workers from the massive housing estates built during the 1960s and 1970s (Titan, Militari) to the factories where they worked, as quickly and efficiently as possible, using as few resources as possible.