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I work at the Tbilisi railway station Yana Korbezashvili, JAMnews, Tbilisi

Tbilisi Central Station serves hundreds of people every day.

‘Tbilisi Central’ is written in large letters on a building surrounded by a ‘wild market’.

This fashionable name came about in 2010 after major repairs were made to the building and a shopping center was opened inside the railway station. Before that, it was simply called ‘Station’.

The original building of the Tbilisi railway station, built in 1872. The first train to leave here went to Poti.

In 1952, Stalin’s empire constructed a building with large columns, a dome, and a spire. The works of photographer Shahvalad Aivazov are kept in the archives of the National Library.

Construction of a new building began under the communist regime in 1982. By 1991, when the outer facade was to be finished, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and independent Georgia was not up to the task in its first years of existence.

In the dark and muddy 1990s this part of Tbilisi became the main artery of life. Refugees from Abkhazia found shelter away from the cold in its corridors and rooms with broken windows; the trains from Western Georgia brought people with light bags to the capital. They sold mandarins and hazelnuts, fruits and vegetables right here near the station in order to earn a few cents to feed their families. So, the station and adjoining territory turned into an endless market, a post-card of 1990s Georgia.

The last train arrived at the Borjomi train station on 15 February 2010. After it was discontinued, the platform was immediately occupied by merchants. The only reminder that a station once existed there are the tracks left behind, around which another market was formed. Some merchants probably don’t even notice that the Georgian-Russian inscription ‘Borjomi Station’ still adorns the entrance.

The lobby of today’s renovated Central Station. In the 1990s, such bags were called ‘refugee bags’. They are cheap, bulk bags meant for carrying a variety of things. Judging by the number of them, they are still useful today.

I work at the Tbilisi railway station

People working at the Tbilisi railway station remember the 1990s and even before.

Vasil Eliashvili, 47, engineer.

“I came to the railway at the age of 14 and helped the engineers. I began to drive trains myself in 2000. I drove a new, two-story train for the first time last year. I work the Tbilisi-Batumi route and know every bush along it. I get three hours of rest after I arrive in Batumi, then it’s back to Tbilisi. In the 1990s it sometimes took up to three days to complete the journey; the voltage would drop, and the train would stop somewhere along the route, freezing with the passengers in the woods somewhere, and no one knew when it would be possible to start moving again. That’s how it was at the time. Everywhere you looked, people were armed. I, myself only travel by train as an engineer. Actually, I have no time for traveling, I’m always at work. Trains on the Tbilisi-Batumi route run twice a day, and two more routes are added in the summer.”

Passengers for the Tbilisi-Nikozi train which departs at 06:20.
Anna Ramishvili, 44, conductor.

"“I’ve worked here for 13 years. I worked as a conductor for 12 years, and this year I became the head conductor. The sounds of trains have been in my ears all my life. I even get to work by train, by metro at least.

I live in Ortachala. Public transport is a mess here, you have to change several times to get to your destination. Sometimes you have to take a taxi to avoid being late. My work consists of traveling by train from city to city. Every weekday I travel from Tbilisi to Batumi and return on the same day. There have been occasions where I’ve had to stay in Batumi though. But I love that city, and I don’t mind such delays. I’m happy to have the chance to take a walk about the city.”

The conductor signals the engineer with a flashlight: everything is in order, it’s safe to move.
Marie Intskirveli, cashier.

“I’ve worked here for 10 years. My job has given me such luxuries like the opportunity to collect autographs of celebrities. I ask all famous people who buy tickets from me to sign one. This year, I added the autograph of Nino Katamadze to my collection. The mundane part of my job is from 9am until 9pm. The first half-hour break begins at 10:45, usually I go out to eat. During the second, longer break, I run to school to take my child home. There’s plenty of time to get back. The school is in Sanzon, so I take the metro to Grmagele and back day after day.”

Lado Zambahidze, 32, luggage room security guard.

“I’ve already been working here for five years. It costs 2 lari to leave your baggage here. About 20 passengers per day utilize the storage room. Once a passenger left their luggage and disappeared, so their bag stayed here for a year. There have been other cases when passengers simply forgot about their stored items. Some people ask for free storage, saying they were just released from prison and have no money. What can you say in such a situation? Let’s meet halfway?”

Simon Bitsadze, 59, engineer.

“We were stopped in Borjomi. I was standing by the train when a passenger approached and asked which direction we were heading and just to be more careful, because there was no other way to the other side.”

A child on the Tbilisi-Gardabani train.
Guram Imnadze, 80, former railway worker.

“I often come to see my old friend - the railway. I started working in the Department of Provision of South Caucasian Workers in the 1970s. Goods were transported; times were good, I had many friends. Then, everything collapsed. I worked until 1990 and then there was nothing to transport, the goods had disappeared.”

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