Friday, 8 March 2013


Flying back on an orange plane from Pisa tomorrow, I took the chance to make a quick stop in Genova (Genoa) to see their latest addition to the still very modest metro system. In Dec. 2012, the eastern terminus at Brignole railway station was opened.

This really gives the entire line a lot more sense, as it now links both major railway stations (which are also directly linked by many regional trains through a cross-city tunnel), so passengers coming from the region and suburbs on a Trenitalia train can easily hop on the metro and get into the city centre proper around De Ferrari or down to the port area. Unlike the Principe metro station, which is a bit isolated from the railway station (a direct access may be built along with the railway station's current modernisation scheme), Brignole metro station is fully integrated with the railway station, as it occupies the northernmost platform. Trains coming from De Ferrari leave the tunnel some 50 m before the side platforms start. The platform level is rather simple, though pleasant, while the vestibule that is directly connected to the pedestrian cross tunnels of the railway station has glass cladding on the columns with some archeological exhibits in the middle. I didn't take too many photos as an employee came up and told me that AMT does not allow photography...As the metro platforms are at the far end of the multi-track railway station it is quite a walk from the many buses that stop or terminate on the station square.

From the train, you can clearly see the provisions made for the intermediate Corvetto station, in fact the entire shell for this cavern station is there including platforms, but nothing fitted out. So they'll need to build an access shaft from the surface, let's hope this will be done soon as the station would be in quite a busy area (a huge roundabout with pedestrian underpasses...).


From Pisa I took a daytrip to Firenze (Florence), just some 45 minutes on a Regionale Veloce, which runs nonstop between the two cities. Besides the usual tourist programme, I tried their tram line in service since 2010.
So far there is only one radial line, and no signs are visible (at least not in the city centre) that any of the other two planned lines are under construction three years after the start of service of the first line. This one serves the western suburbs and the neighbouring town of Scandicci. It runs about every 4 minutes! and was pretty busy at all times when I saw it. It is hard to imagine that the second line could share the same terminus next to the main railway station Firenze Santa Maria Novella, as they already use both tracks with just one line. 

The line is operated with Sirio trams, which look quite pleasant, but like Citadis trams, they have this rather annoying lateral kick whenever the track is slightly curved. Most of the track is on a dedicated right-of-way and on the section west of the river, trams run rather quickly without any delaying stops at intersections which are governed by traffic lights, but things are different east of the river. First, the trams run onstreet, then there are several traffic lights, until the trams reach a rather absurd S-curve between Porta al Prato and Cascine. Maybe someone can explain why they didn't build a straight alignment across the carpark there, instead of paving the park with concrete resulting in this double curve (with the above-indicated running characteristics of the Sirio trams)? Click here to view it on Google Maps to know what I mean!

The stops are all of a standard design, but for some unknown reasons, those closer to the city centre don't have a covered section, which would have been quite useful today as it was raining most of the day (and therefore my photographic ambitions were very low....). The tram line is fully integrated into the public transport system, which like in most Italian cities is rather cheap to ride.


Genova Metro & Firenze Tram at UrbanRail.Net


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


On my way from the automatic metro in Brescia to the next in Milan I made a stopover in Bergamo, about halfway between the two, to see its light rail line opened in 2009. Anyway, the city itself is also worth a visit, with its lower and upper towns connected by a funicular.

The tram is not a typical modern urban tramway, but rather a regional service that makes use of an old railway alignment all along its way. Trams run every 15 minutes to Albino and they were even pretty busy on a late Monday morning. The line starts outside the railway station where the old valley railway used to start, too. The entire infrastructure is new, though, and double-track throughout. The stops, except Borgo Palazzo which lies in a trench and even has escalators, are rather simple with exposed-concrete shelters, and all of them were covered with graffiti. The line doesn't really travel through nice areas, mostly old industrial estates which made this valley prosperous in the 19th century. The trains run rather slow along the section within Bergamo, where there are more level crossings, but they really speed up on the outer section where there are fewer stops and fewer level crossings. All intersections are protected by traffic lights which switch to green automatically when the tram approaches, so this gives the impression of a very fast ride. Being all laid with Vignol tracks, the Sirio trams run quite smoothly.

One negative point I have to mention is the fact that the line doesn't really go into the city centre. As originally proposed, it would be easy to extend it right to Porta Nuova and possibly further up to provide interchange with the funicular that goes to the Città Alta, as Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII is wide enough to create a dedicated right-of-way. This would make the existing line even more attractive for passengers from those towns, but it would also attract new passengers on the urban section, making the entire system more cost-efficient. There have been other plans for a second, similar line and an urban east-west tram, but it seems that these projects have gotton stuck somewhere....


Bergamo at UrbanRail.Net


Sunday, 3 March 2013


As winter has been long and grey back home and I felt that this might be one of the last chances in Europe to see a completely new metro system open (the next should be in Thessaloniki and maybe in 10-15 years in Dublin...), I made a quick decision and got an affordable flight ticket to Bergamo to visit Brescia's metro on its opening weekend. A good and bad decision.


The metro opened its doors for the general public on time, at 16 hours on Saturday 2 March 2013. Well, a few months after its scheduled opening, but once a definitive date had been announced a few weeks ago (still waiting for the final approvals, though), all was prepared for a big party. And it seemed that all of the city's 190,000 inhabitants plus those from the surrounding region came in to try the metro on its first two days when rides were free. So actually getting on the train was quite difficult, at some stations in the central area even getting into the stations, as these were blocked to avoid overcrowding. Service seemed to be more frequent on Saturday, while on Sunday trains ran every 10 minutes only, which is probably o.k. for a normal Sunday, but not today. Sometimes there were some disruptions, defective doors or other failures, which caused some delays, but all in all the metro seemed to prove it works, and probably it won't be put to the same test for a long time.

Considering that this is not really a big city which would normally have a metro, Brescia can now be proud of what they have achieved. Together with Rennes and Lausanne, it is among the smallest metro cities, and they all have driverless metros. The system chosen here is the same found in Copenhagen, where it has been working fine since 2000 (after many teething problems in its early years), and also in Milan where line M5 opened only some weeks ago (which I will visit on Wednesday). Compared to the VAL system in Rennes, or closer from here in Turin, the Ansaldo system has the big advantage that trains are 2.65 m wide which makes them much more spacious and thus much more pleasant to ride that the VAL trains just over 2 m wide. The Alstom system in Lausanne is similar in width. The Ansaldo trains run on normal steel rails, which are laid correctly, i.e. with the necessary superelevation in curves (not like the Canada Line in Vancouver!) and trains ride quite smoothly except for a few abrupt slowdowns, which may require some fine-tuning still. The biggest problem in operation seems to be the excessive station dwelling time. I don't know whether this was chosen on purpose for this busy weekend or whether this will be the standard. It was now around a full minute, when 20 seconds is normal in standard stations, and 30-40 seconds in very busy stations like interchanges. If this is different during normal operation please write a comment, thanks. At the two termini, trains switch to the departure track when they enter the station so they can leave immediately (in fact, with some delays accumulated at Sant'Eufemia they seemed to depart quicker in the reverse direction than they did in normal stations!).


The stations are huge and small at the same time. Although the trains runs deep beneath the city centre in a tube tunnel, all underground stations were built by cut-and-cover which results in large impressive spaces, especially those where several beams that hold the side walls were incorporated into the design and which have one of those side walls clad in black metal sheets. But basically in all underground stations the actual platform area feels too small and narrow, most so at Vittoria which, right in the heart of city, will become the busiest station on the system. Being so small, there are no benches to sit down while you wait. And being laid out for 3-car trains only, the stations are quite short anyway (about 50 m). Unlike in Turin, there is no art whatsoever exposed anywhere, so the stations look a bit austere. So at the end of the day I thought, the stations are o.k. (I expect the M5 stations in Milan to be rather dull, but who knows, may be surprised), and some are very impressive when you enter the main hall, but they could have been more exciting – so Naples has no reason to fear that they will lose their number 1 position in Italian metro design.


The Brescia Metro doesn't actually have a colour to give it some identity, maybe it's blue, but that's not properly defined. Outside some stations in the central area, there is already a logo post in blue, and the logo as such is also blue. Inside the stations, the name is written in blue letters on the white walls. Anyway, I don't like their logo, and I think it was a bad decision not to use the standard metro logo used everywhere else in Italy, i.e. the white M on a red square, which, like the German U on a blue background, is known by everyone, while this is a local logo that not even visitors from Italy will recognise as a metro entrance. Unfortunately, smaller cities tend to be different for the sake of it.

Despite a delay of several months in opening the metro, the areas around most stations were not finished now, maybe due to winter time, and as mentioned before, the logo post was rather an exception at Stazione FS, Vittoria and Ospedale (maybe some more station). The metro station at Stazione FS (Railway Station) is actually not at the railway station, but some 100-200 m further east and as of now, you have to guess where it is as inside the railway station there is no hint, and once outside you can't really see it as it is hidden behind a high and ugly building. Vittoria station is close to the main shopping street and all the major squares in the city centre, so that's really the most central stop. San Faustino is at the northern fringes of the older part of the city. Apparently there were early plans for another station at Gramsci between Stazione FS and Vittoria, probably quite useful, as the stretch between the two is rather long, and this would have taken some burdon off Vittoria.


I'm sure that this metro will be well-used as it runs through quite densely built-up areas, except for the southern stretch from Poliambulanza to the terminus, which cuts through some undeveloped land but there may be some construction following soon. In fact, a new housing estate has already been built around Sanpolino station, the only elevated station in a residential area. The terminus Sant'Eufemia-Buffalora is also elevated but surrounded by commercial and industrial sites. Between Poliambulanza and San Polo Parco, the trains run at grade, with the first station lying below grade, though, and accessible at both ends, while the latter actually lies at grade and is accessible from the sides, so to get to the other platform, passengers need to take an underpass, embedded into a still-to-be-covered-with-plants kind of amphitheatre. Only Poliambulanza and the two elevated stations at the end of the line have island platforms. This is mostly determined by the two-track tube tunnel which like on line 14 in Paris require side platforms. Like in Paris, the track area is roofed over inside the stations, which together with the platform screen doors helps to reduce noise inside the stations. Most stations have skylights which allow daylight to fall into the stations.

On the trains, there are acoustic and visual announcements. Accoustically, the next station is announced twice [prossima fermata – Vittoria; treno in arrivo a – Vittoria … if I recall correctly]. For doors closing there is a permanent, rather excessive peep while the doors are open (which is too long anyway) and then a bit quicker when they close. When they are almost closed, the lady says 'porte in chiusa' (doors closing). On the platforms, mostly the waiting time for the next three trains is shown, which is rather excessive, the next two would be enough and would fit on one display; with three, the display switches all the time, and passengers may be shocked if at their first look they see '20 min', when the next train is actually in '10 min'. No-one except a photographing metro enthusiast is interested in the third train coming... to know when the second is arriving may be good to know in case the first to pass is completely full, so it helps to decide whether to squeeze in or let it go and wait for the next one. The third one may reveal that service is running very irregularly. On the platforms, the entering trains is also announced accoustically. Other information is rather scarce. They put up an ugly line map including all buses and the forthcoming changes to the bus map. But that's about it. There are no station area maps, now a standard on metro systems. There are ticket machines which have five languages, but as usual, badly translated – Spanish and German speaking visitors have to know French! to understand their versions as 'trip' is translated as 'voyage'... The different ticket options are not explained in any of the different language versions, so you need to guess what '24 ore' means if you don't speak Italian. And a '24 ore' ticket is only 3.40 EUR, so a German visitor may not even believe that 'ore' means 'Stunden' with this low fare! So, the customer information part has room for improvement. Otherwise, signage is o.k. Maybe the pictograms are not clear enough as at one station people asked me whether there was a lift also in this station, and I said, it is right there, but they didn't see it – the problem is that although stations are very transparent and also the lift houses on the surface, the lift doors on the platform are not made of glass but of aluminium – I don't know why, but generally all lifts in public places nowadays are transparent for safety reasons. People will probably use the lifts a lot, because in many stations there are no escalators, especially those at low depth, but like in Copenhagen, the stairs seem too steep. The very deep stations generally have escalators from the platforms to the lower mezzanine, and from there to the upper mezzanine, but not from there to the surface, which is often still a steep flight of stairs. Interestingly, Vittoria, the busiest station on the line, has no escalators from the platform to the mezzanine, although their are two sets of stairs, the same is true for San Faustino, so this may lead to overcrowding on stairwells. The advantage of escalators is also that they separate up and down passenger flows.

It is pretty difficult to get a good shot of the train as it is either hidden behind platform screen doors or a small-mesh fence.
The initial plans included a western branch south of the railway station. I don't know what the situation of this project is now, it may depend on the success of the initial line. In the tunnel I couldn't spot any visible sign for an already built junction. Logically, it would have to diverge south of Bresciadue station.
Brescia Metro at UrbanRail.Net
Brescia Metro (Official Site)