I found myself telling people who have never been to Europe to just
walk down to Tehran's subway stations
By Ben Bagheri
December 28, 2001
On a recent trip to Iran, I was introduced to Tehran's newest public transportation
amenity. The metro is a decidedly higher level of urban experience. From a tourist's
point of view, it is a great experience and I recommend it to anyone who travels
to the capital.
For an average Tehrani, living in a large megapolis had meant lots of wasted time,
smog inhalation and unpleasant social experiences in an outdated, faulty public transportation
infrastructure. The new subway system I saw a few months ago, if expanded and maintained
properly, is a much needed relief. See video
Seeing and riding the metro for the first time is quite pleasant. It has a European
feel (as Iranians say "kheylee khaarejee-ye!"). The brightly-colored orange
chairs, placed in groups of 3, 4 or 5 against station walls are perhaps one of the
first impressions that make the metro experience feel so "foreign", in
spite of an attempt to use Persian design themes and architecture throughout the
The bright chairs seem loud and out of character, compared to other public venues
that have a much more conservative look with dark gray, black and brown colors that
have marked the Islamic Republic era.
Other factors for the foreign feel are smells and sounds. I have ridden the subway
systems in many European and American cities where that same slight smoky haze and
distinct smell exists -- even in systems where cars are electric, which makes you
wonder where the smoke comes from!
The squeaky, klanky noise made by the trains as they near the station, or depart,
makes for another familiar and universal identifying factor.
So, I found myself telling people who have never been to Europe to just walk down
to one of these subway stations. You can be sure that down there you're seeing and
experiencing what a Londoner , Washingtonian or Moscovite experiences. Although yours
truly believes the Tehran metro stations and trains are much cleaner and spacious
than the London underground and maybe even better than the Paris metro.
Another impression is the cleanliness of it all. In stark contrast with the rest
of Iran's dusty, unorganized, old and tired-looking capital, Tehran metro is still
crisply clean and brand new. It runs on time, and apparently with very few technical
The stations are very well designed, spacious, well lit and well maintained. At 500
rials (less than 10 cents) the single-ride ticket is quite a bargain by any measure.
Each station is designed and decorated in a different theme suing generous amounts
of expensive marble, with wall sized murals as main artistic feature of each station,
seen from the transiting trains [Metro
murals]. All stations, as well as all trains, are air-conditioned and quite comfortable,
offering a refuge from the hot Tehran summer up on the street level.
The underground portion of the metro consists of two
lines, Red and Blue. The Red Line stretches north-south, currently connecting the
trendy Mirdamad Street in near north Tehran down to Ali Abad, which is a predominently
low income suburb in far south of Tehran. This line will soon extend its southern
reach beyond Aliabad, all the way to Ayatollah Khomeini's tomb, next to Behesht-e
The Blue line stretches east-west, connecting Imam Hossein Square (formerly Fawzieh)
in east Tehran to Azadi Monument (formerly Shahyad).
These two subway lines cross at the main station meet at Imam Khomeini Square (formerly
Toopkhaneh). The third stretch of new rail service works above ground and connects
a station north of Azadi Monument to the city of Karaj, located some 60 miles west
The Karaj trains use double decker cars and cost more than inner city subway service
One deficiency I noticed was that very few stations have working escalators. Worst
are stations where escalators are to be installed have been roped off, with future
installation dates posted. So I would imagine that for now, the elderly and certainly
the handicapped would have a hard time using the metro. All stations are due to have
operating escalators by mid-2003.
One day I was waiting for a southbound train in the Haft-e Tir (25 Shahrivar) station
when I noticed a man walking to one end of the platform. He picked up a piece of
trash and walked back several steps to throw it in a trash can. This is quite out
of character for a Tehrani to care so much about keeping a public place clean!
I was pleasantly surprised that people knew the metro
system is something special, to be protected and preserved! Maybe it's just the squeaky-clean
feel and the convenience of using the subway for the first few times. Or maybe, as
suspected by the cynical Iranian in me, it's the realization of the price Iranians
have paid for their first subway experience; but people seem to be using their first
subway system with an uncharacteristic amount of civility and gentleness.
After all, before its final opening to anxious Tehranis, the Tehran Metro went through
several decades of construction, deadly accidents, contract after contract with numerous
foreign technology partners, as well as broken promises by politicians about opening
dates. The 8-year Iran-Iraq war was a major factor in pushing the metro down in the
government's priorities, resulting in a much-delayed debut in 2001!
There are also rumors of enormous financial corruption in metro appropriations over
the decades. But however funded and built, the metro is an absolute necessity for
Tehran. The government must put the future expansion of this system at the highest