Thursday, 7 March 2013


I had two days in Milan (5-6 March) to update myself on the latest developments, the most exciting being, of course, the brand new M5. Since my last visit in 2009, however, two extensions to existing lines have opened, so I had to explore these, too:

- M3 from Maciachini to Comasina: this extension really felt like eternity to be completed, but eventually it opened in 2011. There is not much to say about it, as all the stations look exactly the same as the older ones on M3, which basically has a pleasant design, especially when I compare the stations to the older M1 and M2, the latter being in really a bad state and needing an urgent overhaul, some sort of modernisation whatever. M1 is actually better, as the materials used for the wall cladding were much more noble and are better preserved after many decades. Back to M3, what I need to critise again are the rather narrow platforms. At the last stop, interchange is available to the old interurban tram to Limbiate, but now that finally they decided to upgrade this line, the interchange should have been made a bit nicer. The other interchange at Affori FN is quite good, as the Ferrovia Nord station was actually moved north to the location of the metro station, so although the two systems don't share the same vestibule, it is only a short walk to what is a simple but pleasant railway station.
Rather a problem on M3, and also on the new section, is the noise coming from the trains on steel tracks. The new Meneghino trains are no exception either. This is often a problem with concrete trackbeds, but there are ways nowadays to reduce this noise level (see M5).

- M2 got a second branch also at its southern end, the one to Assago. The trains surface just after the Famagosta junction, run past the depot and on a long nonstop section to Assago Milanofiori Nord. I missed a bit of speed on this section, but was surprised how many people actually use it, as it doesn't really serve any residential neighbourhoods, just offices, shopping centres and the Forum, a major venue. Many people seem to use it for park&ride (despite the extra fare it requires!). The two stations in Assago are rather unspectacular, a bit of concrete and steel, but nothing to remember.

- The new M5 is largely identical, technologically, to Brescia's new metro and to the metro in Copenhagen, except that the trains are longer with an additional middle section. As of now, the line is pretty straight, the only significant curves are just north of Zara where the two single-track tunnels join into one. The stations were built to a standard design developed for this line, and I have to admit that I found it very pleasant, much better than I expected after I had seen some photos. The violet colour is, of course, omnipresent, not only on signs, but also in station furniture, though in a slightly different, more purple tone. Only the entrances from the street are a bit narrow, but the mezzanines are spacious, and although the platforms are not really much wider than in Brescia, I didn't feel this stark contrast between open space above and narrow space below as I did in Brescia. The trains run quite smoothly although a bit of fine-tuning may be useful as they tend to suddenly slow down once they have reached the maximum speed, when there should be a continuous speed curve from exiting one station and coming to a stop at the next. As the line is completely straight as of now, I cannot tell whether the track is well-laid in the curves, let's hope so, when the next section to Garibaldi opens later this year. The western extension to San Siro is very winding, so a good track will be essential. Stopping times at stations are reasonably short, no delays, at Zara it could even be a bit longer as everybody gets off and many people get on.

At present, there is only one interchange with another metro line, namely M3, and the solution found there is quite good. Fortunately, the road is wide enough, so M5 can cross over M3 on the level of the M3 mezzanine. Therefore the M5 tracks were separated to pass on either side of the M3 mezzanine, so the superwide M5 'platform+mezzanine' is a logical northern extension of the M3 mezzanine, so a transfer only requires one flight of stairs between the two lines and a short walk. Putting M5 below M3 would certainly have required the interruption of M3 for some time.

The next interchange will be at Garibaldi. In a Berlin fashion, the M2 station was once built with four platform edges in provision for a future line, but for some reason, M5 will not take advantage of this provision, instead its station will lie more or less perpendicularly to the M2 station. I still cannot comprehend, however, why the effort wasn't taken to use the empty trackbeds in the M2 station as it would have created a perfect transfer situation with cross-platform interchange. It would have required a bit more complicated single-track tunnels to funnel M5 trains into that station, but I guess it wouldn't have been impossible.

Although it was quite busy during afternoon rush-hour, I'm still not sure this line was really necessary or a first necessity, as the same road is served by two metrotranvia lines, i.e. a reserved tram right-of-way which is not operated at capacity. Passenger numbers will certainly increase also with the extension to Garibaldi, a very busy hub. But apart from the western extension to San Siro, a northern extension to Monza as initially proposed is definitely needed to give this line its full sense. 


Otherwise, well done, and if in Brescia it was difficult to take a good photo of the train, here it is impossible, as it is all underground. Maybe someone can get access to the depot and take a few, thanks...


Milan at UrbanRail.Net


  1. Hi Robert,
    The only pre-Abbiategrasso station on M2 I noticed in September 2011 that was renovated, was Loreto. Others seem a bit run down.

    Josh (Plano, TX)

  2. In general, the interior design of M5 was heavily criticized by the Milanese. One of the most benevolent comment I heard was that the walls were "cladded with bathroom tiles". The stations were not designed by architects, rather by Metropolitana Milanese engineers -- and it shows. Moreover, the spaces are inexplicably claustrophobic, one does not understand why they opted for those low ceilings while double-height stations are the standard for new metros everywhere, today. The disappointment gets even stronger if one compares the M5 with the very contemporary design of the Brescia Metro, inaugurated more or less in the same weeks, or even to other recent systems in Italy like Turin or Perugia, not to talk about Naples' Line 1.
    The rest of the network definitely lacks maintenance. A renovation program had been started on M2 some years ago, but was interrupted due to lack of funds for the recession after just two stations had been renovated, Loreto and Garibaldi. Garibaldi has a decent design and the mezzanine was even decorated with some pieces of artwork, but Loreto is banal and dull. To add insult to injury, at Loreto the same superficial renovation was irrespectfully carried on also on the M1 stop, thus devastating the original Albini & Helg design from the early 60s that had been avantgarde in its times, by introducing brand new features that would become standard in the following years, like wall cladding with removable panels instead of tiles (to ease access to technical systems), rubber floors, and the continuous strip repeating the station name and in the same color of the line, bearing the famous Bob Noorda signage.
    From the few renders that circulated, it seems the Garibaldi exchange station of M5 will be double-height but still cladded with "bathroom tiles". M4 stations seem to have a more accurate design, too.


Tell us your experience of this transport system!