Clare Nuttall in Almaty -
Almaty's metro has become known locally as the "golden metro" because of the amount of money sunk into the project over the last two decades. After many false starts, trains are now being tested, and the latest date for its opening is December 2011.
Construction of the metro started back in 1988, before the break-up of the Soviet Union. Construction continued with stops and starts through the cash-strapped 1990s and the pace was stepped up a little in the 2000s. Despite a push by the government and the Almaty city authorities to get the metro ready by February for when Kazakhstan hosted the Asian Winter Games, the deadline was missed yet again.
One western engineer, examining the metro, said it looked like "a museum of technologies of the last 20 years." To the layperson, it is more like a miniature version of the Moscow metro, but with each station themed to illustrate a different aspect of Kazakhstan.
The launch is now scheduled for December 16, the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence. The first line will have seven stations, and seven trains supplied by South Korea's Hyundai will initially operate on the line, with a capacity of around 300,000 passengers a day.
Speaking during an inspection of the second section of the first line, Almaty akim (mayor) Akhmetzhan Yessimov said that the government was providing an additional KZT2.5bn ($17m) of funding for construction of the metro's second line.
The city authorities hope that when the metro opens it will ease congestion on Almaty's increasingly traffic-clogged streets and reduce air pollution. In a city originally designed for a million people, there's now double that number and more than 500,000 registered vehicles, with an additional 200,000 or more cars commuting daily to the city. "Almaty is Kazakhstan's largest metropolis, but as the city grows so does the load on the environment. More than 80% of emissions in Almaty are from transport. The launch of the metro will help to solve this problem," Yessimov told a recent environmental forum in Almaty.
In addition to the metro, there are also plans to convert both buses and private cars to environmentally friendly compressed natural gas (CNG), in a bid to improve air quality. Some 50 CNG buses have already been purchased, and the city authorities are planning to increase that number to 200. Almaty authorities plan to give preferences to companies operating CNG buses and is setting up a micro-crediting company that will offer loans to citizens willing to convert their cars to CNG. "We would like to switch the entire Almaty transport system to CNG," Yessimov said.
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