Sunday 18 October 2009

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

By Richard Morley.
I have written before about Madrid’s wonderful metro, but I can’t let this weekend go past without mentioning it again as Saturday was its ninetieth birthday.

Their Royal Highnesses Alfonso XIII and Juan Carlos with Queen Sofia use the metro.

On the 17th of October 1919 King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the first line. It ran from Sol To Cuatro Caminos through eight stations and cut the travel time from an hour to eight and a half minutes. That first train.

Since then the metro has continued, and continues, to expand in all directions.

This is being celebrated with a small exhibition on display at the Nuevo Ministerios metro station.

It a little smaller than I expected!

The exhibition at Nuevos Ministerios.

Considering that they have advertised the show at every station and they have been trumpeting their 90th anniversary all year, I had hoped for something on a grander scale. Perhaps they are saving the big one for their centenary in 2019.

Half a dozen boards display photographs of the different types of rolling stock that has been used through the decades, ancient photographs of early construction work, pictures of the metro in use and advertisements through the ages. There are a couple of ancient ticket dispensing machines and a cut away model of Gran Via station. Well the model is named the station of Red de San Luis, but then its name was changed to José Antonio before eventually taking the name Gran Via. But then Gran Via itself wasn’t called Gran Via until relatively recently, so that’s understandable. There are some interesting pictures of early tunnelling. Since the 1960s Madrid has used the “Madrid Method” for tunnel excavation. This is a system that utilises steel and concrete to shore up the surface while men dug out the underlying soil by hand or machine. Madrid stands on a mixture of sand, gypsum and clay, which is known locally as “Peñuela” and is relatively easy to extract.

In more recent years huge Tunnel Boring Machines have done the work that used to be done by man and donkey. When work began in 1917 the system was identical to that used by the mining industry. On some of the lines today, particularly lines 1 and 2, the bare rock walls can be seen as you pass through. Where the natural rock was not strong enough the walls were lined with brick. "Mining" the Metro at the Glorietta of Bilbao.

That first line was just 3.48 kilometres long. Today the system comprised of 284 kilometres of track and the number of stations has increased to 294. However, if I have my sums correct, the cost of today’s ticket is 1113 times more than the cost of a ticket in 1919! However, even if you buy your tickets singly, it only cost one euro to travel on three quarters of the network, with only a further euro supplement to get you to Madrid’s furthest extremes.

Then and Now.

As well as having its own eponymous construction technique, the Madrid metro has been one of the most innovative public transport systems anywhere in the world. It holds many patents for building and control systems. It uses some of the most modern rolling stock in the world, which it is constantly up-dating. For those reading this and are now muttering, “Not on my line, they haven’t”, I can only say that they will.

Madrid metro does have some old sections which were built with a much smaller tunnel size than that used on the newer lines. This, of course, restricts it, without major reconstruction, to what it can do. That major reconstruction, as well as some pretty intensive modernisation, is planned.

With an announced investment of 2,976 million Euros intended for new lines and refurbishment of old stations, I would imagine that when the Metro celebrates its centenary, we will have seen some radical changes.

And they might be able to afford a better exhibition.

The photo just above is the entrance to a much used Metro station. It has since been remodled. Much kudos, and perhaps a beer, to anyone who can tell me where it is.

What do you think of Madrid metro? Comments please.



  1. I love the Metro system of Madrid. It's clean, efficient and cheap. Public transport to be proud of.

  2. I agree with Ken. If only more cities (especially in the USA) would emulate Madrid Metro!

  3. its tribunal metro station mike! am i right??
    josephine from vaughan town in september last yesar. love your blog!

  4. Sorry, it is not Tribunal. For an added clue, it's not that long since the place where we would find this station was renovated.
    PS: My name is not Mike, it's Richard. It says so at the top of every post!!!!

  5. yes sorry about the name confusion. I read Mike's comment on facebook and had his name in my head, then realised too late. I do know your name is Richard.
    I was so sure it was tribunal, in that case i don't have a clue I'm afraid.

  6. Is it Retiro?


  7. No, It isn't the Retiro. I can understand your reasoning because of the shrubbery. The shrubbery has gone now in a modernisation of the area, but you can still see lots of flowers there! And THAT is a big clue.

  8. Tirso de Molina? The stone railing around the entrance looks familiar.

  9. Well done, Norm. Yes, the stone parapet is about the only part of the original entrance left. The whole plaza has been completely transformed. Guess I owe you a beer.

  10. I'll collect when I'm back next November...providing I'm not in the grip of "la grippe" again!

  11. Oh good, you will have forgotten by then!!!!!
    Incidently, for anyone (there must be someone) intrigued by the "flower" clue above, the plaza used to be a garden, but is now completely paved over. But in that paving are florists' kiosks. They seem to do a good trade.

  12. I NEVER forget a free beer!

    BTW...I'd be very interested in your impressions of the new Mercado de San Miguel...quite the refurbishment they've done.