Wednesday, 21 February 2018

GRANADA - Tram




I had visited Granada in spring 2015 in preparation for my "Metro & Tram Atlas Spain" which was released later that year, but Granada's tram was not yet working then. Large parts of the single line were then already finished, especially along the northern section, but the section between Caleta and the tram tunnel had been delayed due to unresolved issues around the railway station where the tram now actually cuts through what used to be stub tracks (the rebuilt railway station, due to open soon for AVE services, was thus pushed a bit back although I think the platforms remain more or less in the same place). As everything seemed finished along the northern section where also the depot is located, I then assumed that this section might be brought into service around 2016, but it didn't. It seemed logical to open it, as also all the CAF trams had already been delivered and a temporary city terminus at Caleta would have made sense: from there, a special bus (LAC - Línea de Alta Capacidad) continues into the city centre proper where the tram doesn't go anyway. But as we have seen with other projects in Andalusia, the overall process of bringing new systems into service has not been prepared well, so drivers were recruited at a rather late stage, just like in Málaga. So in the end, more delays were accumulated until the line finally opened completely from end to end in September of 2017. I think it has been busy from the beginning.

Typical surface stop


I explored the line on a normal workday, first going to Albolote on the northern section, which was reasonably used in the late morning, so an off-peak headway of 10 minutes seemed appropriate. As I worked my way south the trams got very packed around lunchtime (e.g. around 2pm in Spain), and a denser headway seemed necessary. The southern section seemed much busier anyway as it not only serves some university faculties, but also a huge new shopping mall "Nevada" which generates a lot of ridership. So I felt that maybe at certain times a reinforcement line should be established, maybe between Estación de Autobuses and Sierra Nevada to operate a 5-minute headway on the central stretch. But I fear (but have no idea) that the operating contract with Avanza does not really consider any option to increase the service frequency, just like in Zaragoza where they also became victim of their own success and I think they still haven't increased the number of trams in operation.

What they call "Metropolitano de Granada" is, of course, a typical modern tram, which includes three underground stations. In fact, the term 'metropolitano' initially appeared because the line not only serves the city of Granada but also some towns outside, which belong to the metropolitan area, such as Armilla, Maracena and Albolote, with others already asking for the tram to be extended, so the project was presented as "Tranvía metropolitano".

Lowering pantograph just west of Fernando de los Ríos

Basically the Granada tram follows all the parameters we know from modern French tramways, i.e. a separate right-of-way or at least a marked-off road alignment throughout, no mixed operation, not even with buses. The line is double-track throughout, except for a short section at the southern end in Armilla, which certainly limits possible denser headways. There are quite a large number of crossovers so trams can turn back in case of disruptions. The single-track section in Armilla as well as two other short sections (Hípica – Andrés Segovia; Villarejo – Caleta) were built without overhead wires and the trams draw energy from supercapacitors like in Sevilla and Zaragoza. But here I think it was more of a capricho than a necessity, the section in Armilla is through a pedestrianised street but which I didn't really find as nice as to protect it from ugly wires, the same is true for the wireless section in Granada. 

Catenary-free section in Armilla

While travel speed is reasonable on most sections and traffic-light priority works fine, the section between Sierra Nevada and Fernando de los Ríos has to be operated a maximum speed of just 20 km/h as the trams run through a narrow street and cars may occasionally invade the tram reservation.

Generally the chosen alignment covers important parts of the city, but what surprises at first sight is that it does not run through what one would consider the most logical axis through the city centre (Avenida de la Constitución, Gran Vía de Colón, Calle Reyes Católicos, Acera del Darro – served by the LAC bus), and instead runs on a more peripherical western route (Camino de Ronda). And being underground on this "Old Town Bypass", an average tourist will probably not even notice that Granada now has a tram system. So if the line does not run through the Old Town, did it really need a tunnel? Camino de Ronda used to be the major north-south road to get through the city, but this has meanwhile been pushed further west to motorway A-44 (which itself is getting a relief motorway even further west...), so I'd say, that a surface route was also have been possible here. But planning was carried out at a time when money seemed to flow endlessly in Spain and many, still unfinished, infrastructure projects were launched. 

Luckily, Granada's was eventually finished, while its neighbour Jaén still struggles with finding an operating scheme before opening its 5 km tram line which has lain idle and ready to operate since 2011!! (there are hopes, though...).


All the surface stops follow a standard pattern, which looks plain but attractive. There is a ticket machine on each platform, and a board with a map and some information about fares. Although operating hours are listed, there is no hint about the tram's scheduled frequency. There are electronic next-tram indicators which worked fine while I was there, in fact, when the countdown shows "2 min.", the tram is about to arrive at the stop. Except for the two termini and the underground stations, all the stops have side platforms, which at 60m would be long enough for double sets. The stop's name is visible in various ways, one of them vertically on a totem which is crowned by a nice M-Logo.


I would classify the three underground stations as sober, functional with a stylish touch. In fact these are simple cut-and-cover boxes with a mezzanine at either end and an island platform on level -2, although at Méndez Núñez and Alcázar Genil, only the southern access is currently open, the northern serving as an emergency exit. From the street, there are several covered entrances leading to the mezzanine, at least with up-going escalators. Of course, also lifts are available, but lift-users have to change lifts on mezzanine level to walk through the tickets gates. 



Alcázar Genil is somewhat different as it features some remains of an ancient water deposit (albercón), but this is only recognisable if you know about it (there is an information panel explaining it), otherwise it looks like a station left unfinished in bare concrete. What makes the underground stations look somewhat stylish is the backlit station name on the raw piles which were driven into the ground to create the outer walls. For the rest the platform level is sober and somewhat dark, there are some stone benches which seem to store Granada's morning cold, but will probably be pleasant to sit on in hot summer. 



The trams travel at considerable speed between the underground stations, while the northern ramp, which follows a sharp curve in tunnel, is negotiated at low speed. Especially in the underground stations, a 10-minute headway feels a bit too long. Recogidas is the most centrally located station, but also Mendez Nunez gets busy with a large Corte Inglés department store nearby. All in all, however, the chosen route also has its share of passengers, including the many students at Universidad and in the future also the railway station (Estación de Ferrocarril). But with a tunnel already decided, I would have included Hípica station on the underground route as the ramp is somewhat intrusive in a narrow street, while roads become rather wide a bit further down the line. On the other hand, the city layout would suggest a branch leading east from Hípica and that would certainly be easier on the surface, In Tenerife, however, exactly those junctions were put underground to avoid any delays at road intersections. In fact, the intersection in question was the only one where I had the feeling that the tram cannot ask for priority but has to wait for the general traffic-light cycle to give it a 'go' sign. One major issue, though not specific to Granada, are the countless roundabouts the trams have to traverse, though luckily cars are stopped by special traffic lights. Having also used a car in Granada, I consider this extremely dangerous as roundabouts are always a certain challenge if busy and multi-lane, and then suddenly while in it, you may be stopped by a red light. I guess there have been a few crashes. I wonder if it is a good idea to combine trams with roundabouts. I imagine that this may create quite some traffic chaos as soon as the frequency is increased. Now with a tram only every 10 minutes in each direction it seems to work fine, though.


The CAF Urbos trams are pretty much the same as those in Málaga, except for some red at the doors instead of green, and decorated on the outside with local themes. Luckily they decided for the wide 2.65 m version which makes them look quite spacious inside although they do get packed easily. The interior is quite plain but bright. The seats are maybe a bit hard although the trams run quite smoonthly despite the grooved rail. The interior features all sorts of info devices including a strip map above the doors with illuminated stops. So, nothing to complain on this side, well, besides the Bombardier Flexity, the CAF Urbos is my favourite tram anyway...


Although the big Spanish cities have long had quite a good integrated transport system when it comes to fares, Andalusia is only learning slowly about this. So like in Sevilla and Málaga, the tram initially has its own fares, but free transfer to buses within a certain time will fortunately be introduced soon as I could learn from the local papers. Most local people use an electronic card which either carries a season ticket or stored value, so pretty everyone needs to tap in as they enter the tram. Single or return tickets are issued on a credit-card style paper ticket which also incorporates a chip, so you need to validate it on boarding. The same is true for a day pass called Turista (basically useful for tram enthusiasts only, I guess...), it shows the day of validity printed on the back side, but as I wasn't sure, I tapped in each time, too, so other passengers may not think I travel without paying... A day pass, which is valid just for this single line, costs 4.50€, quite a price considering that with a stored-value ticket (targeta monedero) you just pay 82 cents. Single tickets carry a surcarge for the electronic one-use ticket, so the total comes to 1.65€, still cheap for most European cities, but expensive for Spain. On the buses you can buy a single ticket from the driver for 1.40€ allowing you to transfer to other buses within 90 minutes. 

 

At underground stations the tickets have to be hold against the reader on entry and on exit, the latter probably a way to avoid fare evasion with people getting on the tram on the surface, so they wouldn't get outside in one of the central stations, although jumping the barriers would be quite easy. There are some security people around, but not too many, and they didn't say anything when they saw me taking photos (I mention this because people have reported problems in Málaga and some Spanish security staff sometimes get too serious, but usually just tell you that taking photos is not allowed, no US-style detentions to be feared!).

So, all in all, a good system which certainly will become very successful, maybe too successful. But looking at the city map, I hope more lines will be added soon and frequencies on the first line will be increased at least at busier times.


LINKS

Metropolitano de Granada (Oficial website)








8 comments:

  1. Hello Robert,
    your blog is a really good work and I agree to nearly all your facts. I visited Granada several times, the last visits have been in 2013 and in February 2018. In 2013 I had the possibilty to have a look in the very modern depot.
    I think that the city should build some more lines as you have mentioned. That would be a key for reducing polution, bus traffic and automoblie traffic. The strange situation that the new great system doesn't serve the important north-south-axe Calle Gran Via de Colón is a little bit unintelligible. I think it would be a good idea to build a second north-south axe departing at Caleta or better at Estación Ferrocarril and go through the centre of the city to Calle Andrés Segovia near Hípica. A second tunnel would be good (and expensive), but an alignment with street running would also be possible, if the city should have the courage to do this. There is no need for the LAC. It's too bad about the money they used for the expensive supercapacitors system (because of the sections without overhead wiring). There is no catenary in the city and the overhead wiring is smooth and doesn't disturb the view where the tram is running.
    For all readers: My German is better than my English. Excuse me, please!

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  2. Nice entry though I would like to see more commas to shorten some of your sentences.

    Regarding this bit:

    But as we have seen with other projects in Andalusia, the overall process of bringing new systems into service has not been prepared well, so drivers were recruited at a rather late stage, just like in Málaga.

    I would have included some nuancing vis-a-vis the raging economic crisis we are still barely climbing out of, as it now sounds an issue of inherent malpractices instead of maybe a sensible delay of implementation and milestones.

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    1. Mr. Unknown, sorry about the lack of commas - I tend to write long and complex sentences.... as for the "inherent malpractices", I would say it that harshly, but I do observe a certain general weakness in planning in many Spanish projects as far as timing is concerned. Often have I asked myself, why didn't they do this and that while they were constructing to have everything ready as soon as construction is finished. In those years when Madrid opened 40-50 km of new metro lines in 4 years, this was only possible through perfect timing and that's not a question of economic crisis. But don't worry, delays are not a Spanish feature, they happen everywhere now, see Berlin's new airport 10 years delayed, Amsterdam's north-south metro line 10 years delayed etc...

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  3. Great post, as always!

    The main problem regarding the central north-south axis is the fact that since the 19th century the Darro river runs underground below most of it (Reyes Católicos and Acera del Darro streets), and allegedly the ceiling of that tunnel is just a few meters below street level and it’s not resistant enough for tram tracks and tram units.

    That means of course that if they opted for a tram tunnel, it would be terribly expensive, and as it wouldhave to be bored underneath the old town, the likelihood of finding archeological remains is really high.

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    1. Thank you for your advice concerning the Darro river. I didn't know this. If you look on a map you can guess/recognize where this river must take its way through the city. And a tram along this subsurface section of the river would be too expensive, indeed.

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    2. Thanks, interesting detail, indeed, which I wasn't aware of. A deep-level bored tunnel may certainly be the preferred option if Granada ever decided for a second axis...

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  4. To add to the comment about the problem with taking photos in Malaga: I had similar problem in Sevilla when the security came and ordered me to stop taking photos.

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  5. Nice post. It is really interesting. Thanks for sharing the post!
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