Saturday, 2 August 2014


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.


Málaga Metro at UrbanRail.Net