New "D" line among planned changes to Prague metro system

Prague's metro system is often praised by visitors to the city; it is fast, reliable and - with three intersecting lines - unusually easy to navigate. Opened in May 1974, the capital's underground now carries around a million and a half passengers a day. It has been extended several times in recent years - but changes planned for the next half decade or so should be the most radical yet.

The C (red) line is being extended northwards, with three new stations (Letnany is the final stop) due to be opened in the middle of next year. But that advance will surely be overshadowed by the opening of a completely new line, an issue I discussed with Radovan Steiner, the Prague city councilor responsible for transportation.

"Yes, the fourth line of the Prague underground, the D or 'blue' line, has been in planning, or has been envisaged, for decades. We are now planning to, let's say, take some concrete steps towards starting up with this new line within two to three years time. So we can expect that before 2010 the construction of the D line should begin in the south of Prague.'

That will run roughly from Hlavni nadrazi, the main train station, south?

"That's right. That is the first section of the D line, from the main station southbound to Nusle, to Pankrac, and the southern settlements."

And this line will be quite futuristic, I've read.

"We are at the moment very seriously considering so-called light metro technology...For British listeners, that is something they are surely acquainted with - the Docklands Light Railway in London is one of the forms of light metro..."

These trains won't have drivers?

"That's correct, like the Docklands Light Railway, or the Meteor line of the Paris underground."

One thing that I'm sure will interest our listeners is whether the green [A] line will be extended to Prague Airport.

"That is the other major project we're working on right now. Following the completion of the C line in June 2008 we are planning to progress very fast on both the aforementioned projects - the new D line and the extension of the A line in the north-western direction, ultimately reaching - not in the first stage but in let's say a few years time - Prague Airport."

So roughly when will we be able to expect to take the metro to the airport?

"That's quite a difficult question. Because not everything depends on only on the construction work or the technological tenders - we are expecting much bigger support from the government in the years to come.

"It's necessary to say that the Czech Republic and Prague are unique in the world in the way that the state budget, or the government, supports - or doesn't support - the construction of Prague metro.

"Especially in the last few years subsidies or support from the side of the government dropped to a level of less than 10 percent. In other words, we're investing roughly 4 billion Czech crowns [185m USD] a year in the development and construction of Prague metro, and the government is only subsidising circa 10 percent - which is something that has to change."