Madrid's newest metro station, opened on 25 March 2015, with a large mural dedicated to famous guitarist Paco de Lucía
Since the 1980s I have been to Madrid several times, and especially towards the end of the 1990s, when metro construction was booming and I was living in Barcelona, I came regularly and on some occasions had the chance to even visit some construction sites. I have always had a warm welcome, so it is hard to criticise things, but I'll try to be fair... This time I stayed for a full week to explore not only the Metro system, but also some of the outer areas, like the tram in Parla, or the mountain railway C-9 in the Sierra – but the main purpose of this visit was to get lots of new photos for my forthcoming "Metro & Tram Atlas Spain", now set for publication in September 2015.
All in all, I would say, Madrid has one of the best transport systems in the world thanks to the amazing effort made between 1995 and 2011 when the Metro network was expanded significantly now covering almost every neighbourhood, plus a rather good Cercanías system which can be classified as S-Bahn/RER and on some sections offers a metro-like service. While fare integration has been quite good for season-ticket holders for many years, unfortunately it does not exist for occasional riders. Typical of Spain, single rides using multiple-ride tickets are rather cheap, so this may not be perceived as such an inconvenience, but again, it is somehow unfair for someone who needs to catch the Metro and a bus to be obliged to pay two fares, whereas someone who needs to take three metro lines to get to his destination, only has to pay one fare. While anything within the city of Madrid is included in fare zone A, some legs of the Metro extend beyond this zone and then the fare structure even for the Metro gets a bit funny. As long as you have a season ticket, the outer fare zones apply (B1 and B2), but if you need to get a single ticket, you'll need to know which outer leg you're on as each has a different fare and a different combined ticket with the zone A metro network. This results from the fact that these outer stretches of L7, L9 and L10 plus the entire L12 (MetroSur) have a special concession – but who cares? It is not the passenger's duty to know who the operator is, so at least the fares should be the same and easy to understand and to present in a list of fares, but Madrid's metro fares have become a special case. And stupidly, on L11, also the last station lies outside zone A. A nice voice reminds passengers that they need the respective ticket to exit from those stations. As the stations in the central area don't have exit control, these special fares are also checked in quite an excessive number of different ways, especially as the fare boundary does not necessarily coincide with the 'change of train' required on some lines.
Ticket gates on the platform at Tres Olivos between L10's northern and main sections
While on L7 and L10 (Las Tablas and Puerta del Sur) there are gates on the platforms, at Puerta de Arganda on L9 there are none (I wonder if they have some sporadic ticket checks there, because otherwise people coming from Arganda or Rives could use the entire metro network with a ticket just for the outer L9 (which passengers need to know is "TFM"!).
Ticket gates at Puerta de Sur between L10 and L12, with large landscape mural
And I think Madrid's tickets are too small! Like the original Metro, the size of the tickets was also copied from Paris, and I was always afraid that I might lose mine. Although I had bought a tourist pass for the entire region (called zone T) for seven days (€70.80), it stopped working properly on the second day when I was out of town exploring the Metro Ligero and trying to return into the city from Aravaca on a Renfe Cercanías train. As Renfe just accepts this ticket but doesn't sell it, they couldn't do anything about it, but they opened the gate for me. So I had to go to Atocha and find a Metro employee who exchanged it, obviously it happens regularly. For regular users they already have creditcard-sized contactless cards which will ultimately replace the tiny magnetic tickets.
Well', let's leave the chaotic fare system (we'll come back to it later when talking about the Metro Ligero) and have a closer look at the Metro as such.
TFM section of L9, with stork nests on the overhead poles at Rivas-Vaciamadrid
Surprisingly, or fortunately, the Madrid Metro is one of the cleanest I know, probably only beaten by the super-polished Russian metros. There is no graffiti or scratching, and there are numerous vigilants. Generally, the stations are much better ventilated than in Barcelona, although some of the older stations in the city centre had a strange smell as if there was a problem with sewers nearby. All in all, Madrid's Metro feels rather safe, people behave properly and service is quite adequate with the last trains running around 1:30, although no night service on weekends as of yet. On the busier (mostly older) lines, headways could be shorter, especially on weekends, when most lines operate every 7 minutes or so.
I like Madrid's Metro logo, it is very emblematic and traditional, and even including the word "Metro". I also like the way it is placed at most stations, sitting on a kind of arch on top of the stairs that lead down into the Metro. Many of the newer stations, however, have an encased entrance and the logo is only mounted on the wall, not floating in the air.
At several places I have seen a signpost showing the way to the Metro, sometimes saying '200 m', for example, but unfortunately this sign does not say to which station it will take you. This would not only be useful for Metro passengers, but also for pedestrians or car drivers lost in the big city. With the same goal, I would also welcome a Metro logo at some road intersections, as it would be better visible from some distance whereas the logo at the entrances is often hidden if you look for an entrance from further away.
What I appreciate most are the generous spaces of the newer stations, which is, however, contrasted by the rather narrow platforms of the older stations, modelled after the Paris Metro with their vaults and initially just 60 m long platforms. Whereas these have later been extended on L1 and L3, they are still that short on L2 and L4. And while I enjoy the simple, though elegant design of the new stations, I wonder whether it was really necessary to restyle many of the older stations in the same way, resulting in a somewhat uniform look of the Metro.
Typical refurbished station on one of the older lines, with the station name actually meaning 'narrow' - a hint at the platform width?
And while I appreciate the use of different colours for individual stations, there is no real logic behind the choice of colours, so it is hard to associate a certain colour with an individual station. I think there was an initial idea of using white for interchange stations, but this idea was already dropped when Mar de Cristal opened in red in 1998. Already back in the 1920s, Grenander had developed a returning sequence of colours for the Berlin U-Bahn, so people would know that blue always follows white, for example, but nothing like this is recognisable in Madrid, the colours seem to be used at random and the same colour may even appear in two adjacent stations. In fact, on L6, where most stations are interchanges, the predominant colour of the refurbished stations seems to be white. With many of the older stations, now refurbished, having lost a lot of their original charm, it is good to have Chamberí on L1 now as a museum. This station was closed in the 1960s when the platforms in the other stations were extended. Some stations on L4 still look quite original although with their huge advertising boards the tiling is hardly visible.
Another weak point of the Madrid Metro is the often long walk between two lines. In a user-friendly way, this situation is even shown on metro maps. The walk is especially long between L6 and its intersection lines, as the L6 stations are not only at some distance from the respective interchange station, but also at a considerable depth, and unlike on newer intersections, the corridors and escalator shafts are much smaller and therefore less pleasant compared to the open-space, almost excessive escalators at Chamartín. This station is the most Berlinesque, not in style, but in generous provision for future lines that might never happen... There are six platforms all in all, so if the future lines are built, cross-platform interchange will be possible between two lines on each level in one (opposite) direction (similar to Pinar de Chamartín L1/L4), other transfers will be done via a huge intermediate level between the two platform levels. The future lines in questions are L11 which should one day reach Chamartín from the south via the east, and L14, which would take over the northern part of L10, while L10 would be extended north through the redevelopment area of the northern Castellana.
Future-proof station design at Chamartín, waiting for L11 parallel to L1
Open-space escalators between L1 (level -4) and L10 (level -2) at Chamartín
The network layout is what it is, the result of a long history, so it is certainly not ideal, but a lot has been done to optimise it, especially by creating the long north-south axis L10, but many of the busiest sections still correspond to the old and small-profile lines L1-L5, while the newer lines, especially L7 and L9 seem oversized. Certainly the huge circular line L12 (Metrosur) has also remained far behind expectations, still running with 3-car trains on a 7 1/2-minute headway. The odd line, and each city has one, is certainly L11, only a short and sad stub of a huge project. It is fairly patronised, though, but very badly linked to the rest of the network, just at Pl. Eliptica to L6 via long corridor, and as L6 is circular, many passengers will have to change a second time to get into the city centre, and two transfers on L6 will increase journey times significantly. So, in my opinion, extending L11 to Atocha Renfe should have the highest priority now, and then I wouldn't take it to the eastern districts which already have L9 as some sort of tangential line, but directly north to Nuevos Ministerios to link it to L8, which has a very unnatural terminus there. In this way, L11 would be linked to several other lines and airport passengers would get a direct ride into the city centre and the AVE hub at Atocha, too. Now, many passengers change to L4 at Mar de Cristal which takes a while to get into the centre, and then many people will have to change again to get to Sol, which can be inconvenient with luggage as many of the older stations don't have lifts.
Line panels inside the trains in the style of the now-banned metro map can still be seen on L8 and L11 trains
Madrid's fun line is, of course, the Ramal (R) from Príncipe Pío to Ópera, which certainly provides an important service, a bit like the Waterloo & City Line in London. Unfortunately its Ópera station now also appears in boring white, whereas previously it boasted red and white tiles.
Ópera Ramal station before and after refurbishment
Another major weak point of the system is its high number of stations that have only one exit, or at least only one exit from the platform, which is not only inconvenient as many passengers will have to walk long detours, but can also be a bit claustrophobic when you have long and often narrow side platforms with an 'escape' only at one end. This may be an issue in case of fire or other technical problems, but also in case of crime, although as said before, the system looks safe from this point of view and video cameras are everywhere and the next vigilant probably not far away (often having a chat with the ticket clerk upstairs... yes, all stations are manned with a Metro employee mostly sitting in an open box near the entrance gates to help people with ticket machines and other problems, although security staff seems to be moving between stations). But in conjunction with a necessary retrofitting of lifts, a second exit should really be taken into consideration where structurally feasible.
All the stations built after 1995 usually have wide platforms and wide staircases plus up and down escalators in addition to lifts, and as the huge staircase is mostly located in the middle of the station, offset from the platform itself, this kind of claustrophobic impression is never given.
Typical offset set of stairs and escalators in most of the newer stations, leaving a wide platform throughout
In Madrid, side platforms really dominate, although generally it is much cheaper to maintain stations with island platforms, fewer lifts, fewer escalators. The older stations of the Paris type have side platforms, I think, because this is what they learned in Paris, and it keeps the tracks straight. Modern metros often have island platforms because the running tunnels are excavated with TBMs as single-track tubes, resulting in a natural island platform. But in Madrid, the Metro company insisted on double-track tubes for their own good reasons (for example in case of a train failure, passengers can be evacuated easily by a parallel train), and this preference also resulted in natural side platforms, otherwise the station box would have to be about twice the length.
Many stations have some kind of mural, like Ronda de la Comunicación on L10
The only section built with single-track tubes was between Mar de Cristal and Aeropuerto on L8, thus resulting in an island platform at Campo de las Naciones. While at Príncipe Pío full cross-platform interchange is provided between L6 and L10 (L10 on the outside with single-track approach tubes), Casa de Campo station also has an interesting layout. In fact, L5 theoretically uses the two tracks in the middle, and L10 the outer two, but as L5 terminates here, one track was covered, so people can change across the platform in all directions. Like at many other termini, the train actually remains in the station, mostly using the theoretical departure platform, and except during off-peak times, there is a flying change of drivers, i.e., while the arriving driver gets off, a new driver gets on at the other end and so the train leaves the station shortly after having arrived. The arriving driver now has enough time to walk to the other end of the platform to pick up the next arriving train. But unlike in New York, where the trains also mostly turn around in the stations, Madrid does have reversing sidings beyond the stations at all termini, if I recall correctly, except line R, L2 Cuatro Caminos and L4 Argüelles.
3-platform layout on some L6 stations, although with rather narrow island and side platforms
The circular L6 is certainly one of the strong lines in Madrid and despite its deep-lying stations very busy, and often overcrowded. Some stations features a 3-platform layout, but the initial idea of alighting on the central island platform and boarding from the side platforms is generally ignored, just the escalators use this rule, so even the island platform, which is a bit too narrow anyway, does get very crowded. What I don't like on L6 is the way the direction is signed as 'Andén 1' and 'Andén 2', as I never remember which is which, even the Inner/Outer Circle in Glasgow makes more sense to me. I would prefer, at least as some additional information to have major points listed, which could be Príncipe Pío, Cuatro Caminos, Nuevos Ministerios, Av. de América, Pacífico, Pl. Elíptica. Any sign could say 'Andén 1 > Príncipe Pío & Cuatro Caminos, for example, although I also like clockwise and anticlockwise, but that would be too clumsy in Spanish. But don't get me wrong, there are plenty of panels showing the entire circle and which 'andén' you should get for which station, but certainly not on all signs in these long corridors.
I do not really like the way the outer sections of L7, L9 and L10 are shown on maps. Operationally they are completely different and separate lines, so I think they deserve their own line numbers. The northern part of L10, also known as MetroNorte, could already be called L14 (in fact, early signs at station entrances already had a  sign), the outer L7 would could be L17 and the TFM section of L9 possibly L19. This way it would be clear from the start that people need to change trains. Although the necessity of a change of trains is depicted on the maps, still I observed passengers wondering when they got to the transfer point.
Confusing station names: Sierra de Guadalupe for the Metro, and Vallecas for Cercanías, although it is a single station complex
Another thing I need to criticise is the naming of interchange stations serving the Metro and Cercanías. While on MetroSur they found a satisfactory solution by naming all interchanges 'xxx Central' (e.g. Getafe Central) and Atocha Renfe has been fine for a long time, there are some where the names are misleading. On L9 there is a station called Vicálvaro, but two stations down the line, right under the Cercanías station called Vicálvaro is Metro station Puerta de Arganda. Similarly, Vallecas station for Cercanías corresponds with Sierra de Guadalupe Metro station, while Villa de Vallecas is the following station. Luckily in Coslada they have used the MetroSur pattern and called the Metro station Coslada Central. I wonder which name ADIF/Renfe will choose for the Cercanías station under construction right next to the new Paco de Lucía terminus on L9.
Generally signage is pretty good, I also like the dominant blue with the line colour ribbon. And also the blue and white livery of the trains. This colour scheme fits even the old 2000 and 5000 trains much better than what they originally had, which often is not the case when a new livery is introduced. Sometimes, when you arrive at a platform, there is no confirmation that you have arrived at the correct platform, if the electronic display is just showing something else. So, on the line ribbon, where it says 'Andén 1' or 'Andén 2' it should also indicate the final destination for trains on this platform - all trains go to the end of the line at all times (except for the usual start and end of service trains to and form the depot). Although the countdown in minutes for the next train is mostly quite o.k., the message that the next train is about to enter the station is pathetic. In Barcelona and Sevilla, there would just be a message saying "ENTRA", which even tourists can understand without knowing Spanish. In Madrid, however, they take the long way with a small, three-line message saying something like "El próximo tren efectuará su entrada en la estación"! It's good that the following train is normally also shown, so if one arrives over-crowded you can calculate whether it is worth to wait for the next, which might be backing up behind. But apparently the system only works from the moment the train starts from the first station, so on L4, for example, at San Bernardo you will not know when the next train for Pinar de Chamartín arrives until 1 minute before it does as it starts from the previous station. Especially when longer headways are operated, the signs should display the scheduled time for the next train.
The rolling stock is quite new and diverse. Like in Berlin, the small-profile trains on L1-L5 are a bit too narrow, especially as these are the busier lines. The older 2000 trains which don't allow you to walk from one car to another are all concentrated on L1 and L5, the latter has all the 'Burbujas', the bubble trains with that round glass front. L2, L3 and L4 plus R are exclusively served by the walk-through class 3000, so of these there are 4-car sets as well as 6-car sets. On the the large-profile network (L6-L12) there are also several types of trains, with the Ansaldo class 7000/9000 on L9 (mixed with old 5000s) and L7 and especially on L10. Although I don't like their streamlined front (I think metro trains can have more of a box shape...), what is especially ugly is the fact that the mostly run with the couplers uncovered, although the coupler is really only needed for special manoeuvres.
Many of the Ansaldo trains always run with open couplers which makes them quite ugly!
The outer L7 and L10 are served with 3-car trains of this type. Although the seats don't match my back and the blue both inside and outside is slightly different from the Metro's colour, they offer quite a nice ride. Often, however I observed that when leaving a station they need like two attempts so as if the ATO doesn't get the train in motion at the first try. The older 5000s with married pairs, but no walk-through option, remain on L6 and mostly on L9. L6 is now primarily served by the newest class 8000 built by CAF, whereas older and shorter versions delivered by Alstom are in service on L8, L11 and L12. These could be extended to 6 cars if necessary. Although the cars are generally assigned to a certain line, inside they display stickers with a line panel for several different lines which may be a bit confusing. I guess the line they actually travel on should be enough and if they are switched to another line it won't be that expensive to change those stickers. Luckily a proper global-style network diagram has returned after several years of this horrible square-looking map designed by some friends of ex-presidenta Esperanza Aguirre!
Talking about maps, this Metro network diagram map is easily available to grab at most stations, but all other maps published by the Consorcio de Transportes, like that including Cercanías lines or the huge bus map for Madrid or for the entire region, these seem to be available only at the headoffice of the Consorcio, not even their information centre at Moncloa had some. The tourist office, however, still hands out a version dating from Dec. 2013! So, the Consorcio could really be more active in this field and establish more information points also in the central area, as most of these huge bus hubs are in areas further out.
Wider platform on underground section of ML1
In the suburbs, Madrid also has four tram or light rail lines. Three of them are called "Metro Ligero", and luckily, they stopped building more of them. Normally, the idea of having feeder lines with less capacity on some outer sections is not bad, but these lines around Madrid are really badly designed. At first sight, they appear to be proper light rail lines, but later you have to discover that they are old-style tramways with excessively tight curves which requires too many stretches where the trams crawl. And what's especially annoying is the fact that these curves are found in places where even non-experts would think, why the hell didn't they lay a straight track here or create a gentle curve? There are several underground stretches, but instead of what should be expected from a light rail system, the tunnels were not built to metro standards with wide curves, they resemble old-fashioned underground tram routes, like those found in Boston, Philadelphia or Vienna. Another technical issue is the fact that, if I recall correctly, the entire system is built with grooved rails embedded in concrete. I would consider grooved rail on interurban routes completely unnecessary, as Vignol track always provides a much more comfortable ride! And having the track embedded in concrete makes it difficult and expensive to adjust badly-laid track! The weirdest track configuration can actually be found at the depot entrance which reminded me a lot of the pathetic depot access in Edinburgh.
Narrow platform at Somosaguas Sur on ML2
While ML1 in the north is not too bad as a feeder line, as it connects to the Metro system at both ends and is pretty short anyway, the western lines ML2 and ML3 are quite long, but their feeder function is rather limited as they travel too slow and too far, and connections can only be made at Colonia Jardín to L10, which during peak hours is pretty busy anyway, and at Aravaca for Cercanías. Especially for passengers starting their journeys at Boadilla, a bus is much faster as it goes nonstop to Moncloa. Interestingly, the two underground stations on ML2 have no ticket gates, but those on ML1 have them, actually down on the platform.
Colonia Jardín, starting point for ML3 (on the left) and ML3 on the right - each line becomes double-track just outside the tunnel station
While ML1 is within fare zone A, the western lines are mostly in zone B, just Colonia Jardín is in zone A, and to change from ML2 to ML3, you have to pay an additional fare! Even if you have a day pass or monthly pass, you are supposed to validate inside the trams. I guess this is just to get proper passenger numbers, but as for the older magnetic cards, I think they cannot store your validation, and ticket inspectors actually on look at what is stamped on your ticket. To get on the tram at Colonia Jardín, you need to validate at the gates anyway.
Tram/Cercanías interchange at Parla Centro - here the trams open their doors on both sides!
The fourth tram line in the region is the Tranvía de Parla, a suburb some 20 km south of Madrid. There is a Cercanías C-4 train going there about every 10 minutes. This tramway is more of a 'normal', less pretentious system doing the job it was designed for, which is distributing passengers arriving from Madrid on a circular route via the town centre and the new residential areas in the east. Apparently, more houses were planned, so it runs through some empty parts, too. And unfortunately, an additional station on C-4 has not happened, this would have provided a much faster connection for those residents in Parla Este. What I found a bit irritating was the long break at Estrella Polar or Venus to keep the timetable. As the line is not very long, and it is entirely on its own right-of-way and thus likely to accumulate big delays caused by other traffic, I think it should be enough to pause at the railway station and then do the loop without any breaks, as these breaks are very inconvenient for passengers getting on at the stops before the break point or getting off just after them. What is also a bit weird for me is that the stops on the eastern segment, where the line uses parallel streets for each direction, carry 'Norte' and 'Sur' to distinguish them, when my sense of orientation would clearly suggest 'Este' and 'Oeste'!
Metro de Madrid (incl. ML1)
Metro Ligero del Oeste (ML2 & ML3)
Madrid Metro etc. at UrbanRail.Net (with more links)