REPORTING FROM TEHRAN -- The biggest subway station in Iran opened this week in a wealthy northern district to government fanfare and rows of flowers, welcomed as a blessing by urbanites tired of traffic congestion.
Westerners may take subway systems for granted, but in Iran, the subway has been a dream long deferred. A French company started digging the tunnel a year before the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
When war erupted between Iran and Iraq in 1980, cooperation between French and Iranian companies was broken, delaying the work.
The project later resumed as a partnership between Iranian experts and Chinese companies. The Metro finally opened to passengers in 1999, with many lines still in the works. One Chinese executive recalled that each time a subway station is opened in Iran, it has been a dramatic celebration.
"It was like a festival for Iranians too. Almost all the top Iranian leaders attended the ceremonies. [Then-] President [Mohammad] Khatami was present twice. People just could not wait to throng into the stations," Shao Xiquan, chief of China International Trust and Investment Corp.'s Tehran headquarters, told the China Daily in 2004.
The newest station is the next step toward expanding the system. Iranian media reported that the station was about 160,000 square feet in size, equipped with 16 escalators for passengers to access trains more than 165 feet underground. It is expected to serve 100,000 passengers every day.
The Tajrish area where the station opened is a hip neighborhood for young Iranians wanting to see and be seen -- within the limits of the moral police. Nearby shops were excited by the prospect of new customers taking the subway to visit museums and tourist attractions in the area.
"The trading value of our shop has already increased," said Hasan Mohammadi, the owner of a grocery outside the station.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Emily Alpert in Los Angeles