She keeps you on the right lane

Escalator wardens ensure the safe travels of commuters but their roles are often overlooked. Photo: Denise Kopyciok
Long escalators are part of St. Petersburg metro system’s DNA. At the foot of most escalators, you’ll spot a babushka (Russian for old woman) watching commuters like a hawk.

Tatyana Solonicyna, who’s in her 50’s, has been working underground as an escalator attendant for the last nine months. She’s impeccably dressed in a navy-colored uniform with her hair pulled back in a sleek ponytail. She obviously takes her job seriously and respects it, with no qualms about the long shifts.

We have a fixed schedule, one shift lasts for 12 hours. We take a break every two hours. It’s impossible to work without any pauses with such a foot traffic.

“My head is not spinning and I am not dreaming on the job,” she adds. She makes sure that commuters move through the system in a safe and orderly manner. “Passengers are diverse. But sometimes they surprise me with their foolishness, like drunks, or mums who don’t look after their children or youngsters. There are also cases when passengers feel bad going down the escalator because of the changing pressure. I can stop the escalator if someone faints and call the medical aid for help,” she explains.

Stay on the right lane or risk public embarrassment when the escalator wardens call you out over the public announcement system. Source: Denise Kopyciok
Stay on the right lane or risk public embarrassment when the escalator wardens call you out over the public announcement system. Source: Denise Kopyciok

Her friends have asked her: Aren’t you scared of working underground? And to that, Tatyana says that it’s a common misperception that subway is scary and involves a lot of physical work.

“Newspapers used to write that Moscow metro had gigantic rats, but I think it’s just a fable. Here, you won’t see a single cockroach or even a midge,” she says. She also sees herself as an ambassador to tourists. Tatyana has visited Sweden, Finland and Italy and says that they have nothing on Russia’s metro system. “In Russia, the metro is incredibly beautiful and foreign tourists always take pictures of it with admiration. They are also stunned with its depth but we all know why the metro here is so deep. It’s under the Neva river,” she says.

There are about 150 to 180 escalator wardens in the entire system and only one of them is a man, according to a St. Petersburg Metro spokesperson.

Tatyana Solonicyna is permanently stationed at Tekhnologichesky Institut, which serves as an intersection between the Red and Blue Lines and is also headquarters for all staff of the St. Petersburg Metro. The station is decorated with motifs of Russian and Soviet science achievements but that’s not all. The station used to be home to four bas-relief sculptures of Joseph Stalin, Friedrich Engels, Aleksey Krylov and Alexey Favorsky. Today, the four sculptures can be found at the Metro Museum but may not be available for public viewing.


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