Saturday, August 2, 2014

MÁLAGA Metro


With only very few new metros being built nowadays in Europe (in fact the only one expected in the next few years is Thessaloniki's), I thought I should see the latest on its very first day. Its inauguration had been delayed again and again, and as is quite common in Spain, a final date was not announced until approximately two weeks ago. July had been targeted some months ago, so I think that eventually they chose almost the last day of this month to keep the promise and at the same time have the maximum time to adjust and prepare things.
Well, eventually, after an official inauguration in the morning, doors opened for the general public at around 1 pm on 30 July 2014. Being in the middle of the week and during holiday season, the new metro was able to cope with the crowds, which had accumulated especially at El Perchel, the city-side terminus next to the city's main railway station. Travelling on the metro was free on the first day, but everybody needed a smartcard, which was distributed for free, to open the fare gates.
For a first day, service was quite regular and during the four hours of exploring each and every station, I did not observe any major disruptions or delays. There was a lot of staff around to help people, lots of them probably students on a summer job, while from autumn they will be among those who actually profit most of the new system. All in all, the opening was well prepared, although no spectacular party was held. I think the general reaction from the locals was quite positive, too.
The following day, the first day of normal service with everybody requiring a proper ticket, most stations seemed calm, some had more staff than passengers, although slowly, more and more people came to explore the new lines. At the end of the lines, many stayed on the train, especially on L1, as this line terminates in the middle of nowhere and with the heat outside, people were more comfortable staying on a well air-conditioned train. On that day, however, I observed that some of the next-train indicators did not display anything but a standard welcome message saying that trains would pass every 7.5 minutes and 'Gracias por su confianza' which sounds a bit like 'please, trust us!'.

So, let's have a closer look at stations and service. The first thing that surprised me quite positively when I entered El Perchel station for the first time was the fact that it is a bi-level station, when I had expected a simple station where the two lines converge. But this station was generously laid out for cross-platform interchange between L1 and L2, with a complex junction to the west of that station. If I observed it correctly, in the future people can change here in the opposite direction on the same level. As for now, trains actually switch from one line to the other, so on each level, one track is currently not used:


I assume that the bi-level tunnel than continues to Guadalmedina, from where line L2 is planned to continue north, come to the surface and serve 4-5 stops on its way to Hospital Civil. By 2017, however, line L1 is supposed to continue from Guadalmedina to Atarazanes and thus finally serve the city centre proper. This leads us to one of the major problems of the new system: it terminates short of what most people would consider the city centre and the busy old town. El Perchel is located conveniently between the railway station and the bus station. It is the only station with exits at both ends of the station, although from the platform level up to the large mezzanine, stairs and escalators are only available at the eastern end of the station. A third exit next to the railway station shopping mall is still under construction. I don't consider the name of the station very helpful, although it is consistent with other station names, i.e. they mostly refer to the neighbourhood where the station is located. But for El Perchel, something like 'Estación Intermodal' as initially shown on project maps would be more useful. There is an acoustic announcement that transfer to all sorts of trains and buses is available here, though, but station signs do not include a secondary name such as 'El Perchel – Estación Renfe' or so (generally I don't like ADIF's latest fashion to call railway station after some local hero, either, as it makes names very long and difficult to display in full length, resulting in something like 'MLG. M. ZAMB'...).


The first station on L1, La Unión, is the only one different from the otherwise standard pattern. This is due to the fact that it lies below a narrow street and therefore has two platforms one on top of the other (inbound on the lower level). The upper level extends into a side street and accommodates the ticket barriers. This narrow street is also the cause for two rather tight curves, the one to the west on the way to Barbarela being extremely tight so trains slow down to 10-15 km/h and you can hear the wheels squeaking. The tracks on the rest of the line are pretty well laid with proper super-elevation in curves, so maximum speeds of 70 km/h can be reached on longer stretches between stations, like between Portada Alta and Ciudad de la Justicia on L1 and between Puerta Blanca and Palacio de los Deportes on L2.
From Barbarela to Ciudad de la Justicia as well as all stations on L2 are mostly identical. They all have one (and some also two) encased entrance pavilion, but I only saw a free-standing logo pole at Palacio de los Deportes. There are up and down escalators as well as stairs between them leading to a large vestibule where the ticket vending machines and fare gates are located. All of them also have a staff office, but I wonder whether this will be manned during normal service. Also a lift connects the surface to the mezzanine. Compared to those in Bilbao, the fare gates are somewhat slow to react and open, which caused some overcrowding on the first day at El Perchel, especially as tickets have to be checked also on the way out (mostly due to the fact that there are five surface stops without fare gates). They also stay open for a while, so it will be easy to follow someone without paying.

  

 

Once beyond the fare gates, again a doube set of escalators, stairs between them as well as a lift connect the mezzanine to the island platform. The platform level features a high ceiling, in fact no ceiling at all, instead the space on mezzanine level is open and unused, although massive concrete girders kind of separate the proper platform level from that open space above, so maybe in the future it would be possible to add a proper ceiling and use the space above. The uniform design of stations is, of course, boring but functional and pleasant. The walls behind the tracks are just grey, and hopefully some colourful art is placed there in the future to give the stations some extra touch. In the original proposals shown some 10 years ago, all stations had bright colours, each a different one. But in the end, the Andalusian government, just like in Sevilla, opted for this rather inconspicuous design, giving priority to functionality rather than artistic design. The platforms are very wide and include all state-of-the art information panels, next-train indicators, area maps, network maps, etc. The length of the platform is laid out for double trainsets, but for the moment only single units will be used. Although I love these wide spaces, from an economic point of view, they are a waste of money, considering that such a huge space is continuously ventilated and that 4-6 escalators plus 2 lifts in each station consume a lot of energy. Some stations could certainly have been built without a proper mezzanine, given that platforms are wide enough and exits located at the ends anyway, to place fare gates on platform level. On the other hand, I was missing some additional exits from the large mezzanine, like at Princesa (which on some maps and displays has an additional 'Huelín' in its name), there should certainly be a second entrance on the south side of the road junction to avoid long detours.

 

 

Although the joint operation of L1 and L2 is a good thing, it has caused a lot of confusion among the new passengers, especially as fixed direction signs show 'El Perchel' for inbound trains, but the electronic displays indicate the real destination of the train, i.e. 'Andalucía Tech' or 'Palacio de los Deportes'. They should change the signs to 'El Perchel – Andalucía Tech' or so, because once the line is extended to Guadalmedina, they will need to change the signs anyway. Also, on the trains, before arriving at El Perchel, there should be an announcement that this train continues on the other line. Talking about acoustic announcements, the next station is announced in Spanish and then also in English. The English announcement seems to be a bit louder than the Spanish, and with the female speaker not just saying (or shouting) 'next station', she also announces the name, which due to her slight foreign accent caused at least some smiles on some passenger faces.

 

On L1, trains reach the surface at Universidad from where they continue west serving another four surface stops which are basically what you would expect of any modern European tram system. The track is not covered by lawn, however, but embedded in cobblestones. The noise on this stretch is quite low, though. There are several level crossings on this section, and I wonder whether the traffic lights work properly or not, but these first days they had extra posts at many of them making sure no cars cross when a tram approaches. Many areas along this surface section are rather undeveloped or stuck in some development due to the economic crisis. The area houses many university facilities, so this section of the line will get busy when the new term starts. The depot and control centre are located at some distance from the last stop Andalucía Tech. The surface stops have a reasonably wide roof, so it provides some shade in the hot Andalusian sun, also the open space with stone benches causes some air ventilation. Wisely, stops in the inbound direction have more sitting space than outbound. On the second day, extra staff was instructing people to validate their tickets as there is no clear sign and not doing so would cause problems at the exit gates in the underground stations.


The metro trains are actually standard low-floor tram vehicles, the modular Urbos 3 built by CAF and also in service in other cities like Sevilla and Zaragoza. I think they have a quite pleasant design and at 2.65 m, they feel rather spacious. The ride is pretty comfortable, despite the hard green seats (which for my taste have backrests at an appropriate angle!). What is most amazing on such a type of transport system, which after all has the appearance of an underground tram system, is that the trains run in ATO mode in tunnels, i.e. speeds are controlled automatically and the driver just presses a button to start the train after a station stop, just like a proper modern metro does. Sevilla's metro, which is completely segregated and even has platform screen doors in all stations, uses the same type of ATO, I assume. In Málaga, station drafts from as late as 2010 still showed platform screen doors, too, but these were then omitted. Other metros like that in Madrid show that these are not really necessary. As a result of the ATO system, doors are released somewhat too slowly, and people keep pressing the button trying to open the doors before the green light appears. Generally, in all the stations, except La Unión, the train stops in the half closer to the exit, which is very wise. Actually, the second half of the station could at least be closed off with a ribbon to avoid that people wait too far away from the train. Fortunately, stations were made long enough to allow 2-car sets if demand grows or for special events at the Palacio de los Deportes. That station does have a much larger entrance pavilion, but actually no exit in the direction of the arena, so passengers need to walk around that entrance building to get into the metro. In fact, I think there should actually be a full exit at the western end of the platform, at least during events at that venue. At La Unión, the station with the respective platforms on two different levels, and with the stairs located in the middle, the trains stop at the front end of the platform, which should be marked on the floor or on the walls.


As for fares, Málaga is a bit like Sevilla or Bilbao, no real integration with bus services, but at least partly shared stored-value tickets. The Consorcio de Transportes, the local transport agency, already had such a card, and this can also be used and loaded on the metro. For one ride 0.82 EUR is deducted. I do not see the point why Metro de Málaga has issued and distributed its own smartcard, which is only valid on the metro. Using their own card, a trip costs likewise 0.82 EUR. Using the Consorcio card, a discount is granted when changing to other modes. Single trips for the occasional metro rider cost 1.35 EUR.

As the opening date of the metro was announced at rather short notice, there was no time to adjust bus lines, although I wonder if this is intended, as the buses are operated by a different company. The L2 corridor is actually served by numerous buses, all of which go directly into the city centre, so many people will continue to use the bus instead of the metro. I suggest that Metro establishes a continuous free bus shuttle between El Perchel and Alameda as long as the metro extension is not completed. The cost of such a service would easily be compensated by more paying metro riders.

In the initial project, the metro was to be extended further east to Malagueta, and with an intermediate station slightly further east than the one now planned as a terminus at Atarazanes (a name referring to the nearby market), although the station will actually lie beneath the northern lanes of the Alameda, where most of the city's bus lines end/start or pass through. Before the current project was decided upon, there was also a proposal for a surface route along the Alameda, a wide tree-lined avenue. I would have considered that a feasible option, a ramp on the western side of the Guadalmedina river would easily be possible, with the road there being much too wide anyway. Along the Alameda, the tram would have become a visible part of the urban transport scene, and for the price of digging a tunnel below the river, the tram could have reached beyond the initial Malagueta terminus. Anyway, whatever the decision is, I think that Málaga has chosen the right type of system, which combines metro with tram and thus allows future extensions on the surface through outer areas.

So with this system now finally in operation, let's hope that Granada is also able to enjoy its 'Metropolitano' soon, although there the underground portion will just be a short section of the entire line.


Besides the new metro, Málaga also boasts a rather busy Cercanías line that connects the city with coastal towns such as Torremolinos and Fuengirola. The airport is located between Málaga and Torremolinos and is also served by an underground station every 20 minutes. The new station there was built a couple of years ago when the airport was expanded and a longer section of the railway line was put underground; this section features another underground station called Guadalhorce in an industrial area and thus barely used. Another section closer to the city centre was put underground in conjunction with the construction of the high-speed line into Málaga and features an underground station at Victoria Kent. Slightly older are the underground stations adjacent to the main railway station, now called María Zambrano, from where a single-track extension leads further into the city centre, with a rather narrow single-track stub-end terminus at Málaga Centro-Alameda. The station actually lies on the western side of the riverbed, but one of the access tunnels runs below the river to an exit quite close to the western end of the Alameda. So, as of now, the Cercanías line thus actually gets closer to the old town than the metro. Trains run every 20 minutes to Fuengirola, the headway being limited by the single-track stub and also other single-track sections beyond the airport. At Torremolinos and Fuengirola, trains also stop underground. There was a project to extend it further west beyond Marbella and regauge it to 1435 mm so that long-distance trains can serve the Costa del Sol directly from Madrid. But given the current economic situation and with many other rail projects unfinished, this project does not seem to be a priority. A second Cercanías line, C-2, is operated between Málaga and Álora on the old Iberian-gauge track towards Córdoba, but with less frequent trains than on line C-1.


LINKS


Málaga Metro at UrbanRail.Net





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

DONOSTIA/SAN SEBASTIÁN & VITORIA-GASTEIZ

Vitoria-Gasteiz, the least-known of the three Basque provincial capitals is actually the seat of the Basque government and parliament, so in recent years the city seems to have expanded enormously with new neighbourhoods to the north of the city centre, and a lot of new construction also to the east. These northern districts are served by the new tram, which at first sight seems to be a copy of the slightly older Bilbao system, but fortunately it features several improvements. Both systems are operated by Euskotren.




The CAF vehicles in Vitoria-Gasteiz are composed of 5 modules as opposed to just three in Bilbao, and the floor is 100% low-floor whereas in Bilbao the section next to the driver's cabin is raised. A real improvement is the next-tram indicator mounted on top of one of the shelters, so it is visible from the distance. The network is actually made of two lines, although these are not numbered. As the indicator is only able to display one number, it alternates: minutes for city-bound trams are shown in red plus a single dot (for those who cannot see colours properly), two dots and green is for trams to Ibaiondo, while three dots and white numbers annouce trams to Abetxuko. This peculiar system is properly explained at each stop:


Unfortunately trams run only every 15 minutes on each branch, thus every 7.5 minutes on the shared stretch, and they were reasonably busy during my Monday visit. The routes are almost completely on a separate right-of-way along wide avenues, except for the single-track section through the old part of Abetxuko, and a section through the city centre between Parlamento and the terminus (there should actually be another stop on this section!), where cars and buses share the same lanes.


Given the usefulness and acceptance of the initial system it would be a real pity if this system was not expanded to the emerging districts to the east of the city centre. I guess the reason they didn't bother to take the line to the railway station is the fact that a new railway station is planned on the future high-speed line from Madrid to Bordeaux, which will be located near the 'Intermodal' tram stop, which is actually a misleading name, because when the nearby bus station opens in autumn of 2014, tram stop Euskal Herria will be more conveniently located.

As for tickets, single trips cost 1.35 EUR, a day pass just for the tram is available at 4.20 EUR. With the stored-value card BAT, a single journey just costs 0.71 EUR.

In Donostia/San Sebastián, for a few years now, Euskotren has been promoting the traditional 'Topo' as Metro Donostialdea. It is still a long way from becoming a proper metro although several steps have been taken. However, it still gives the impression of a suburban railway rather than a metro.
Many sections close to Donostia have been upgraded and doubled to increase frequencies, allowing a train every 7.5 minutes during peak hours on the central stretch, but a major bottleneck is of course the Amara terminal station where trains need to cross many tracks to reverse and continue their journey:


This problem was about to be solved by the planned city tunnel with a station right in the heart of the city and two more stations in the western districts before joining the existing line at Lugaritz (the new station there actually points in the wrong direction, requiring a long curve back to the west to serve the neighbourhoods of Bentaberri and Antiguo). And although construction contracts had already been awarded, a government change cancelled everything and the new government now came up with a new solution, well, it is basically the old one but includes only one station in the Bentaberri area. But I guess that it is very unlikely that any construction will start soon, as Donostia will be European Capital of Culture in 2016 and I don't think they want to have a huge construction site right next to the beach during that year!
Recently, however, they opened a new station on a new double-track tunnel deep under Intxaurrondo, a station which seems to be a copy of those in Bilbao, just in white instead of bare conrete, and with the stairs from the platforms to the mezzanine put into side spaces like in Madrid in order to keep the full width of the platforms free of stairs. Currently a similar station is under construction at Altza, on a new tunnel which would later be extended to Pasaia and gradually allow the metro-type section to reach Oiartzun (an elevated segment already finished). 


So step by step, Euskotren's line may become a metro similar to what happened in Valencia over the years. Just like in Bilbao, what I cannot approve at all is the use of the same names for completely different stations served by different companies, as is the case for Intxaurrondo and others. Why can't they simply call them differently, like Intxaurrondo Alto (Euskotren) and Intxaurrondo Bajo (for Renfe) or whatever that would be in Basque. Being rather low, Anoeta underground station has a certain 1980s metro feel to it, whereas the newer Lugaritz station is reminiscent of new Madrid metro stations, although train frequencies are still rather low, with a train every 30 minutes to Lasarte at certain times, but with all other trains coming from the west also calling here.
All local services between Lasarte and Hendaia are operated by new trains, which are quite comfortable although they appear to be suburban trains rather than metro trains. The same stock is supposed to serve L3 in Bilbao. In fact, in Donostia, I only saw new stock, whereas in the Bilbao area many older trains were still in service, one set even repainted in the new white livery.
Besides Euskotren, the Donostia – Irun corridor is also served by Renfe Cercanías, although less frequently and with somewhat irregular headways. Both lines run quite parallel, although Renfe stops less often and is faster altogther. People continuing on a French train, may opt for Euskotren, which runs directly to Hendaia, so only one transfer there is needed (Euskotren and SNCF stations lie next to each other).

Ticket-wise, exploring the Euskotren system is not very convenient, in fact, I got quite annoyed, because they actually offer a day pass for 5 EUR which covers the entire Lasarte-Hendaia section, but then I had to find out from some very unfriendly staff at their 'Oficina de atención al cliente' that this ticket is only sold in Hendaia and is meant for French daytrippers only. They have a stored-value card called Mugi, but which has to be bought for no less than 5 EUR, so I had to buy a single ticket for each section I travelled... This costs 1.65 EUR for most stations, and 2.35 for trip to Irun or Hendaia.



When in Donostia, one should, of course, also take a ride on the old Igeldo funicular at the western end of the Concha, a great view from the top is guaranteed.

LINKS




Vitoria-Gasteiz and Donostia at UrbanRail.Net



BILBAO Metro & Tram

Combining a relaxed summer holiday with some metro & tram exploration (in preparation for a 'Metro & Tram Atlas Spain' planned for 2015) I visited Bilbao as well as the other two Basque cities of Vitoria-Gasteiz and Donostia/San Sebastián during mid-July 2014 (see separate blog post for these two cities).

Previously, I had only been in Bilbao, and that was a long time ago, back in 1998 when I still lived in Barcelona. Bilbao's metro was then only three years old, it had only one line that went from Bolueta to Plentzia. In the meantime it has grown quite a bit, with three more station on its southeastern end to Basauri, but most notably with a second leg, L2, along the left bank of the Ría de Bilbao serving important towns like Barakaldo, Sestao, Portugalete and Santurtzi. But having already seen the standard station type designed by Norman Foster for the original section, L2 did not deliver any surprises, neither postive nor negative. Compared to the outer section of L1, it is almost completely underground, except for a viaduct in the Urbinaga area, a station in the middle of nowhere, actually built as part of an interchange between metro and the two Cercanías lines that split at that point. But although Urbinaga metro station has been in service for many years now, there are no signs of a Cercanías station at this location.



The moment of my visit was quite a good one, although this was not my intention, because the last station on L2, Kabiezes, had opened only a few weeks earlier, so I was able to see the system operated by Metro Bilbao completed. Kabiezes is just like all the other underground stations, but appears to be more illuminated. Interestingly, most other stations are rather dim normally, but illumination is increased as soon as a train enters the station. This can be very tricky when you have actually prepared your camera for a photo and suddenly the light changes. Officially, taking photos for private use is permitted and I was not troubled by anyone, although I try to avoid direct confrontation with vigilants, one of which is mostly present in any station or travelling between two stations.


Generally, the design of the metro stations is great, no doubt, but there are some things I do not appreciate so much. The most important is the lack of escalators between platforms and mezzanines. There are only lifts (with a dedicated ticket barrier at the platform end) and stairs, but these stairs are somehow steep and hard to climb – so if everybody has to climb these stairs, the slowest mark the pace, which means that leaving the platform can become somewhat slow and cause obstruction in busy stations (having visited in July and on weekends, I cannot tell whether this is a serious problem during peak hours).


Having a 3-zone fare system, people need to go through ticket gates also as they exit the station – another possible reason for potential overcrowding. Once on the mezzanine, which is in most cases actually a metal structure suspended in the station cavern, generally at each end, long escalators take passengers to the surface – i.e. almost to the surface, because once again, the last section lacks escalators and has only stairs instead, some of which are covered by the so-called Fosteritos, but some exits are simple 'bocas de metro'. Most of the stations lie in deep rock caverns, resulting in those long escalators which reach the surface in rather distant places and often I found it very hard to actually find an entrance and had to ask several times, like at Peñota. There is, of course, also a lift from the mezzanine to the surface, which due to its vertical shaft ends up in yet another place on the surface. Area maps inside the stations show these points, but it is not clear which of the red dots shown is actually a lift or a normal exit. Bilbao uses a proper logo for its metro (although I would have preferred some sort of variation of the traditional M diamond used in Madrid and Barcelona, which would be clearly recognisable for the many visitors). The three red rings on a high pole that mark station entrances are often only visible when you are actually there, and being two-dimensional you can only see them from two sides, whereas cube-style logos are generally visible from all sides. But what is really needed are frequent signposts towards the stations (although signposting in Spain is always a delicate issue...). Inside the stations, signage is clear and abundant. What I don't like at all, however, is the use of the same names for different stations served by different companies. The worst such case is Lutxana, with the Renfe and Metro stations even being located on different sides of the river. Neither are the two Etxebarri or Ariz stations close to each other, nor the many stations of the same name on lines L2 and C-1 to Santurtzi.


Even 19 years after its inauguration, the metro trains still look modern and timeless and are all in good shape. It is difficult to tell which trainsets are older and which are newer, just the door buttons seem to have changed over the years (and sometimes react too slowly). Although I like the sleek interior design, too, I don't find the seats very comfortable for my burdoned back. The angle of the backrest is just not right, and considering that a full trip to Plentzia takes some 45 minutes, this can be a problem. Otherwise the trains offer a very smooth ride, and have proven that metre-gauge does not mean narrower trains. I guess that metre-gauge together with well-laid track (as is the case!) and good suspension and shock absorbers actually helps to deliver a smooth ride.

Although full fare integration has now long been a reality in other cities, like Barcelona, and almost completely in Madrid, too, Bilbao and its metropolitan region see things differently. Each operator has its own fares, and there is no day ticket for all different means of transports (and there are many different ones). There is a day ticket for 4.50 EUR to explore the metro, a similar one for the tram only!, and I don't know about buses. This is no major issue, I suppose, for local people, as most of them use a Barik smartcard, which can be used on all modes, luckily, and this rechargeable card offers good discounts compared to normal single tickets. But you have to buy it for 3 EUR first. But I think there should be a sort of Tourist Barik or day pass to make things easier. The major problem with this sort of fare system is, however, that it is operator orientated, and not passenger-orientated. A passenger has to travel from A to B, and for this trip he may need just one or several means of transport, generally he cannot choose. So some people may be lucky and be able to go to work on just one bus, others may have to change to the metro and thus have to pay more. Compared to fully integrated transport systems in Central Europe, however, single trips are very cheap in Bilbao just like in most Spanish cities.

The so-called Line 3 has been under construction for many years now, but I wonder what this will be in the end. In the central area, some construction seemed well-advanced in the Matiko area, although the site seemed to lay idle at the moment, similar at Uribarri. And from what I have read in some local newspaper, the new station at Casco Viejo has not even been started. Construction was launched by some previous Basque government and I think they never really knew what this line should be one day. Eventually they decided to have it operated by Euskotren, and in fact the southern 'terminus' of what is shown on project maps at Etxebarri Norte is already a completed surface station on the Euskotren line towards Donostia, trains already run through this unfinished station. From there, they also built the shell for inclined lifts or a sort of funicular to reach the neighbourhoods high above. I understand that this will be a sort of reciprocal, Japan-style service, with all Euskotren regional services redirected through the new tunnel instead of Atxuri via Bolueta, and that these trains would terminate somewhere underground at Casco Viejo. I wonder if these trains would continue to the airport, another line that has been under construction for a while through the Artxanda mountain replacing the current single-track tunnel to Sondika and Lezama. But there was no on-going construction visible anywhere, although the tunnel mouths can been seen from the old train (which indeed is old and in urgent need of upgrading).

So even if L3 is completed in the next years, I think it only makes limited sense. It is probably useful for those people up on the mountain served by Txurinaga and Otxarkoaga stations, but the line will only be really useful if the leg, which was once presented as Line 4, from Matiko to Moyúa was finished, too. Continuing this line to Rekalde and possibly Miribilla would certainly create a good cross-city connection for many people. The central stretch now labelled L3 could carry overlapping regional services. If anybody knows more about the future operation of L3, please use the comment feature of this blog!


For some years now, Bilbao has also had a tram line, but this is more a capricho than a real service. Considering that the only useful place it goes to is the Guggenheim Museum, a 15-minute service during holiday season is simply not enough. Service frequency is also limited by the lengthy single-track section through the heart of the city, with a passing loop only at Arriaga. Once the trams reach the double-track section along the nicely redeveloped river embankment, they can speed up a bit, while in the San Mamés area, despite having mostly a separated right-of-way, trams are slowed down by many traffic lights, and there seems to be no traffic light preemption. The tram is branded 'Euskotran', which sounds a bit strange to my ears and eyes, first it seems to be a misspelt Euskotren, and internationally, one would expect 'Euskotram', but in Spanish and Basque it is 'tranvía/tranbia'... For a modern tram system, the CAF vehicles are rather short, so they didn't really expect to carry many people. They are a bit reminiscent of new U.S. streetcar systems, rather than modern European tramways. So it is nice to see trams in Bilbao, but not really necessary. And the tourist-only approach can also be seen in the relatively high single fares of 1.50 EUR, and 4.20 EUR for a day ticket valid just on this single line. The stops are what you would expect of a modern European tramway, but the next-tram indicator is a bit hard to view. Instead of a sign over the platform, the minutes remaining are displayed on a screen and you actually have to go there to see it.


Rail entusiasts, however, have much more to discover in Bilbao. There are three Renfe Cercanías lines starting from the central Abando station. On lines C-1 and C-2, which mostly parallel metro line L2, although they run closer to the river, several underground stations were built in recent years, San Mamés offering good interchange with the metro and the tram, and Amétzola sharing the station complex with Feve.
From the nice Concordia station next to the central Arenal bridge and a few steps from Abando station, Feve runs a train at least once an hour to Balmaseda, and its underground urban section was recently extended to a new station called Basurto Hospital, in walking distance of the tram.
And last but not least, Euskotren operates a train every 30 minutes on the remaining stretch between Casco Viejo and Lezama (with trains reversing direction at Sondika), and trains meeting at Larrondo. From Atxuri, Euskotren services run to Bermeo and Eibar, and some further on to Donostia, although the trip takes some three hours for 100 km! A good metro/rail interchange was built for these trains at Bolueta, which may become obsolete once L3 opens. At Atxuri, transfer to the tram is easy as trams start from just outside the main entrance. There are proposals to use the present Euskotren tracks to Bolueta for a tram extension once L3 has opened.


Still to discover on Bilbao's interesting transport scene are the Funicular de Artxanda with great views of the city, the old lift to Begoña (it was out of service during my stay, but you can use the nearby metro lift instead), and of course the Puente Colgante (the Hanging Bridge) between Portugalete and Areeta in Getxo, a fascinating and listed monument used by thousands of people everyday to cross the Ría. For 7.50 EUR you can take a lift to the top level and walk across, very recommendable. And if you have time there is still the Funicular de Larreineta, operated by Euskotren a bit further out, accessible by C-2 to Trapagaran and then walk for 20 minutes. It is quite peculiar as the carriage is sort of hooked up instead of the typical tiered cars. It goes up to a small village, but I didn't really see the point of this service nowadays as there would never be enough people to use this service, especially as it is badly connected at its lower station. There are buses serving it, but they didn't seem to connect well with the funicular, which runs every 30 minutes, and they don't run to the railway station anyway.


LINKS



Bilbao at UrbanRail.Net





Monday, June 2, 2014

EDINBURGH Tram

For some unknown reason I felt I should go to Edinburgh as soon as the long awaited tram opens, and as I could fit it into my spring schedule, I did book a flight as soon as the beginning of operation was finally announced a few weeks ago. For several months the official Edinburgh Trams website had stated that operation would start in May, so to keep that promise, I guess, they picked May 31 and not one day earlier. This day happened to be a Saturday, usually a good day for an opening, to fix teething problems before regular commuters would get on the following Monday.


I don't want to list all the problems that had led to the long delayed conclusion of the works (see the respective Wikipedia article), but the general impression reading the news in all sorts of tram magazines over the last years was that this tram might never open as it was often close to being cancelled altogether.

With these delays and the enormous (though actually quite common) cost overruns, I was getting excited to find out whether the result was worth all the wait. So following are my personal impressions gained on the first two days of operation, which means that some initial problems may have been solved and can be filed under normal teething problems. Some, or maybe too many, problems, however, will either need another large amount of money to be fixed, or people will have to bear with them forever.

Generally, the 14 km line that connects the city centre to the airport, is 'o.k.'. The CAF trams are nice, run smoothly and have rather comfortable seating. As the line goes to the airport, luggage racks are provided, too. A positive thing, at first sight, but once you look through the 7-section tram, you'll find out that there are five such racks, each about 2 m wide and with three shelves. An approximate calculation resulted in a capacity of some 60 typical suitcases to be stored, a number I would consider very excessive for a tram that runs every 10 minutes and with the airport buses continuing service on a similar route. My guess is that eventually, if a little money is available, some of these (probably mostly empty) racks will be withdrawn to increase the number of seats. After all, the tram is meant to provide an urban service and not just an airport service. If the airport had been the primary purpose to build the tram, then certainly a railway branch would have been a cheaper and more recommendable solution. In fact, there was a project to build a rail access, which would have been useful for people from other Scottish regions, too, whereas the tram is only good really to go from the airport into Edinburgh itself, although there is also convenient interchange at Edinburgh Park station for local trains west.


Otherwise the CAF trams feature most things one would expect of a new tram, screens announcing the next stop, acoustic announcements, etc. but no air-conditioning, and as it appeared, no proper ventilation either. Unexpectedly, the first day of operation, 31 May 2014, turned out to be a very warm day, and with the trams packed with curious passengers, the air inside the trams got quite unbearable despite some open windows.

The opening as such was quite disappointing, as there was actually no opening ceremony at all. The toughest fans (not me) gathered at 5 in the morning at Gyle Centre, where the first regular tram coming from the nearby depot entered service. An eye-witness told me the first tram was overcrowded and some people couldn't even get on. Unlike other grand tram openings like those in France in recent years, Edinburgh Trams did not organise any kind of popular festival around it, and they did not hand out free try-out tickets to residents along the line. Instead they made everybody pay a full fare from the very beginning. Loudspeakers at stops continuously announced that all passengers must purchase a ticket and that inspectors (well, they call them something milder) will be on board to check tickets, and they did. So all that left a bad taste in my mouth, especially as service was getting very irregular during late morning, when they even switched off the next-tram indicators, and just announced that trams would arrive every 10 minutes. In reality, waiting times became much longer, and often two trams came one shortly after the other. But it seemed they gave up checking tickets in the afternoon. So Edinburgh Trams as the operator somehow missed this unique opportunity to get the public opinion on their side from the first day.

A single ride costs 1.50 GBP, quite reasonable, and a day ticket for 3.50 GBP including all Lothian Buses is actually a very good deal. So, compared to the really bad fare system in Glasgow, Edinburgh at least has good integration of buses and trams, although local trains are left out as of yet.


The initial tram line, which was supposed to continue northeast to Leith but was curtailed due to the cost overruns, actually consists of two rather different sections. The eastern part, between York Place and Haymarket railway station, is a typical tram with a high share of on-street running, just the easternmost 300 m before the York Place terminus is on a central reservation. Other parts are shared by private cars and mostly by hundreds of buses which run along Princes Street, so that could cause mutual obstruction. Otherwise my major objection to this stretch is the lack of a stop near Edinburgh's main railway station Waverley. So, people with suitcases arriving in Edinburgh and not familiar with the surroundings of the station, will have problems finding the nearest stop. For St. Andrew Square stop (which on maps shows 'for Waverley') they will have to walk a couple of hundreds of metres, the Princes Street stop is a bit further away, but might be the better choice if going westwards. Princes Street is one of the city's main shopping streets, but funnily, it is here where you find the longest distance between stops. The next stop west lies some 800 m away, a distance more typical for metros, but even for those not recommendable in the city centre, where generally more stops are necessary to spread people out a bit. The island platform at Princes Street will soon get problems with overcrowding, never a good thing in the middle of a 4-lane road. I assume that even shop owners (who suffered most during construction) realised that the stop called Princes Street is so far east and that passengers might not bother to walk back west to their shops. As a result the next western stop, initially marked as 'Shandwick Place', was renamed 'West End-Princes Street' although Princes Street actually only begins some 250 m further east!! So my advice is, move the present 'Princes Street' stop further east towards the Waverley Bridge, and add another stop, maybe called 'Princes Street West' somewhere in between. The last stop of the tram-like section, at Haymarket, is conveniently located just outside the railway station of that name, busy with commuters, but long-distance trains often just serve Waverley.

The entire section west of Haymarket can be classified as 'light rail', completely on its own right-of-way, with only a few level crossings (the only major one just south of Gyle Centre), and with some sections allowing speeds of up to 70 km/h. Around Bankhead/Saughton the tram took over an existing busway alignment, which already had dedicated bridges to avoid level crossings. To reach this busway alignment, however, two viaducts had to be built to take the tram to the south side of the mainline railway which it parallels between Haymarket and Edinburgh Park station. So, here the big question remains, whether this alignment was really necessary or whether another one or two stations for local trains would have done the job, while the tram could have stayed in a more urban environment. But that's done now. After Edinburgh Park the line runs through nice lawns between office buildings in this business park, and most likely a lot of new buildings will be built in this area soon. Beyond Gyle Centre, once the depot has been passed, the line continues through farmland, just serving a Royal Bank of Scotland business park at Gogarburn and the free Ingliston car park. Between these two stops, two level crossings as well as a ghost stop can be seen amidst a huge meadow, so this area may also change in the future. Another ghost stop is visible just east of the depot which may provide interchange to a still-to-be-built railway station, though likely requiring a long walk if I got the local situation right.

Ingliston P+R is the last stop within the normal fare zone, for the Airport a special fare of 5 GBP is required (9 GBP for a day ticket). The Airport terminus, unlike York Place, which has only one track, features two stub tracks with a scissors crossover before it. I don't know whether this stop is the property of the Airport, but it was surprising that it had no signs at all, no name signs and no next-tram indicators. There are several ticket machines, and there was an assistant on the first day, but there is no information office in the airport. Many passengers will therefore rather take the bus because there is a manned ticket booth and also drivers available for information.


So, it might seem that the fast light-rail section would compensate for the naturally slower urban tram section, but this optimism is soon erased by the fact that too many curves along this section are so badly built that trams have to reduce speed drastically. Funnily, there is a speed restriction of 10 km/h at the depot entrance, but not for trams going into the depot, but for trams staying on the running tracks. Was this a planning mistake?? On other curves, most notably just west of the Ingliston stop, tracks were laid on concrete (honestly, no idea why!), and obviously badly laid, because these curves cause noises I have never heard before in my long tram-watching life! A similar flaw, though not as loud, can be found just west of Gogarburn, where the trams take an S-curve through empty grassland. Like at Ingliston, the immediate question comes up, why did they have to align the platforms parallel to the nearby road, and why didn't they build them some 45 degrees to the northwest to avoid the need of such tight curves? Another not-approvable section can be found around Murrayfield Stadium where trams wind their way around a train yard, requiring speed limits of 25 km/h. I would say that on a new light rail line a continuous speed of 45-50 km/h should always be allowed, otherwise the respective engineers should be sacked, in the case of Ingliston even taken to jail. I wonder if the original planners are responsible for that or whether it was German construction company Bilfinger Berger? In any case, they should have refused to build such bad trackbeds even if the local supervisors had insisted. I have not been on Manchester's latest extensions, but on U.S. light rail systems which have very similar alignments, I have never observed such a series of construction flaws.


The tram stops all have a uniform design, St. Andrew Square, Princes Street, West End-Princes Street and Airport with island platforms, the rest with side platforms. There are small shelters, ticket machines, an information poster, next-tram indicators and proper station name signs. The latter are better than elsewhere, and repeated along the platform, at least twice. I would have preferred an inverted colour scheme, though, a maroon (or whatever the corporate colour is supposed to be), with white, slightly larger characters. The only stop that is slightly different is Murrayfield Stadium next to the Rugby stadium. It is on an elevated section, with a huge flight of stairs to cater for large crowds, and all in typical Edinburgh sandstone, which brings us to another point. Edinburgh is without doubt an elegant city, but with its uniform sandstone style it is also a very colourless city, especially on a rainy day. And the choice of a very decent colour shared by Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams, both now under the Transport for Edinburgh brand, has not added a little colour touch to the city, while it could have been a modern contrast to the otherwise classic urban environment, for example by using a strong but noble red instead. From experience we know, however, that British liveries change at least every five years anyway, so there is hope....


So, if someone asked me, should the system be extended, I would say, I don't know. They should at least build the extension to Leith as initially planned to give the present line more reason to be, as it would serve a busy corridor and could thus replace many of the current buses. But I think it will be hard to convince local residents and politicians to invest further, as the present tram is not even capable of providing a faster journey to the airport. After having been to Leith on a bus instead, I would say, that at least a tram is much more comfortable than the bumpy buses (if it wasn't for the squealing noise in so many curves...). In any case, I'm afraid, we won't see any extensions for a while as the Scottish transport minister said they wouldn't give any more money for the tram. It will also take a while until people realise the advantages of the tram, as the present line actually only serves a very small portion of the population. What would help is a much more frequent hop-on hop-off service in the city centre between York Place and Haymarket (an existing siding between here and Murrayfield Stadium would make this easily possible). Trams would be much more visible and worth to wait for, whereas currently it is mostly faster to walk instead of waiting for the next tram in 'about' 10 minutes. The single-track stub at York Place might limit such aspirations, however. Rolling stock would not be the problem as 27 trams were purchased for the entire line including the Leith extension, while only 17 are now needed for an 8-10 minute service.

LINKS

Edinburgh Trams (Official Website)

Edinburgh Tram at UrbanRail.Net


Monday, May 5, 2014

WIEN (Vienna) U-Bahn & Tram

I had been to Vienna on several occasions to explore its excellent public transport system, but I wanted to go back in preparation for the new edition of my 'Tram Atlas Schweiz & Österreich' to check the latest extensions and see how new projects are progressing. So I stopped there for a couple of days (7-10 April 2014).
 



I actually wanted to visit Vienna last October to see the last U2 extension from Aspernstraße to Seestadt right after its opening, but for some reasons I had to postpone my trip, then I preferred to wait for spring when the weather would be nicer, and it was. This extension was much criticised as it runs virtually through nowhere. There is a project to create a new neighbourhood on what was previously an airfield, but that redevelopment scheme is advancing slower than planned, and so the U-Bahn mostly serves construction workers, I suppose. At Hausfeldstraße, people can transfer to the also extended tram line 26, but at Aspern Nord hardly anyone is visible in the station, although some buses terminate there. The route is mostly elevated, although just east of Hausfeldstraße it is actually at grade for a few hundred metres. The stations are in the style of those on the previous extension to Aspernstraße, which means they are o.k., but nothing exciting. As opposed to line U1, an architecture contest was held for the surface U2 stations, but the result could have been more interesting, as we basically get square boxes without much decoration, and unlike the other lines, also the purple line colour is not as present. But being elevated, the line provides nice views, especially between Donaumarina and Donaustadtbrücke as it crosses the Danube River. From a photographic point-of-view the elevated section is not a perfect shot as the viaduct is flanked by sound-absorbing walls which cover at least half the train. For neighbours along the line, this is, of course, good as you can hardly hear the trains roll by. Let's hope that in the near future, all construction projects in the area will get done so that also this extension gets the ridership it deserves.




Caption should say 'southern side of the station'-Sorry!


Maybe inspired by the criticism received for the eastern U2 (or northern as they say), the city government has recently cancelled or at least postponed the line's southern extension which was planned and even funded to run from Karlsplatz to Gudrunstraße, also serving some new developments which may get finished later than expected. Instead, the money is to be transferred to the long-planned but never realised U5, or at least its first stage, together with a new extension for U2. The plan is to split the present U2 at Rathaus, transfer the original section which was once an underground tram to the new U5 from Karlsplatz to Rathaus and build a new section north towards Altes AKH, now a university campus. Later U5 would head northeast to Hernals. In return, line U2 would get a southwestern route from Rathaus via Neubaugasse (U3), Pilgrimgasse (U4) to Matzleinsdorfer Platz, a major hub with S-Bahn and trams. In a later stage it could continue to Wienerberg, an area with some high-rise office buildings.

Although, like Munich, Vienna had long stuck to its initial metro project which it gradually developed over various decades without many modifications being added along the way, this is now the second major change in such a project. The first was only a few years ago, when the current U1 south extension was modified, when construction had already started. But the change only affects the surface section which was started later anyway. The initial idea was a rather straight route towards the south to Rothneusiedl, where a new football stadium was planned. But as this project was cancelled, an U-Bahn extension wasn't justified either, at least not now, so instead of just shortening the extension, the city decided to bend the route towards the east to Oberlaa, basically replacing the former tram 67 (which was curtailed at Alaudagasse in March 2014 so that construction for the U-Bahn can begin). A branch to Rothneusiedl is an option for the future. Any tram closure in favour of the U-Bahn is, of course, always met with criticism from some people, but in the end, residents in the area will be happy to get a through and fast ride into the city centre instead of having to change from tram to U-Bahn, as they used to do at Reumannplatz, as line 67 has always been just a metro feeder line, and will continue to be one on its western leg. From the beginning of the U1 extension project there has been talk about a new tram 67 route further east via Laaerberg, but the future will show whether this route gets classified with the necessary priority, as other tram extensions are also on the wish list.
With the new U5, a busy corridor will be served by the U-Bahn, and it will certainly speed up journeys on the western tram lines, some of which may then, of course, disappear or be diverted not to double the new U-Bahn line.


Generally what I like about the Vienna U-Bahn is its speediness. Trains seem to accelerate much more than any such system in Germany, and station dwelling time is rather short, too. After having introduced a Berlin-style 'Zurückbleiben, bitte!' only a few years ago, trains now simply have an accoustic signal that doors are closing and off they go (some of the German systems – even the driverless metro in Nuremberg! – have now also understood that this is less dangerous than a stupid long announcement ignored by everyone). The headways are quite good, too, and despite a standard station design, each line has its own character. Normally I prefer individual station designs, but I think that Vienna's original design is still nice today, sort of timeless. This is most visible on line U1, which had seen various extensions but maintained its original design, though slightly modified, and the new stations on the Leopoldau extension still look modern with their 1970s design. U4 and U6, with their old Stadtbahn heritage, have some architectural treasures, especially with their entrance pavillions or buildings designed by Otto Wagner. Line U3, besides U1 the only one built from scratch as an U-Bahn line, has a less appealing basic design, but many of its stations are enhanced with artwork, mostly notably Volkstheater with its gigantic wall mosaic. One thing, however, I don't like about the basic approach in Vienna is the dark wall behind the track. The architects tried to intentionally separate the illuminated space of the platform from the technical side, but now we know from many other cities, like the refurbished stations on line M2 in Budapest, that clad walls behind the tracks improve the overall appearance of a station enormously, whereas with just a few advert boards, the uncovered walls, mostly painted black, produce a rather filthy atmosphere. So Wiener Linien's responsible should go on a day trip to Budapest to see the difference (which is also apparent there between lines M2 and M3!).


Talking about refurbishment, all the underground tram stops along the Gürtel have recently been refurbished. Generally this was a good approach, the stations look much friendlier now, but I heard some people criticise that the walls, now covered in small mosaic tiles which from top to bottom go from white to black, look dirty this way, because these people perceive the black part as dirt. I, personally, did not have that impression, but I can understand their point. My criticism would rather be why they didn't choose a different colour scheme for each station, an approach made by many metro systems, as this helps passengers to identify their station without looking for a name sign. 


One station is and has always been different, the one at Südtiroler Platz, now Hauptbahnhof, only served by line 18. And I was sad seeing it completely refurbished. Having opened in 1958, it was different from those built later. And I think I was not the only one who loved its 1950s design. Its new design is not bad, it blends in with the overall design of the new railway station complex, but I think they should have left some features of its original look, especially the ceiling, however, just the wall mosaic was rescued and placed on a different wall, though well visible.


And talking about name signs, a very confusing issue in Vienna! Several stations use a double name, like Schottentor-Universität or Messe-Prater, but this is not shown like this on station signs, instead each sign only shows one part of the combined name alternatingly, but too far from each other to perceive it as a combined name. So you may look for a sign saying Schottentor, but all you can see is Universität which may lead to some confusion, especially for visitors. The respective tram hub, however, which is geographically actually closer to the university, is just called Schottentor. So, if the station is called Messe-Prater, then all signs should say 'Messe-Prater' (most of these illuminated signs are big enough to include the full name!).

Is this station called Südtiroler Platz or Hauptbahnhof as the next photo would suggest?

Although I didn't like them so much in the beginning, I now enjoy riding the new U-Bahn rolling stock (V stock). Just like their brothers in Oslo, Siemens delivered a good train, and I don't understand why they now offer that crappy Inspiro (probably it's cheaper and thus more affordable for not so wealthy cities). I'm not a fan of the red plastic seats, but they are o.k. Like in Munich, the new trains look especially modern compared to the older stock, which although partly refurbished, looks quite dated now. On line U6 (which some would argue is not a real metro, but for me it fulfills all criteria) the low-floor trains are nice, but a bit loud as you can hear the wheelsets too much. It is always amazing how many passengers this line carries being a tangential line, and one of the reasons given for the decision to build line U5 is to relieve U6 in the area of the AKH, Vienna's largest hospital complex. Unfortunately all the cables and wires necessary to operate this line were placed between the tracks, thus acting as a barrier to prevent people from crossing the tracks, but for train-spotters they prevent us from taking a good shot of the station with a train on the other side. So the best locations for train photos are the surface stations on the southern section, especially Alterlaa where every other train terminates during off-peak times.

 

Despite many line closures, often to be replaced by the U-Bahn, and despite all complaints from tram enthusiasts, Vienna still ranks among the Top 5 worldwide when it comes to tram network length (after Melbourne, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Moscow, although the latter two cannot be confirmed). And together with the latest U2 extension also the tram network was expanded in the eastern district of Donaustadt, thus giving frustrated tram fans hope for future development, which is likely to happen. Being such a big and old system it is certainly not comparable to a modern French tramway. New sections are mostly built on a dedicated right-of-way, but not necessarily as unlike in Germany funding is also available for street-running sections. Generally, the share of street-running sections is rather high, and so is the share of stops with street-level boarding. Wiener Linien together with Siemens developed ULF, the ultra-low-floor tram with the lowest floor height worldwide, some 19 cm, of which there are now some 300 vehicles, short ones and long ones (35 m). This is compensated by very dense headways, most lines operating every 7-8 minutes. Like the U-Bahn, also trams accelerate fast, and you'd better hold on to a pole on an ULF! From a passenger's point-of-view, I'm not a big fan, I don't like the sections between the modules, and in fact, Siemens did not sell this tram to any other city but Vienna, just a few to Oradea in Romania. As maintenance of these cars is also too expensive, Wiener Linien finally decided to launch a new tendering process to replace the still numerous high-floor trams. So while at many stops boarding is still from street level, several stops now have raised road lanes that act as platforms to allow level boarding. The new line 26 to Hausfeldstraße features full modern tram platforms, of course. On the long viaduct, which takes the tram across a railway and a motorway, there is an elevated station. Apparently it was not allowed or desired to have passengers cross the tracks on this signalled section in case one of the lifts wouldn't work, so an island platform was built and to allow the single-ended trams to open their doors, they need to switch sides on the ramp to that viaduct, similar to what is done in the tram tunnel in Zurich. This is Vienna's first elevated tram stop since the tram viaduct to Alterlaa had been rebuilt for line U6. 




A weak point of Vienna's tram system is the fact that many lines are radial, i.e. all lines coming into the city centre from the western suburbs, except line 2, terminate at the Ring, which forces people to transfer to other lines. Given the long sections of street-running which is likely to produce delays, Wiener Linien prefers to operate short lines instead of long through lines, hence the elevated number of lines, when several of them could be combined to form cross-city lines. The forced transfer is partly compensated by short headways and convenient interchanges also with the U-Bahn system. The transfer spectacle is most visible at Schottentor where no less than five tram lines terminate in the underground loop known as 'Jonas-Reindl' and two more in the surface loop. Passengers can continue their journey on three passing tram lines (1-D-71) or on line U2, or walk into the city centre or take one of the minibuses.


I already mentioned the lack of warning annoucements on the U-Bahn, which I appreciate, but with the introduction of a new speaker they also introduced bad language, when they announce 'Umsteigen zu: 2, 49', for example. This hurts in my ears! What does it cost to say 'Umsteigen zu den Linien: 2, 49'?? Even a pre-recorded system should be able to do that. And even better would be 'Umsteigen zu den Straßenbahnlinien 2 und 49, sowie zu den Buslinen 14 A!' etc. We should not wonder why immigrants speak bad German if this is what they hear on the trains and trams!

As long as you travel within Vienna, the fare system is simple. The entire city is Kernzone of the VOR fare structure, which covers large parts of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), too. A 24-hour tickets costs 7.10 €, and there are also 48-hour and 72-hour tickets. For frequent visitors to Vienna, there is a stripcard with 8 individial 24-hour tickets. For longer stays, a weekly pass may be an option. This can be bought from any machine, but curiously it is not a 7-day ticket but always runs from Monday to Sunday! Something I hadn't seen for a long time in any other city. But it may still be a good choice for your stay. It was for mine, but on Saturday and Sunday before, when I just needed to go to and from Meidling railway station, I had to buy single tickets. Like in Linz, things get very complicated if not impossible if you want to go on a day excursion outside Vienna and don't want to go just from A to B and back. There is no practical excursion ticket like a day pass for the entire area or for certain zones. So here they should really consider introducing some sort of attractive leisure ticket, easy to use like DB's Schönes-Wochend-Ticket or the different Ländertickets, with which you don't have to bother whether you have chosen the correct ticket. And in Germany these sort of tickets are not just popular with railway enthusiasts. A Munich-style XXL ticket might also be a good addition to the ticket offer.

Maps for the U-Bahn and S-Bahn (by locals mostly referred to as Schnellbahn) are available in one of the numerous Wiener Linien customer centres. But unfortunately there is no tram map. I think it is the only city in the western world with a tram system but with no proper tram map! Whereas in eastern countries it is often difficult to get hold of a printed map, at least they have them posted inside the trams, but Vienna's trams just show the line diagram with connections. If you want to find out where tram service is actually available you'll need to visit my website, buy my atlas or buy VOR's city map for 3 €. It is a nice map, but you have to fold it out fully to be able to read it. The complexity of the network and its length cannot be the reason why there is no tram map, because Berlin also has one, and not a bad one. The one in Melbourne, the world's largest tram system, is more of a simplified diagram which doesn't show all the stops. Vienna has also the only tram system with uncoloured lines, all lines are actually black (which may have been the reason why the underground stops were designed with a black & white colour scheme). A heritage from times gone by, a few lettered lines have survived in Vienna, namely D and O, whereas others disappeared a couple of years ago when the ring lines 1 and 2 were linked with radial routes. In my opinion, the two remaining lettered lines should be renamed to make them coherent with the rest of the network, but apparently along the north D there was much resistence as people identify with their D tram. There is, however, a new red logo outside these underground stations as well as at Gewerbepark Stadlau, the elevated stop on line 26. Some stops like at Kagraner Platz have a new logo for testing using the green H on a yellow circle which you can find at all tram and bus stops in Germany, but also in many Austrian cities.

LINKS


Vienna at UrbanRail.Net