Monday, 8 June 2015

SEVILLA Metro & Tram

Among all larger Spanish cities, Sevilla is certainly not an urban rail enthusiast's paradise, although it actually offers three different types of rail services, a tram, a metro and a Cercanías system, but each of them is rather undeveloped for an urban area home to a million people. Having visited Sevilla shortly after the opening of the Metro in 2009, I now returned to see the stations opened a bit later on the southeastern end and the second generation of trams on what is still a rather new line.

Tram in 'normal' mode with catenary between San Bernardo and Prado de San Sebastián

The single tram line is among the shortest in Europe and although it is badly integrated into the rest of the transport system, it is decently patronised. It basically connects the old town centre with the major hub at San Bernardo where passengers can change to suburban trains, while interchange with the Metro is also available at Puerta Jerez (not ideally, though) as well as Prado de San Sebastián, the latter also an important interchange point for urban buses. I think the tram's major function is to carry tired people after a long stroll through the city centre. A single-ticket for the occasional rider costs €1.40, not excessive, but compared to other typical fares in Spain, rather high for what you get. A discount is granted using a Concorcio stored-value ticket, but always a separate fare is payable for the tram, although it is actually operated by TUSSAM, the local bus company.
Technically, the interesting thing about this tram line is that about 2/3 of its route are now operated without overhead wires. Initially, the whole line had a catenary, but this not only caused a visual impact on Av. Constitución next to the famous cathedral, but even caused physical obstruction during the famous Easter processions when huge statues of saints and Virgin Mary are carried through the streets. So for some years, they actually took off the wires during Semana Santa. 

Archivo de Indias station with the Cathedral in the background with protruding overhead structure

Now the new trams use supercapacitors (huge batteries), but unlike in Zaragoza, the intermediate stops have an overhead structure to charge the batteries via the pantograph, and these structures are also quite ugly. Also the trams need to charge at each stop, meaning that the pantograph has to be lifted and lowered (the lowering is quite noisy if you sit in the middle section) and the trams have to stop for some 25 seconds, adding to what is already quite a slow ride through the pedestrianised streets full with tourists. 

Pantograph being lifted at Puerta Jerez station for intermediate recharging

Just the section between Prado de San Sebastián and San Bernardo still has a proper catenary, but this section is obviously too short to recharge the batteries for the rest of the line. This section is, however, rather long, so it could actually have an intermediate stop (the Metro serves the same stretch with the same two stations). The trams run very 9 minutes, with three in operation normally.
What the tram really needs to give it more sense is an extension, at least from its eastern end to Santa Justa railway station, as has been planned for a long time, and also because the main railway station is badly connected. Despite some metro expansion plans, all on hold due to the economic crisis, many tram extensions would make sense especially as a distributor in the central area.
The trams as such are quite nice, although I really hate the full adverts on all of them. While these make them look ugly from outside, the view from inside is somehow restricted, although it does help as a sun protection. The trams roll quite noisily, probably due to a lot of dirt accumulated in the grooved rails. A short section right next to the cathedral was built with interlaced tracks, which in my opinion doesn't make much sense as this section is followed by a very short double-track section before a scissors-crossover upon entering the terminus at Plaza Nueva. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to build and maintain if this section had been laid out single-track with a simple switch before the terminus? In this way the tram wouldn't have to make this S-curve-style manoevre as it approaches the terminus.

Sevilla's Metro is certainly a unique case in the world. Well, besides Budapest's old Földalatti, it is the only completely segregated low-floor urban rail system, and in addition, the only low-floor system using platform screen doors and semi-automatic operation in ATO mode. So, all these criteria certainly qualify it as a metro, although the alignment often resembles an old-style underground tram system as there are some very tight curves, no metro, except Chicago's L, would be able to negotiate. While the two almost 90-degree angles between San Bernardo and Nervión are the result of a planning modification to use the tunnels already dug in the 1980s for the Metro designed and relaunched in the late 1990s, especially the S-curve just west of San Juan Alto station is hard to comprehend! Why didn't they just build the station at a different angle in an area not occupied by anything else? But generally the trains (which are only some 30m long although the stations are all prepared for double sets) speed up where they can, so these momentary crawls are digestable.

Puerta Jerez - central metro station with narrow and curved platform

The metro stations are mostly quite wide, except the most central and thus probably one of the busiest, Puerta Jerez, is somehow too small and there are signs to prompt people to move up to occupy the entire platform. To my understanding, this station is entirely laid out in the wrong way, especially as the only exit to the surface faces in the wrong direction, away from the square and thus the city centre. Prado de San Sebastián also has a huge mezzanine, but in the end only one exit to the surface, although this should be a major interchange for local buses. Also, the encased exit (a typical one) occupies the entire pavement/sidewalk, as the rest of the pavement is now dedicated to bicycles, so to reach one of the many bus bays, you either have to walk on the bike lane or step down to the bus lane, whichever you consider less dangerous... So, at least the busiest stations should have various entrances. The design of the stations is rather boring, just concrete, stainless steel and glass, with green dominating as the Andalusian national colour, just like in Málaga. Some stations have large photos illustrating the construction of the Metro.

Montequinto - standard metro station design

The biggest problem with the Metro, however, is its bad integration with the bus system. In cities like Madrid, where you can actually explore the entire city by metro you don't have to care much about buses, but Sevilla's single line only covers very limited parts of the city and suburbs, so many passengers will need to get a bus, too, but altough you can use the same stored-value card you will have to pay two fares if you use metro and bus, so many people will opt for the bus-only solution. Fares appear to be low for European standards, but if you have to pay two 0.80 cent fares every day for one 'journey', this will amount to quite a lot during an entire year. For us enthusiasts, there is at least a Metro day pass for €4.50 for all zones, which leads us to another issue - the Metro has three fare zones, which I consider rather unnecessary for such a small system. Also, these zones are shown in a rather unconventional way, as 'tramo 0', 'tramo 1' and 'tramo 2' (tramo = section). 'Tramo 1' corresponds to all stations within Sevilla city. And fares are not charged for a certain number of zones travelled through, but by 'saltos' (jumps), so travelling from 'tramo 0' (western end) into the city would imply one zone jump... So while this is not illogical per se, it is rather unusual considering that the rest of the world has developed a quite common universal way of how to look at fare zones. And considering that Sevilla is an important tourist destination, visitors would certainly understand a global system more easily. On the other hand, the Metro hardly serves any important sites outside the city centre, so not many visitors are likely to take the Metro too often.

Metro train on surface section just north of Condequinto

Sevilla has had ambitious plans for three more lines, after playing with light rail proposals, i.e. with some surface sections with level crossings, the latest versions envisage routes similar to L1. While the north-south L3 should certainly be a prority, the east-west L2 is not very convincing, particularly as it is not designed to intersect with L1, which could be considered a major planning mistake for a system planned from scratch. As it will be built through the city centre with tunnel-boring machines at a significant depth, I think it should be possible to realign it somehow to make a direct interchange L1-L2 possible. My proposal is: coming from the east, L1 should turn north after Nervión and serve Santa Justa and then head west through the city centre instead of L2, while L2 should continue south from Santa Justa and then take over the western part of L1 at Nervión. This would give the Nervión area and the main railway station two lines and provide proper transfer options for everyone. The second problem with L2 is that it will not go to the airport, which would be a logical destination in the east, at least for a branch. Luckily it is planned to serve Santa Justa railway station. The circular L4 is a rather ambitious project and I think it could wait to be built until the other two lines have been completed.

Instead of building direct lines into the suburbs, la Junta de Andalucía eventually decided to make L1 semi-automatic and add feeder lines to it, although like in Málaga, using ATO doesn't mean you can't continue in manual mode on surface routes. One 'tranvía metropolitano' is supposed to run from Pablo de Olavide southeast to Alcalá de Guadaíra. The line was mostly completed along the outer section in Alcalá, but works were then suspended when the financial crisis hit the country. For another line running from the terminus Olivar de Quintos to Dos Hermanas, only the right-of-way was cleared before work was stopped. At the western end of the line, only some provisions were made and I think that planning had not been as advanced. So, currently there is hope that the line to Alcalá de Guadaíra will be finished one day.

After all, the Andalusian government is responsible for the largest number of failed and misplanned tram systems in the world, with these lines plus the never-opened tram in Jaén and the already shut-down tram in Vélez-Málaga! And who knows if the Tram-Tren de la Bahía de Cádiz will ever be finished? Granada seems to be on good track for a partial opening within the next year, but nothing's guaranteed. It may not always be the regional government's (PSOE majority) fault, often it is the local mayors from a different political party (notably PP) who refuse to collaborate in finding a satisfactory solution. But for any outsider it is rather astonishing that so many projects can go wrong within one administrative region, while they don't happen at all in other parts of the world, at least not to this extent.

Sevilla's Cercanías network is hardly relevant for intra-urban traffic, although there are actually two lines, C-2 and C-4 that run entirely within the city boundaries, but still, I think they are not very useful, both for the headways and for the station locations. I was visiting on a Sunday, so I couldn't really tell you whether they are busy. Maybe someone who uses them regularly can add a comment! The only service that appears to be a proper suburban line is C-1 running north-south.

Cercanías - San Bernardo station



  1. Just a comment to Seviila's special low-floor metro system: Not only Budapest, also Vienna has a special line U6 as a low-floor underground line segregated from all other traffic, but this line is operated with more standard train length with four articulated cars.

  2. Sure, shame on me, I should have remembered that one!


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