Sunday, July 5, 2015

BLACKPOOL Tram


 Flexity near Manchester Square south of the Tower

Revisiting several urban rail systems in England's North West in preparation for my forthcoming 'Tram Atlas Britain & Ireland' I returned to Blackpool on Saturday, 4 July 2015, approximately 10 years after my first visit. This popular seaside resort hasn't changed much, but its tram line has completely.
For many decades, this coastal line had been operating exclusively with heritage tram cars, though offering a service not only designed for visitors, but also for the locals. A few years ago, they decided to upgrade the line and create a modern tram line as part of an urban transport system, and make the heritage service a separate business.

Two Flexitys at the southern terminus Starr Gate

The result of the line that reopened in 2012 is quite nice, and on this mostly sunny summer Saturday it was quite busy. When it gets quite busy, I wonder whether the onboard conductors are the most efficient way to sell tickets. It is certainly nice, especially for visitors, to buy a ticket from a person rather than a machine, but when the trams get very crowded, it is difficult for the conductors to keep control. The whole procedure reminded me of those female conductors I saw on Russian trams. There are mostly two conductors, so each one has one half of the vehicle to check, and in fact on each of my numerous boardings, except one, they came up and checked my day pass, which I bought from the first conductor I met: a paper ticket for 4.50 GBP which would also allow me to use the city buses. This shabby paper ticket shows a huge logo, when for the frequent ticket checks it would be more helpful to have the day of validity printed in large letters instead! Anyway, quite a good deal for people like us. For single rides they have fares according to distance, and since the line has been upgraded the stops are clearly visible and named, although the company still doesn't have a real map on their website, just a list of names (and for many years with an error: Bispham Sandhurst Avenue are two different stops!). So, while this fare integration with the bus service is very welcomed, I cannot understand why bus #1 serves exactly the same route as the tram? Is it for those locals who do not want to mix with the tourists? Is it because they don't trust the reliability of the trams (I have read that there have been problems...). Is the bus faster?

Flexity at the northern terminus Fleetwood Ferry

During upgrading all the stops were equipped with proper platforms and shelters, there is also an information board including timetables etc. Unfortunately those old shelters have disappeared. But what is surely missing for a state-of-the-art tramway are the electronic next-tram indicators. Especially along the section between North Pier and South Pier, many people hop on the tram for a relatively short ride, and in this case, a real-time indicator would be useful, because often people will rather walk instead of waiting too long, particularly when there is a delay. Normally, the trams run every 10 minutes.

Tram leaving the loop at the northern terminus Fleetwood Ferry

Fenced-off section between Little Bispham and Anchorsholme Lane

The ride as such is rather slow, mostly due to the fact that the trams run along the Promenade and people cross the tracks anywhere, but even on the northern, partly even fenced-off section, the trams are not too fast. On the paved Promenade section with grooved rails, the wheels can be rather loud. Luckily, the line doesn't have any significant curves, just the one south of the Anchorsholme Lane stop seemed a bit tight and noisy. The only street-running section at the northern end in Fleetwood is passed at reasonable speed.

Flexity - spacious interior, 2.65 m wide

I congratulate Blackpool for their decision to go for 2.65 m wide Flexity trams, they are much more comfortable than the typical 2.40 m wide trams mostly found on new tram systems, too. The seats are quite pleasant for my back. Inside the have visual and accoustic next-stop and destination announcements, a line panel is also mounted above the doors. The trams have no air-conditioning, but that is not really necessary as even on a very sunny day you get quite a breeze from the sea to keep you cool.

Open "boat car"


While I appreciate the modern tram service, those coming to Blackpool for the heritage trams will be very disappointed. Last Saturday, only two old trams were running! One 'boat' and one ex-Bolton double-decker, so not much to take pictures of. In 2005 I got to see more than 10 different ones. Now they operate them only in excursion mode doing round-trips between North Pier and Pleasure Beach. My proposal would be to add more of the old trams between Bispham or Little Bispham and Pleasure Beach to reinforce the modern trams on busy days, and to offer a normal day pass and a day pass+ which includes heritage trams too, or charge an extra pound for each boarding, so that people will use them again as a normal means of transport not like the many horse carriages you can also see along the Promenade, while at the same time visitors will enjoy simply looking at the variety of different cars Blackpool has to offer and which makes the town unique not only in Britain. It could be Europe's San Francisco once again!

ex-Bolton car #66 (1901)


LINKS






Saturday, June 20, 2015

MADRID Metro & Tram


Madrid's newest metro station, opened on 25 March 2015, with a large mural dedicated to famous guitarist Paco de Lucía

Since the 1980s I have been to Madrid several times, and especially towards the end of the 1990s, when metro construction was booming and I was living in Barcelona, I came regularly and on some occasions had the chance to even visit some construction sites. I have always had a warm welcome, so it is hard to criticise things, but I'll try to be fair... This time I stayed for a full week to explore not only the Metro system, but also some of the outer areas, like the tram in Parla, or the mountain railway C-9 in the Sierra – but the main purpose of this visit was to get lots of new photos for my forthcoming "Metro & Tram Atlas Spain", now set for publication in September 2015.

All in all, I would say, Madrid has one of the best transport systems in the world thanks to the amazing effort made between 1995 and 2011 when the Metro network was expanded significantly now covering almost every neighbourhood, plus a rather good Cercanías system which can be classified as S-Bahn/RER and on some sections offers a metro-like service. While fare integration has been quite good for season-ticket holders for many years, unfortunately it does not exist for occasional riders. Typical of Spain, single rides using multiple-ride tickets are rather cheap, so this may not be perceived as such an inconvenience, but again, it is somehow unfair for someone who needs to catch the Metro and a bus to be obliged to pay two fares, whereas someone who needs to take three metro lines to get to his destination, only has to pay one fare. While anything within the city of Madrid is included in fare zone A, some legs of the Metro extend beyond this zone and then the fare structure even for the Metro gets a bit funny. As long as you have a season ticket, the outer fare zones apply (B1 and B2), but if you need to get a single ticket, you'll need to know which outer leg you're on as each has a different fare and a different combined ticket with the zone A metro network. This results from the fact that these outer stretches of L7, L9 and L10 plus the entire L12 (MetroSur) have a special concession – but who cares? It is not the passenger's duty to know who the operator is, so at least the fares should be the same and easy to understand and to present in a list of fares, but Madrid's metro fares have become a special case. And stupidly, on L11, also the last station lies outside zone A. A nice voice reminds passengers that they need the respective ticket to exit from those stations. As the stations in the central area don't have exit control, these special fares are also checked in quite an excessive number of different ways, especially as the fare boundary does not necessarily coincide with the 'change of train' required on some lines. 

Ticket gates on the platform at Tres Olivos between L10's northern and main sections

While on L7 and L10 (Las Tablas and Puerta del Sur) there are gates on the platforms, at Puerta de Arganda on L9 there are none (I wonder if they have some sporadic ticket checks there, because otherwise people coming from Arganda or Rives could use the entire metro network with a ticket just for the outer L9 (which passengers need to know is "TFM"!).

Ticket gates at Puerta de Sur between L10 and L12, with large landscape mural


And I think Madrid's tickets are too small! Like the original Metro, the size of the tickets was also copied from Paris, and I was always afraid that I might lose mine. Although I had bought a tourist pass for the entire region (called zone T) for seven days (€70.80), it stopped working properly on the second day when I was out of town exploring the Metro Ligero and trying to return into the city from Aravaca on a Renfe Cercanías train. As Renfe just accepts this ticket but doesn't sell it, they couldn't do anything about it, but they opened the gate for me. So I had to go to Atocha and find a Metro employee who exchanged it, obviously it happens regularly. For regular users they already have creditcard-sized contactless cards which will ultimately replace the tiny magnetic tickets.
Well', let's leave the chaotic fare system (we'll come back to it later when talking about the Metro Ligero) and have a closer look at the Metro as such.

TFM section of L9, with stork nests on the overhead poles at Rivas-Vaciamadrid

Surprisingly, or fortunately, the Madrid Metro is one of the cleanest I know, probably only beaten by the super-polished Russian metros. There is no graffiti or scratching, and there are numerous vigilants. Generally, the stations are much better ventilated than in Barcelona, although some of the older stations in the city centre had a strange smell as if there was a problem with sewers nearby. All in all, Madrid's Metro feels rather safe, people behave properly and service is quite adequate with the last trains running around 1:30, although no night service on weekends as of yet. On the busier (mostly older) lines, headways could be shorter, especially on weekends, when most lines operate every 7 minutes or so.


I like Madrid's Metro logo, it is very emblematic and traditional, and even including the word "Metro". I also like the way it is placed at most stations, sitting on a kind of arch on top of the stairs that lead down into the Metro. Many of the newer stations, however, have an encased entrance and the logo is only mounted on the wall, not floating in the air. 


At several places I have seen a signpost showing the way to the Metro, sometimes saying '200 m', for example, but unfortunately this sign does not say to which station it will take you. This would not only be useful for Metro passengers, but also for pedestrians or car drivers lost in the big city. With the same goal, I would also welcome a Metro logo at some road intersections, as it would be better visible from some distance whereas the logo at the entrances is often hidden if you look for an entrance from further away.


What I appreciate most are the generous spaces of the newer stations, which is, however, contrasted by the rather narrow platforms of the older stations, modelled after the Paris Metro with their vaults and initially just 60 m long platforms. Whereas these have later been extended on L1 and L3, they are still that short on L2 and L4. And while I enjoy the simple, though elegant design of the new stations, I wonder whether it was really necessary to restyle many of the older stations in the same way, resulting in a somewhat uniform look of the Metro. 

Typical refurbished station on one of the older lines, with the station name actually meaning 'narrow' - a hint at the platform width?

And while I appreciate the use of different colours for individual stations, there is no real logic behind the choice of colours, so it is hard to associate a certain colour with an individual station. I think there was an initial idea of using white for interchange stations, but this idea was already dropped when Mar de Cristal opened in red in 1998. Already back in the 1920s, Grenander had developed a returning sequence of colours for the Berlin U-Bahn, so people would know that blue always follows white, for example, but nothing like this is recognisable in Madrid, the colours seem to be used at random and the same colour may even appear in two adjacent stations. In fact, on L6, where most stations are interchanges, the predominant colour of the refurbished stations seems to be white. With many of the older stations, now refurbished, having lost a lot of their original charm, it is good to have Chamberí on L1 now as a museum. This station was closed in the 1960s when the platforms in the other stations were extended. Some stations on L4 still look quite original although with their huge advertising boards the tiling is hardly visible.

Another weak point of the Madrid Metro is the often long walk between two lines. In a user-friendly way, this situation is even shown on metro maps. The walk is especially long between L6 and its intersection lines, as the L6 stations are not only at some distance from the respective interchange station, but also at a considerable depth, and unlike on newer intersections, the corridors and escalator shafts are much smaller and therefore less pleasant compared to the open-space, almost excessive escalators at Chamartín. This station is the most Berlinesque, not in style, but in generous provision for future lines that might never happen... There are six platforms all in all, so if the future lines are built, cross-platform interchange will be possible between two lines on each level in one (opposite) direction (similar to Pinar de Chamartín L1/L4), other transfers will be done via a huge intermediate level between the two platform levels. The future lines in questions are L11 which should one day reach Chamartín from the south via the east, and L14, which would take over the northern part of L10, while L10 would be extended north through the redevelopment area of the northern Castellana.

Future-proof station design at Chamartín, waiting for L11 parallel to L1

Open-space escalators between L1 (level -4) and L10 (level -2) at Chamartín 

The network layout is what it is, the result of a long history, so it is certainly not ideal, but a lot has been done to optimise it, especially by creating the long north-south axis L10, but many of the busiest sections still correspond to the old and small-profile lines L1-L5, while the newer lines, especially L7 and L9 seem oversized. Certainly the huge circular line L12 (Metrosur) has also remained far behind expectations, still running with 3-car trains on a 7 1/2-minute headway. The odd line, and each city has one, is certainly L11, only a short and sad stub of a huge project. It is fairly patronised, though, but very badly linked to the rest of the network, just at Pl. Eliptica to L6 via long corridor, and as L6 is circular, many passengers will have to change a second time to get into the city centre, and two transfers on L6 will increase journey times significantly. So, in my opinion, extending L11 to Atocha Renfe should have the highest priority now, and then I wouldn't take it to the eastern districts which already have L9 as some sort of tangential line, but directly north to Nuevos Ministerios to link it to L8, which has a very unnatural terminus there. In this way, L11 would be linked to several other lines and airport passengers would get a direct ride into the city centre and the AVE hub at Atocha, too. Now, many passengers change to L4 at Mar de Cristal which takes a while to get into the centre, and then many people will have to change again to get to Sol, which can be inconvenient with luggage as many of the older stations don't have lifts.

Line panels inside the trains in the style of the now-banned metro map can still be seen on L8 and L11 trains

Madrid's fun line is, of course, the Ramal (R) from Príncipe Pío to Ópera, which certainly provides an important service, a bit like the Waterloo & City Line in London. Unfortunately its Ópera station now also appears in boring white, whereas previously it boasted red and white tiles. 

Ópera Ramal station before and after refurbishment

Another major weak point of the system is its high number of stations that have only one exit, or at least only one exit from the platform, which is not only inconvenient as many passengers will have to walk long detours, but can also be a bit claustrophobic when you have long and often narrow side platforms with an 'escape' only at one end. This may be an issue in case of fire or other technical problems, but also in case of crime, although as said before, the system looks safe from this point of view and video cameras are everywhere and the next vigilant probably not far away (often having a chat with the ticket clerk upstairs... yes, all stations are manned with a Metro employee mostly sitting in an open box near the entrance gates to help people with ticket machines and other problems, although security staff seems to be moving between stations). But in conjunction with a necessary retrofitting of lifts, a second exit should really be taken into consideration where structurally feasible.  

All the stations built after 1995 usually have wide platforms and wide staircases plus up and down escalators in addition to lifts, and as the huge staircase is mostly located in the middle of the station, offset from the platform itself, this kind of claustrophobic impression is never given. 

Typical offset set of stairs and escalators in most of the newer stations, leaving a wide platform throughout

In Madrid, side platforms really dominate, although generally it is much cheaper to maintain stations with island platforms, fewer lifts, fewer escalators. The older stations of the Paris type have side platforms, I think, because this is what they learned in Paris, and it keeps the tracks straight. Modern metros often have island platforms because the running tunnels are excavated with TBMs as single-track tubes, resulting in a natural island platform. But in Madrid, the Metro company insisted on double-track tubes for their own good reasons (for example in case of a train failure, passengers can be evacuated easily by a parallel train), and this preference also resulted in natural side platforms, otherwise the station box would have to be about twice the length. 

Many stations have some kind of mural, like Ronda de la Comunicación on L10

The only section built with single-track tubes was between Mar de Cristal and Aeropuerto on L8, thus resulting in an island platform at Campo de las Naciones. While at Príncipe Pío full cross-platform interchange is provided between L6 and L10 (L10 on the outside with single-track approach tubes), Casa de Campo station also has an interesting layout. In fact, L5 theoretically uses the two tracks in the middle, and L10 the outer two, but as L5 terminates here, one track was covered, so people can change across the platform in all directions. Like at many other termini, the train actually remains in the station, mostly using the theoretical departure platform, and except during off-peak times, there is a flying change of drivers, i.e., while the arriving driver gets off, a new driver gets on at the other end and so the train leaves the station shortly after having arrived. The arriving driver now has enough time to walk to the other end of the platform to pick up the next arriving train. But unlike in New York, where the trains also mostly turn around in the stations, Madrid does have reversing sidings beyond the stations at all termini, if I recall correctly, except line R, L2 Cuatro Caminos and L4 Argüelles.

3-platform layout on some L6 stations, although with rather narrow island and side platforms

The circular L6 is certainly one of the strong lines in Madrid and despite its deep-lying stations very busy, and often overcrowded. Some stations features a 3-platform layout, but the initial idea of alighting on the central island platform and boarding from the side platforms is generally ignored, just the escalators use this rule, so even the island platform, which is a bit too narrow anyway, does get very crowded. What I don't like on L6 is the way the direction is signed as 'Andén 1' and 'Andén 2', as I never remember which is which, even the Inner/Outer Circle in Glasgow makes more sense to me. I would prefer, at least as some additional information to have major points listed, which could be Príncipe Pío, Cuatro Caminos, Nuevos Ministerios, Av. de América, Pacífico, Pl. Elíptica. Any sign could say 'Andén 1 > Príncipe Pío & Cuatro Caminos, for example, although I also like clockwise and anticlockwise, but that would be too clumsy in Spanish. But don't get me wrong, there are plenty of panels showing the entire circle and which 'andén' you should get for which station, but certainly not on all signs in these long corridors.

I do not really like the way the outer sections of L7, L9 and L10 are shown on maps. Operationally they are completely different and separate lines, so I think they deserve their own line numbers. The northern part of L10, also known as MetroNorte, could already be called L14 (in fact, early signs at station entrances already had a [14] sign), the outer L7 would could be L17 and the TFM section of L9 possibly L19. This way it would be clear from the start that people need to change trains. Although the necessity of a change of trains is depicted on the maps, still I observed passengers wondering when they got to the transfer point.

Confusing station names: Sierra de Guadalupe for the Metro, and Vallecas for Cercanías, although it is a single station complex

Another thing I need to criticise is the naming of interchange stations serving the Metro and Cercanías. While on MetroSur they found a satisfactory solution by naming all interchanges 'xxx Central' (e.g. Getafe Central) and Atocha Renfe has been fine for a long time, there are some where the names are misleading. On L9 there is a station called Vicálvaro, but two stations down the line, right under the Cercanías station called Vicálvaro is Metro station Puerta de Arganda. Similarly, Vallecas station for Cercanías corresponds with Sierra de Guadalupe Metro station, while Villa de Vallecas is the following station. Luckily in Coslada they have used the MetroSur pattern and called the Metro station Coslada Central. I wonder which name ADIF/Renfe will choose for the Cercanías station under construction right next to the new Paco de Lucía terminus on L9.

Generally signage is pretty good, I also like the dominant blue with the line colour ribbon. And also the blue and white livery of the trains. This colour scheme fits even the old 2000 and 5000 trains much better than what they originally had, which often is not the case when a new livery is introduced. Sometimes, when you arrive at a platform, there is no confirmation that you have arrived at the correct platform, if the electronic display is just showing something else. So, on the line ribbon, where it says 'Andén 1' or 'Andén 2' it should also indicate the final destination for trains on this platform - all trains go to the end of the line at all times (except for the usual start and end of service trains to and form the depot). Although the countdown in minutes for the next train is mostly quite o.k., the message that the next train is about to enter the station is pathetic. In Barcelona and Sevilla, there would just be a message saying "ENTRA", which even tourists can understand without knowing Spanish. In Madrid, however, they take the long way with a small, three-line message saying something like "El próximo tren efectuará su entrada en la estación"! It's good that the following train is normally also shown, so if one arrives over-crowded you can calculate whether it is worth to wait for the next, which might be backing up behind. But apparently the system only works from the moment the train starts from the first station, so on L4, for example, at San Bernardo you will not know when the next train for Pinar de Chamartín arrives until 1 minute before it does as it starts from the previous station. Especially when longer headways are operated, the signs should display the scheduled time for the next train.

The rolling stock is quite new and diverse. Like in Berlin, the small-profile trains on L1-L5 are a bit too narrow, especially as these are the busier lines. The older 2000 trains which don't allow you to walk from one car to another are all concentrated on L1 and L5, the latter has all the 'Burbujas', the bubble trains with that round glass front. L2, L3 and L4 plus R are exclusively served by the walk-through class 3000, so of these there are 4-car sets as well as 6-car sets. On the the large-profile network (L6-L12) there are also several types of trains, with the Ansaldo class 7000/9000 on L9 (mixed with old 5000s) and L7 and especially on L10. Although I don't like their streamlined front (I think metro trains can have more of a box shape...), what is especially ugly is the fact that the mostly run with the couplers uncovered, although the coupler is really only needed for special manoeuvres. 

Many of the Ansaldo trains always run with open couplers which makes them quite ugly!

The outer L7 and L10 are served with 3-car trains of this type. Although the seats don't match my back and the blue both inside and outside is slightly different from the Metro's colour, they offer quite a nice ride. Often, however I observed that when leaving a station they need like two attempts so as if the ATO doesn't get the train in motion at the first try. The older 5000s with married pairs, but no walk-through option, remain on L6 and mostly on L9. L6 is now primarily served by the newest class 8000 built by CAF, whereas older and shorter versions delivered by Alstom are in service on L8, L11 and L12. These could be extended to 6 cars if necessary. Although the cars are generally assigned to a certain line, inside they display stickers with a line panel for several different lines which may be a bit confusing. I guess the line they actually travel on should be enough and if they are switched to another line it won't be that expensive to change those stickers. Luckily a proper global-style network diagram has returned after several years of this horrible square-looking map designed by some friends of ex-presidenta Esperanza Aguirre!

Talking about maps, this Metro network diagram map is easily available to grab at most stations, but all other maps published by the Consorcio de Transportes, like that including Cercanías lines or the huge bus map for Madrid or for the entire region, these seem to be available only at the headoffice of the Consorcio, not even their information centre at Moncloa had some. The tourist office, however, still hands out a version dating from Dec. 2013! So, the Consorcio could really be more active in this field and establish more information points also in the central area, as most of these huge bus hubs are in areas further out.

Wider platform on underground section of ML1

In the suburbs, Madrid also has four tram or light rail lines. Three of them are called "Metro Ligero", and luckily, they stopped building more of them. Normally, the idea of having feeder lines with less capacity on some outer sections is not bad, but these lines around Madrid are really badly designed. At first sight, they appear to be proper light rail lines, but later you have to discover that they are old-style tramways with excessively tight curves which requires too many stretches where the trams crawl. And what's especially annoying is the fact that these curves are found in places where even non-experts would think, why the hell didn't they lay a straight track here or create a gentle curve? There are several underground stretches, but instead of what should be expected from a light rail system, the tunnels were not built to metro standards with wide curves, they resemble old-fashioned underground tram routes, like those found in Boston, Philadelphia or Vienna. Another technical issue is the fact that, if I recall correctly, the entire system is built with grooved rails embedded in concrete. I would consider grooved rail on interurban routes completely unnecessary, as Vignol track always provides a much more comfortable ride! And having the track embedded in concrete makes it difficult and expensive to adjust badly-laid track! The weirdest track configuration can actually be found at the depot entrance which reminded me a lot of the pathetic depot access in Edinburgh.

Narrow platform at Somosaguas Sur on ML2

While ML1 in the north is not too bad as a feeder line, as it connects to the Metro system at both ends and is pretty short anyway, the western lines ML2 and ML3 are quite long, but their feeder function is rather limited as they travel too slow and too far, and connections can only be made at Colonia Jardín to L10, which during peak hours is pretty busy anyway, and at Aravaca for Cercanías. Especially for passengers starting their journeys at Boadilla, a bus is much faster as it goes nonstop to Moncloa. Interestingly, the two underground stations on ML2 have no ticket gates, but those on ML1 have them, actually down on the platform. 

Colonia Jardín, starting point for ML3 (on the left) and ML3 on the right - each line becomes double-track just outside the tunnel station

While ML1 is within fare zone A, the western lines are mostly in zone B, just Colonia Jardín is in zone A, and to change from ML2 to ML3, you have to pay an additional fare! Even if you have a day pass or monthly pass, you are supposed to validate inside the trams. I guess this is just to get proper passenger numbers, but as for the older magnetic cards, I think they cannot store your validation, and ticket inspectors actually on look at what is stamped on your ticket. To get on the tram at Colonia Jardín, you need to validate at the gates anyway.

Tram/Cercanías interchange at Parla Centro - here the trams open their doors on both sides!

The fourth tram line in the region is the Tranvía de Parla, a suburb some 20 km south of Madrid. There is a Cercanías C-4 train going there about every 10 minutes. This tramway is more of a 'normal', less pretentious system doing the job it was designed for, which is distributing passengers arriving from Madrid on a circular route via the town centre and the new residential areas in the east. Apparently, more houses were planned, so it runs through some empty parts, too. And unfortunately, an additional station on C-4 has not happened, this would have provided a much faster connection for those residents in Parla Este. What I found a bit irritating was the long break at Estrella Polar or Venus to keep the timetable. As the line is not very long, and it is entirely on its own right-of-way and thus likely to accumulate big delays caused by other traffic, I think it should be enough to pause at the railway station and then do the loop without any breaks, as these breaks are very inconvenient for passengers getting on at the stops before the break point or getting off just after them. What is also a bit weird for me is that the stops on the eastern segment, where the line uses parallel streets for each direction, carry 'Norte' and 'Sur' to distinguish them, when my sense of orientation would clearly suggest 'Este' and 'Oeste'!

LINKS

Metro de Madrid (incl. ML1)




Madrid Metro etc. at UrbanRail.Net (with more links)


Monday, June 8, 2015

SEVILLA Metro & Tram


Among all larger Spanish cities, Sevilla is certainly not an urban rail enthusiast's paradise, although it actually offers three different types of rail services, a tram, a metro and a Cercanías system, but each of them is rather undeveloped for an urban area home to a million people. Having visited Sevilla shortly after the opening of the Metro in 2009, I now returned to see the stations opened a bit later on the southeastern end and the second generation of trams on what is still a rather new line.

Tram in 'normal' mode with catenary between San Bernardo and Prado de San Sebastián

The single tram line is among the shortest in Europe and although it is badly integrated into the rest of the transport system, it is decently patronised. It basically connects the old town centre with the major hub at San Bernardo where passengers can change to suburban trains, while interchange with the Metro is also available at Puerta Jerez (not ideally, though) as well as Prado de San Sebastián, the latter also an important interchange point for urban buses. I think the tram's major function is to carry tired people after a long stroll through the city centre. A single-ticket for the occasional rider costs €1.40, not excessive, but compared to other typical fares in Spain, rather high for what you get. A discount is granted using a Concorcio stored-value ticket, but always a separate fare is payable for the tram, although it is actually operated by TUSSAM, the local bus company.
Technically, the interesting thing about this tram line is that about 2/3 of its route are now operated without overhead wires. Initially, the whole line had a catenary, but this not only caused a visual impact on Av. Constitución next to the famous cathedral, but even caused physical obstruction during the famous Easter processions when huge statues of saints and Virgin Mary are carried through the streets. So for some years, they actually took off the wires during Semana Santa. 

Archivo de Indias station with the Cathedral in the background with protruding overhead structure

Now the new trams use supercapacitors (huge batteries), but unlike in Zaragoza, the intermediate stops have an overhead structure to charge the batteries via the pantograph, and these structures are also quite ugly. Also the trams need to charge at each stop, meaning that the pantograph has to be lifted and lowered (the lowering is quite noisy if you sit in the middle section) and the trams have to stop for some 25 seconds, adding to what is already quite a slow ride through the pedestrianised streets full with tourists. 

Pantograph being lifted at Puerta Jerez station for intermediate recharging

Just the section between Prado de San Sebastián and San Bernardo still has a proper catenary, but this section is obviously too short to recharge the batteries for the rest of the line. This section is, however, rather long, so it could actually have an intermediate stop (the Metro serves the same stretch with the same two stations). The trams run very 9 minutes, with three in operation normally.
What the tram really needs to give it more sense is an extension, at least from its eastern end to Santa Justa railway station, as has been planned for a long time, and also because the main railway station is badly connected. Despite some metro expansion plans, all on hold due to the economic crisis, many tram extensions would make sense especially as a distributor in the central area.
The trams as such are quite nice, although I really hate the full adverts on all of them. While these make them look ugly from outside, the view from inside is somehow restricted, although it does help as a sun protection. The trams roll quite noisily, probably due to a lot of dirt accumulated in the grooved rails. A short section right next to the cathedral was built with interlaced tracks, which in my opinion doesn't make much sense as this section is followed by a very short double-track section before a scissors-crossover upon entering the terminus at Plaza Nueva. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to build and maintain if this section had been laid out single-track with a simple switch before the terminus? In this way the tram wouldn't have to make this S-curve-style manoevre as it approaches the terminus.

Sevilla's Metro is certainly a unique case in the world. Well, besides Budapest's old Földalatti, it is the only completely segregated low-floor urban rail system, and in addition, the only low-floor system using platform screen doors and semi-automatic operation in ATO mode. So, all these criteria certainly qualify it as a metro, although the alignment often resembles an old-style underground tram system as there are some very tight curves, no metro, except Chicago's L, would be able to negotiate. While the two almost 90-degree angles between San Bernardo and Nervión are the result of a planning modification to use the tunnels already dug in the 1980s for the Metro designed and relaunched in the late 1990s, especially the S-curve just west of San Juan Alto station is hard to comprehend! Why didn't they just build the station at a different angle in an area not occupied by anything else? But generally the trains (which are only some 30m long although the stations are all prepared for double sets) speed up where they can, so these momentary crawls are digestable.

Puerta Jerez - central metro station with narrow and curved platform

The metro stations are mostly quite wide, except the most central and thus probably one of the busiest, Puerta Jerez, is somehow too small and there are signs to prompt people to move up to occupy the entire platform. To my understanding, this station is entirely laid out in the wrong way, especially as the only exit to the surface faces in the wrong direction, away from the square and thus the city centre. Prado de San Sebastián also has a huge mezzanine, but in the end only one exit to the surface, although this should be a major interchange for local buses. Also, the encased exit (a typical one) occupies the entire pavement/sidewalk, as the rest of the pavement is now dedicated to bicycles, so to reach one of the many bus bays, you either have to walk on the bike lane or step down to the bus lane, whichever you consider less dangerous... So, at least the busiest stations should have various entrances. The design of the stations is rather boring, just concrete, stainless steel and glass, with green dominating as the Andalusian national colour, just like in Málaga. Some stations have large photos illustrating the construction of the Metro.

Montequinto - standard metro station design

The biggest problem with the Metro, however, is its bad integration with the bus system. In cities like Madrid, where you can actually explore the entire city by metro you don't have to care much about buses, but Sevilla's single line only covers very limited parts of the city and suburbs, so many passengers will need to get a bus, too, but altough you can use the same stored-value card you will have to pay two fares if you use metro and bus, so many people will opt for the bus-only solution. Fares appear to be low for European standards, but if you have to pay two 0.80 cent fares every day for one 'journey', this will amount to quite a lot during an entire year. For us enthusiasts, there is at least a Metro day pass for €4.50 for all zones, which leads us to another issue - the Metro has three fare zones, which I consider rather unnecessary for such a small system. Also, these zones are shown in a rather unconventional way, as 'tramo 0', 'tramo 1' and 'tramo 2' (tramo = section). 'Tramo 1' corresponds to all stations within Sevilla city. And fares are not charged for a certain number of zones travelled through, but by 'saltos' (jumps), so travelling from 'tramo 0' (western end) into the city would imply one zone jump... So while this is not illogical per se, it is rather unusual considering that the rest of the world has developed a quite common universal way of how to look at fare zones. And considering that Sevilla is an important tourist destination, visitors would certainly understand a global system more easily. On the other hand, the Metro hardly serves any important sites outside the city centre, so not many visitors are likely to take the Metro too often.

Metro train on surface section just north of Condequinto

Sevilla has had ambitious plans for three more lines, after playing with light rail proposals, i.e. with some surface sections with level crossings, the latest versions envisage routes similar to L1. While the north-south L3 should certainly be a prority, the east-west L2 is not very convincing, particularly as it is not designed to intersect with L1, which could be considered a major planning mistake for a system planned from scratch. As it will be built through the city centre with tunnel-boring machines at a significant depth, I think it should be possible to realign it somehow to make a direct interchange L1-L2 possible. My proposal is: coming from the east, L1 should turn north after Nervión and serve Santa Justa and then head west through the city centre instead of L2, while L2 should continue south from Santa Justa and then take over the western part of L1 at Nervión. This would give the Nervión area and the main railway station two lines and provide proper transfer options for everyone. The second problem with L2 is that it will not go to the airport, which would be a logical destination in the east, at least for a branch. Luckily it is planned to serve Santa Justa railway station. The circular L4 is a rather ambitious project and I think it could wait to be built until the other two lines have been completed.

Instead of building direct lines into the suburbs, la Junta de Andalucía eventually decided to make L1 semi-automatic and add feeder lines to it, although like in Málaga, using ATO doesn't mean you can't continue in manual mode on surface routes. One 'tranvía metropolitano' is supposed to run from Pablo de Olavide southeast to Alcalá de Guadaíra. The line was mostly completed along the outer section in Alcalá, but works were then suspended when the financial crisis hit the country. For another line running from the terminus Olivar de Quintos to Dos Hermanas, only the right-of-way was cleared before work was stopped. At the western end of the line, only some provisions were made and I think that planning had not been as advanced. So, currently there is hope that the line to Alcalá de Guadaíra will be finished one day.

After all, the Andalusian government is responsible for the largest number of failed and misplanned tram systems in the world, with these lines plus the never-opened tram in Jaén and the already shut-down tram in Vélez-Málaga! And who knows if the Tram-Tren de la Bahía de Cádiz will ever be finished? Granada seems to be on good track for a partial opening within the next year, but nothing's guaranteed. It may not always be the regional government's (PSOE majority) fault, often it is the local mayors from a different political party (notably PP) who refuse to collaborate in finding a satisfactory solution. But for any outsider it is rather astonishing that so many projects can go wrong within one administrative region, while they don't happen at all in other parts of the world, at least not to this extent.


Sevilla's Cercanías network is hardly relevant for intra-urban traffic, although there are actually two lines, C-2 and C-4 that run entirely within the city boundaries, but still, I think they are not very useful, both for the headways and for the station locations. I was visiting on a Sunday, so I couldn't really tell you whether they are busy. Maybe someone who uses them regularly can add a comment! The only service that appears to be a proper suburban line is C-1 running north-south.

Cercanías - San Bernardo station


LINKS



Thursday, May 14, 2015

BARCELONA Transport




As I had lived in Barcelona for 12 years (1989-2001) and come back to this city many times since, I have never really "explored" its system as I would in other cities where I might be visiting maybe just once in a lifetime. So while on other occasions I mostly came to catch up with old friends and see new or refurbished stations, this time I stayed for several days to do some real work for my forthcoming "Metro & Tram Atlas Spain" due for release later this year. For some impressions gathered at the end of 2012, click here.



     Barcelona is probably the most exciting city in Spain for urban rail enthusiasts because it offers such a variety of different modes, including several funicular railways and aerial cable cars. In the Metro field, I decided to ride on all lines because there is always something new to discover. Many stations have been refurbished in recent years, some in a sober way, some very pleasantly. I was quite surprised when a saw the colourful design of Bellvitge station on L1, for example. I also like the bright panelling at Joanic or Alfons X on L4 or Sants Estació on L3, especially when compared to the cheap panelling used in earlier refurbishments like at Urquinaona (L1 & L4) or Lesseps (L3). At the latter, however, I was surprised to find a huge new entrance built in provision for the now mothballed section of L9, although the stairs down to the narrow platforms are still a bottleneck. Most stations have meanwhile been retrofitted with lifts, which must have been quite a challenge, not only due to the depth of some stations, but due to narrow platforms and fare gates that require multiple lifts.


     What I still don't like in many stations in Barcelona, however, is the often ugly wall behind the tracks in those stations with a middle supporting wall, a problem Barcelona shares with cities like Vienna. Budapest's refurbished M2 showed clearly what a difference it makes! Another more technical problem in Barcelona is the lack of ventilation in the stations while all trains are air-conditioned and therefore discharge the heat in the stations creating a kind of oven, while inside the train it is like a fridge! Just the new L9/L10 is an exception, while especially the stations in the city centre can get unbearable, and not only in the summer.


     Being a Mediterranean city with life continuing late into the night even on weekdays, I find it strange that the Metro closes at midnight. I think it should at least run until 1 a.m. During my 12-year stay in Barcelona it used to close at 23:00! Now it runs all night on Saturdays.

     This time I also took a ride out to L11, the cute line of the system, with semi-automatic 2-car trains shuttling deep below ground. When I was there some 10 years ago, it was still operated manually, but now four of the five stations have platform screen doors, and the trains run driverless, although not completely. For a reason I do not quite understand, the driver on board takes over in ATO mode between Casa de l'Aigua and Trinitat Nova, where L11 terminates on the opposite side of L4 sharing the same island platform. I wouldn't see a reason why platform screen doors could not be added here, too. Anyway, this way the train looks a bit less spooky with an attendant on board. The line was fairly used during late morning hours, so it seems to provide the right level of service it was supposed to provide. Due to the tight schedule on L4 and with only one track available here to reverse (drivers skip one train to be able to walk from end to end!), connections are not guaranteed and often it may be frustrating to see an L4 train leave just when L11 arrives. Although I had done it before, I was quite surprised that from the L4/L11 platform you need to go down some 4-5! levels to reach the L3 platform, which in return was not very busy.


     I took a full day to explore the FGC lines departing from Plaça Catalunya towards the Vallès area and found it sad that the term "Metro del Vallès" is hardly visible nowadays. It was a catchy brand (and I was told that locals and students of the Universitat Autònoma actually use it!) and quite adequate as lines S1 and S2, reinforced by S5 and S55 run as often as every 6 minutes to Sant Cugat, where they split. Along the line there are many old station buildings giving nice photo motifs. There are many new trains from CAF with a rather posh interior, but unfortunately, once again, what look like ergonomic seats, did not fit my back bones! Instead I get into my shoulder blades what other people may use as a head rest! When will those designers ever learn that there is no ergonomic seat for everyone? Otherwise FGC seems to be a very good railway operating company, all stations are in good condition, and it is always fascinating watching trains arrive at and leave from Pl. Catalunya, a 5-track terminal station. In Terrassa I had a look where the future underground stations will be located, but I'll have to wait for next time to see them from the inside.


     FGC's other terminal at Plaça Espanya is similarly busy, but a bit more chaotic! This is due to many tourists getting a train there to Montserrat and the rather confusing line numbering on that bundle of lines departing from here. What is shown on metro maps as L8 hardly exists as such, because all trains except a few peak expresses stop at all stations up to Molí Nou anyway, so the L8 rather denotes that this is zone 1 of the overall fare system. Previously, most regional services used to skip some of the inner stations, but now all trains serve all stations, probably because due to the dense intervals they can't really save time. But a simplification of the line numbering is urgently required here! Actually L'Hospitalet station has four tracks which would allow overtaking, but maybe the platforms are to short to accommodate double trainsets on the outer tracks.


On the ADIF/Renfe network I was positively surprised to find a nicely refurbished and much enlarged access to Passeig de Gràcia underground station, also improving transfers to L3. Rodalies trains now run either in old typical red/white Cercanías livery or in the new local Rodalies variant in orange/white, often in mixed trainsets. Although the newer Civia rolling stock has at least a centre doors matching the platform height, I find it rather pathetic how you have to climb into the train at the other doors, even worse than on the older trains. With Alstom's Coradia Nordic in Stockholm or the many Stadler Flirt trains having been around for many years for similar platform heights, I guess that even CAF would be able to produce something similar, as they have always kept up with the latest trends and often in the end came up with better products than their competitors.


     Barcelona's tram system has not changed much in recent years, it still consists of two isolated networks, and with the central portion of Avinguda Diagonal recently having been restyled with bicycle lanes, there is little hope that anything will happen in the foreseeable future. 


The Trambaix is, however, quite well used, with a tram every 4 minutes on its inner section shared by three lines. The negative point here is the existence of some single-track sections, notably the end of T2, which give the impression of a rather slow journey. The Trambesòs is a bit weird in that T5 and T6 run infrequently approx. every 20 minutes and constrained by a single-track section east of Glòries where they terminate, but without a reversing facility they have to change direction on the tracks more frequently served by line T4, which itself terminates somewhere where a tram should not terminate.... So, an extension into the city centre of these lines is urgently needed, and the single-track bottleneck needs to be eliminated somehow, because it does not make sense to have a grade-separated section following over three stations (a kind of tunnel with daylight coming in from the northern side where a motorway runs in a trench) if after that trams are halted because of a late-running tram in the opposite direction. So I was not surprised to see the tram I took from Besòs to Glòries almost empty, and the covered stations largely deserted! A nice feature of Barcelona's Citadis trams is their generous width, 2.65m instead of the more typical 2.40m!


     As for the fare system, Barcelona probably has the best of all Spanish cities. Just single tickets are issued by individual operators without any transfer options, but anything above that starting from 10-ride tickets is fully integrated included Metro, buses, FGC trains and also Renfe Rodalia, allowing several transfers with one fare. Besides day passes available for the already very large zone 1, easy-to-use day passes are also available for up to six zones reaching far into the hinterland. To explore all FGC routes from Pl. Catalunya, or from Pl. Espanya to Martorell, a 3-zone day pass is enough. Targeted at tourists, but available to anyone from any metro ticket machine, passes for zone 1 are also available for multiple days. Strangely, both Renfe and FGC use a slightly different fare zone system for their own exclusive tickets which is a bit confusing when looking at their own maps! If you travel to Barcelona on an AVE or other long-distance train, you may be eligible for a free onward ticket on Rodalies trains (there was an announcement on my train from Valencia about this), check with Renfe staff.


     My next visit to Barcelona will hopefully be in early 2016 (February?), when L9 from Zona Universitària to the Airport is currently scheduled to open. Some stations along this section promise to be quite interesting in design, notably Fira.

LINKS

TMB (Metro and buses)

FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya)

Barcelona at UrbanRail.Net




ZARAGOZA Tram




The last stop on my April/May 2015 tour through Eastern Spain took me to Zaragoza, where a new tramway opened in 2011. Quite rightly, it is considered the most successful in Spain and during my short stay I saw many trams packed and almost overcrowded, so the only real thing I would dare to criticise is that they should have thought on how to increase capacity on the central section. Running mostly every five minutes except between 10:00 and 13:00, when a 7-minute service is provided, the offer is already quite good, but not enough considering the popularity of the tram. Like in Marseille, they should have extended the tram vehicles by now, from 5 to 7 modules, which would add some extra capacity, or reduce headways on the central section, with every other tram turning back at García Abril in the north where an easy loop could be built as the tracks up to this point are on parallel streets. The section beyond that point is less busy, as a large urban development apparently planned in 1998-2001 as a huge sign still indicates did not materialise around the Juslibol stop. At the southern end, trams remain rather busy up to the terminus at Mago de Oz (The Wizard of Oz) in the new district of Valdespartera where all streets carry names of film classics, so it's quite funny to hear 'Next Stop: Singing in the Rain'.
     Otherwise, the tram has a very French-style alignment, completely on a dedicated lane, partly marked off and partly on a lawnbed, I think just between Plaza de España and César Augusto, some vehicles may invade the route to access local shops etc. Between Plaza Aragón and Emperador Carlos V, as well as at Los Olvidados, there is a sort of Rambla (promenade) between the tracks. To reduce the visual impact of overhead lines, the city centre and the Ebro River are crossed in battery mode: 


Traffic-light preemption seems to work fine, so there are generally no annoying delays at road intersections, but a continuous journey with an acceptable speed. There are no unnecessary curves, and the CAF trams are generally better in curves anyway than the Citadis. To achieve this, however, the area inside the trams occupied by the bogies looks rather bulky, with only two face-to-face seats on each side mounted in this area. But otherwise the trams appear wide and spacious, and the wooden seats were quite o.k. for my back, despite their ergonomic shape (must be someone else then suffering with a different body shape...). 


     The stops all have a similar modern style, with a ticket machine and an information panel, plus an electronic next-tram indicator. The ticket machine only issues single tickets (€1.35) and allows recharging of the Tarjeta Bus, which unfortunately can only be bought for €2 at limited outlets, which can be a challenge for visitors, when they could be sold at kiosks or hotels as they initially carry €5 of stored value. While single tickets are just for one tram ride, the Tarjeta Bus allows transfers within one hour for just €0.74 per ride. And as the system cannot tell the difference, you can actually get on and off the tram for photos without paying another fare, but make sure you hold it against the card reader each time you board!


     There have been plans for a second line, running east west and actually sharing tracks with L1 on a short section between Plaza de España and César Augusto. While two branches are planned for the eastern end, I'm quite worried why they don't consider a branch going to the new railway station Delicias, which is a bit out of the way, although linked by some buses. But it must be the taxi lobby that is strong on keeping public transport away from a major public transport hub. Another reason could be that some think that the existing Cercanías line is enough to take long-distance travellers further into the city centre. But with virtually no metropolitan region outside the city proper, this line runs very irregularly, at times only once an hour! I'm not quite sure, because I didn't check it either, but I think that broad-gauge trains now have only one track in the city tunnel, while the other track was rebuilt for passing standard-gauge AVE (high-speed) trains. Please leave a comment if I'm wrong on this question!


     So with the first line so successful, let's hope that the second line will soon be built now that the country is slowly recuperating from the 'crisis', and that it will be done to the same good standard as the first line, clearly taking away road space from car drivers, but adding to what is a surprisingly lovely city.


     Bus maps were available at several outlets, but too small to be legible. The map also shows the tram line, but without any stop names. While tram maps are posted at stops, I haven't seen a place where I could ask for one.

LINKS


Zaragoza Tram at UrbanRail.Net