Central Asia used to be the backwater of the Soviet Union. But thanks to an infusion of oil money, the region is sprucing itself up, aiming to build cities that compete with the likes of Dubai.
The learning curve is a bit steep. But Kazakhstan's Almaty took a big step forward last month, when it opened a metro. It's only the second subway in Central Asia. The first opened in Tashkent in 1977.
The stations are glorious, marble affairs. Blue and white trains jet through on the city's only line (about five miles through the center city). More track is planned, but Almatyans may be waiting a while - this first stretch took 23 years to complete and cost around $1.1 billion.
The city began planning for a metro in the mid-1980s, after Almaty's population surpassed 1 million. The Soviet Union's central planning rules required construction of a metro to begin at that point. The project stalled when the U.S.S.R. collapsed, but began again in the late 1990s.
At the moment, no one is complaining about the wait. When the seven stations opened in December, the mood was described as "carnival-like." According to the Telegraph:
“It’s great. It’s beautiful, I am proud of Kazakhstan,” said Svetlana Dustanova, a 54-year-old businesswoman as she sat on one of the blue and white trains. “I’m so happy I could cry.”
Photo credit: Reuters