Tuesday 10 November 2009

Transports of Delight

By Richard Morley
What would you think if I told you that Madrilènes use to ride on canaries? Supposing I said that razor blades were a perfectly usual form of transport? It’s quite true. In 1898 the city introduced the first electric trams. They were painted yellow and were known as “Canaries”. Prior to them, and existing alongside, were steam driven trams, and these were called “Maquinillas”, which translates into clippers, or razors, and is also the name given to those little cigarette rolling machines. Or probably just “Little machines”, which, as they were small and narrow gauge, compared diminutively with the larger railway engines leaving Atocha for Aranjuez and points south.

Before that, the power used was what is known in Spanish as “A sangre”, or blood powered. It all sounds rather gruesome until a quick reference check informed me that this just meant the trams were pulled by animals. Both Horses and donkeys were used.

Twenty one years later, as I wrote a few posts ago, the Madrid metro opened its first line. The trams went everywhere. I would imagine the tram operators viewed the underground upstart with a little distain. In that first year of competition the Metro carried just fifteen million passengers while the trams carried ten times as many. Surely the Metro would never be a serious rival their monopoly within the city! Ancient Tram on Display at Pinar Chamartin Metro Station

Madrileños loved to give their trams nicknames. Besides “Canarios”, in the first decade of the twentieth century some grey painted trams received the appellation “Los grises de la Muerte” as they seemed to cause an awful lot of accidents. Madrileños are known as “Gatos” and all cats are grey in the dark. Perhaps no one saw them coming. However, when they painted them red the name changed to “Cangrejos”, which is the Spanish word for Crayfish, but probably comes from the phrase, “avanzar como los cangrejos”, because as the crayfish is a slow moving animal this translates as “To make little headway”, at least according to Collins.

Since 1933 there had been another competitor to the tranvías. This was the year the city council had created the Empresa Mixta de Transportes Urbanos, which was, as the name implies, a mix of all the different forms of public transport in the city; The Trams, the Metro and now another upstart, the autobús. The EMTU became the Empresa Municipal de Transportes, the EMT, in 1947.

The trams enjoyed one hundred and one years of service. In 1956 they carried 260 million passengers, the greatest number they ever carried, but in the same year the metro took 394 million. From that time on the writing was on the wall. The number of private cars had also increased and the trams on their fixed tracks just got in the way. Despite a fiesta to celebrate the centenary in 1971, the axe fell the following year.

Every Madrileño knows the EMT. They run the red (and now blue) buses around the city. From 1949 until 1965 the EMT ran a combination of trams, trolley buses and normal buses, but from 1974 had the sole responsibility for the bus network.

I don’t know if this is true, but someone once told me that the Spanish love to travel on buses. I think they are wonderful as I have explained before. I just use them to get about the city, but others travel all over the country.

If you are in Madrid and want to leave then you will begin your journey by going to an “Intercambiador”. One Madrileño I know hates this name, but unlike so many long-winded Spanish descriptions, this is short and to the point. A “Changing place”. The New Intercambiador with the Cuatro Torres in the background.

The Empresa Municipal de Transportes has just opened what it claims is the most modern bus and coach station in Europe. Situated at the plaza Castilla, also known as the Puerta de Europa, this is now the place to get that long distance coach to all points north.

Built in the shade of the famous sloping sky-scrapers, the Torres Kio, the new bus, coach and Metro station, which of course, this being Madrid is not yet finished (!), is constructed on three levels and connects directly with lines 1, 9, and 10 of the metro and is just one metro stop away from Chamartin Railways station. Which begs the question as to why they haven’t thought to build a moving walkway tunnel between the two stations and combine them into one big “Intercambiador”?

To celebrate this opening, the EMT have held a short exhibition of buses through the ages. This past weekend has been a long one in Madrid, with city workers getting the Monday off. I went to see and photograph this exhibition, which was much more interesting than the one the metro hosted a couple of weeks back, and thought you would be interested to see what the citizens rode in before today’s comfortable and over air-conditioned buses.

I have a photo in my collection that shows the Calle de Alcala in about 1928. One of the buses, a Spanish built Hispano Suiza has the steering wheel on the right, proving my photograph’s evidence that at the beginning of the last century Spain drove, like Britain, on the left.

Right hand drive Hispano Suiza. And no protection from the weather!

A Bus Ride through history.

1914 Ford Model T, Four cylinders, 2900cc, 20 Horsepower.

1922 Hispano Suiza 30/40. Four cylinders, 4710 cc, 43 Horsepower.

1928 Rolls Royce, 20/25. Six cylinders, 3667 cc, 32 Horsepower.

1935 Bussing (an appropriate name!), Nag. 3080 cc, 65 horsepower.

1941 MAN MP, 9498 cc, 120 Horsepower.

In 1946 the Spanish part of Hispano Suiza sold their automotive assets to Enasa, the maker of Pegaso trucks, buses and sparts cars.

1959 Pegaso, Z-408 / 1(5051). 10,170 cc, 165 Horsepower.

1966 Pegaso 6035. 10170 cc, 179 Horsepower. I see it's a number 27. I often use the much more modern bendy bus on that route. It goes straight down the Paseo de Castellana.


1968 Pegaso Setra Seida. 10,170 cc, 170 Horsepower.

1978 Pegaso Setra Seida. 11945 cc, 225 horsepower.

1982 Pegaso Setra S-215H. 11,945 cc, 286 Horsepower.
This post probably qualifies me as a Geek, or a "Freaki" as the Spanish would say, though probably not to my face!! Will you admit to your freakiness? Did you enjoy this post? If so, leave a comment below.


  1. You might like to know that the saying "más chulo que un ocho" comes from the time of the trams. Apparently, line 8 went through the "distrito de Chamberí" (http://www.ladruida.com/madrid/?p=327), the more castizo of all barrios castizos, and therefore full of proper "chulos".


  2. No, you are not a freak for enjoying the view of antique buses and coaches. Do not be ashamed of it.

    I was there and saw lots of people visiting the exposition.

    You are showing the history of former Madrid's means of transport. We must be proud of our history and industry.