Sunday, 11 January 2009
There is an ad on Spanish television where a young man describes the wonders of Madrid. The riches and splendour of the Prado and Reina Sofia art galleries, the Palacio Real, the Plaza Mayor and other jewels of the city are commented on with a shrug of the shoulders and a “Ho Hum”. The most wonderful thing about Madrid, the young man exclaims, is the metro. The metro?!! Madrid’s underground railway? It’s subway to American readers.
And I will admit there is a part of me that agrees with the young man’s opinion. In my travels around the world I have used urban transport systems in many countries. Nearly every one of them compares very favourably to the antiquated London Underground that I know and loathe so well. In my travels in France I have ridden on the “Twisto” trams in Cean on the north French Coast and the driverless metro in Lille; the system in Rouen is half over ground tram and half underground metro. The transition works seamlessly as the train passes over the Seine River.
But the Madrid metro beats them all.
I recently received an e mail from London transport describing their plans to modernise. There was even a small computer animation showing the new trains that were due to come into service by 2015. They looked familiar. It was what the Madrid metro has NOW!!!
There are two hundred and eighty three stations on the thirteen lines of the underground part of the system. These join to a further thirty two of the three lines of the light railway that carries commuters out to the suburbs. And it seems hardly a month goes past without an additional station coming, literally, on line. Two thirds of these stations are part of the central system and any journey between any two will cost no more than one euro. If you buy a multi journey ticket it will cost even less. And we are not talking short distances here. Line 10 will take you from the southern suburbs of Alcobendas to the completely separate town of San Sabastian de los Reyes in the north; a journey of forty kilometres and all for less than two Euros when the northern section supplementary fare is added.
The metro opened in 1919 as the Compañía de Metro Alfonso XIII. Alfonso XIII was the last king of Spain before the civil war and invested heavily in the metro. Today, billions of euros of investment from local and central government continues to improve what must be one of the best metros in the world with over three hundred kilometres of track extending like a spider’s web across the greater Madrid area. Projected plans up to 2020 show the metro almost doubling in size.
The planners of the metro are very innovative. The very method of constructing the tunnels is known as the “Madrid Method” and Metro Madrid hold patents on many features that are used all over the world. Interestingly though, a particular design of station used here is known as the “Barcelona Design”, which includes a central platform. However, it’s still Spanish!
While some of the original lines still show an impoverished air with their smaller tunnels and consequently narrower, more crowded carriages, the new lines allow for modern, spacious rolling stock. And there is a lot of rolling stock. At peak times there will be a train every three minutes. They are also fast. I continually arrive early for appointments because I forget how efficient the system is.
A declared aim of the metro is that no resident of Madrid will ever be more than six hundred metres from a station. In the time I have lived here I have never felt the need for owning any sort of private transport. The metro invariably takes me exactly where I want to go. (The on road buses expand the network of public transport even further, but, because of Madrid’s continually gridlocked roads, can never be as efficient or as speedy as the metro.)
There is history to be learned here too. The authorities have seen fit to name stations after Madrid’s and Spain’s finest sons and daughters. Explorers, conquistadores, Statesmen, Kings, Priests and Doctors have all been honoured. Even a casual research on some of the names reveals volumes of Spain’s role in the world. And deeper research reveals station names which have been altered to reflect changing attitudes to some of those aspects of history that would best be passed over!
For anyone travelling to a new city, finding your way around can be a daunting prospect. New arrivals in Madrid need not have this fear. There are downloadable maps of the metro to be found on line. Metro Madrid have recently revamped their website and it comes in both Spanish and English if you click on the button at the top.
There are similar websites to use the Madrid bus system too. Read about that by clicking THIS LINK.
The metro might not be as world renowned as the treasures in the Prado, the Reina Sofia, or the Royal Palace, but it certainly deserves to be regarded as one of the jewels in Madrid’s crown.
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