24 Dec 2023 7:31 AM GMT


WW1 era to Internet age, 104 years amaizing journy of Madrid Metro


ww1 era to Internet age, 104 years of amazing journey of madrid metro


he length of the first line that linked Sol station and Cuatro Caminos station was 3.48 km

New Delhi: Madrid Metro, constructed during the turbulent era of the First World War and the Spanish Flu, has completed 104 years of its eventful journey.

When opened in 1919, it was seen as an engineering feat and as a "miracle" because Spain's first line of metro had been built in just two to three years, a top official of Madrid Metro told PTI.

Antonio Lleras, Coordinator of Accessibility, Exteriors and Signage, Madrid Metro, was in Delhi recently to attend the Urban India Mobility Conference 2023 hosted by the Union Ministry of Urban and Housing Affairs.

The construction of the Madrid Metro (Metro de Madrid) took place in the era of World War I and at a time when the world was grappling with a pandemic -- the Spanish Flu -- that broke out in 1918.

Much like the Covid pandemic, the Spanish Flu had wreaked havoc, claiming a large number of lives and affecting peoples' movement.

"Of course, it (Spanish Flu) was a big problem in the city. It was quite similar to this Covid time, and also WW1 was taking place (Spain did not take part in it). Many people had died," he said.

Metro Madrid, which began passenger services on October 31, 1919, with a small corridor of 3.48 km, has grown to 295 km with 303 stations in its more than a century-long journey, officials said.

Sharing the history of this pioneering metro of Spain, Lleras said a royal decree approved the plan for the creation of the Metro of Madrid in 1916.

"The engineers who created the plan, Mendoza, González Echarte, and Otamendi then began the process of the construction of Line 1 from Sol to Cuatro Caminos, which cost 8 million pesetas (around 50,000 dollars). King Alfonso XIII intervened and invested 1.45 million pesetas of his own money," he said.

This metro system was created by the Company of Metropolitan Alfonso XIII, he added.

The length of the first line that linked Sol station and Cuatro Caminos station was 3.48 km and there were six intermediate stations -- Ríos Rosas, Martínez Campos, Chamberí (today without traffic), Glorieta de Bilbao, Hospicio and Red de San Luis. Travel time was 10 minutes, Lleras said.

Two weeks before the passenger services started, the Madrid Metro was officially inaugurated by the Spanish king.

"The inauguration happened on October 17, 1919, at 15:30 hours (local time) with King Alfonso XIII, his wife Victoria Eugenia and the mayor of the city of Madrid, Luis Garrido Juaristi. Lots of people were expecting this moment around the station to see them.

"The King got into the station, and 10 minutes later the first train started its trip. In seven minutes and two seconds, the train reached the final station and ran 3.8 km. They came back to Cuatro Caminos and had lunch with the rest of the guests," Lleras told PTI.

Metro Madrid officials said this new mode of transportation, once completed, was seen as an engineering feat with only London and Paris, as big cities, having a Metro at that time.

"It was also seen as a miracle because in only two to three years, the first line of Metro in Spain was built. The workers were paid really good (almost the double of rest of the usual workers in Madrid)," Lleras said.

On October 31, 1919, it was opened to the public and a round trip would "cost 20 cents pesetas, cheaper than the tramway," he added.

Asked how the citizens and the media reacted to its opening, the official said, "It was fantastic news for the citizens of Madrid. The same distance took half an hour using the tramway but with the Metro, it only took 10 minutes".

It was a clean way of transport (100 per cent electric), he said, adding "the first day, 56,000 passengers used the Madrid Metro (250 people in the first train)".

The Company of Metropolitan Alfonso XIII that built the Metro was a private company with different investors -- banks, private investors, the King Alfonso XIII. Years later, it became a public company, Lleras said.

Inaugurated just a year after the end of WW I and the outbreak of the Spanish Flu, the Metro Madrid also witnessed the era of the Spanish Civil War and its stations served as shelters for people.

"In the 1930s it was used as a shelter during the Spanish Civil War (Spain did not take part in WW2 due to its recent Civil War)," he said.

In these 104 years, the Madrid Metro has grown from a small single segment to 12 corridors spanning 295 km.

"Our daily ridership is 15,60,000 passengers. We have 12 corridors. There is an elevated section in three lines, but it is a very small part. Maybe around the 1 to 2 per cent of the network," Lleras said.

In these long years, Metro Madrid's signage has also evolved while keeping the spirit of Spain's first metro.

Currently, its signage depicting a red diamond with a 'Metro' nestled inside it against a rectangular blue background is a fairly recognisable symbol in this European country.

"The original signages of 1919 have changed. The spirit of them is in modern stations but there has been an evolution of old signages. Same colours, same designs but incorporating modern designs today," he added.

While Metro Madrid has evolved into a huge urban transporter, it has kept its humble origin intact and celebrated its centenary in 2019.

"King Felipe inaugurated the exhibition of historic trains we have in Chamartín, and he emulated the same journey that King Alfonso XIII (his great grandfather) first did 100 years ago," Lleras said.

Line 1 was called Line of the Centenary and stations were decorated with pictures of 100 years ago, officials said.

Metro Madrid also has a museum with historic trains in Chamartín station (but not exactly the train the king used), the official said.

To keep the commuters engaged, its briefing ran a special, all-decked-up 'Christmas Train' in the 2022-23 season, according to its official website.

"Our vision now is to be the main solution of mobility in the region of Madrid, giving our citizens an efficient public service with the best quality and efficiency. At the same time, we want to enhance security, sustainability and innovation," Lleras said.