On 17 October 1919 King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the capital’s first underground transport line. A century later, 12 lines, 294 kilometres and 302 stations make up one of the most impressive metros in the world
Madrid caught up with the rest of the major European capitals on 17 October 1919 with the inauguration of the metro, which not only revolutionised the way we move around the capital, but also made it possible to bring together the city’s neighbourhoods. The first person to use the Madrid metro was King Alfonso XIII who, a hundred years ago today, travelled the 3.54 kilometres that separated the Puerta del Sol and Cuatro Caminos underground.
The first line in operation, line 1, which was then called the north-south line, did not officially begin to operate until 31 October, when the people of Madrid who had previously travelled from Sol to Cuatro Caminos by tram, which took more than half an hour, saw how the same route could be completed in ten minutes. That first year it was used by 14 million users, according to data from public records. A century later, it is the means of transport for more than 600 million people annually and its trains travel 550,000 kilometers a day to bring more than 2.3 million people daily to their respective destinations.
Part of the history of millions of people
Five years before it was up and running, the Madrid metro had already begun its journey as a project. In 1914 the engineers Miguel Otamendi, Carlos Mendoza and Antonio González Echarte convinced the King of the viability of their idea: to unite the city with four lines covering a total of 154 kilometres under Madrid. Getting the King to back the project was essential so that, with his economic support of one million pesetas, other investors would also be interested in the project.
The first line 1 stations were called: Sol, Red de San Luis (today Gran Vía), Hospicio (today Tribunal), Bilbao, Chamberí (closed), Martínez Campos (today Iglesia), Ríos Rosas and Cuatro Caminos. Line 1 would be followed by lines 2, 3 and 4, which were fully developed over the following two decades.
One of the main peculiarities of the Madrid underground is the direction in which it travels: it runs on the left. This is due to the fact that in the year in which the first metro line was inaugurated, all vehicles were travelling in this direction in Madrid. The current direction of circulation of automobiles was activated in 1924, but as the Madrid metro had already been built and involved excessive expenditure to modify the direction in which the trains travelled, this aspect was not altered.
Between 1920 and 1926, its length quadrupled. Its network has not stopped growing since the sixties, especially since the beginning of the nineteenth century. During the Civil War, the metro was used for uses other than its usual services: it was used for refuge during air raids and to prepare ammunition. Trains were also used to transport coffins and corpses to cemeteries to the east of Madrid. In addition, under Franco’s regime some names of the stations changed: Gran Vía was renamed José Antonio and Príncipe de Vergara, General Mola. It was in 1983 when they returned to their original names.
Since its early beginnings, the Madrid metro has gone through many changes in order to make passengers’ lives easier. It also promoted the incorporation of women into the labour market with the creation of ticket offices, although there were also some pioneering women who were drivers: with the exception of the period of the Civil War, the first female driver was employed in 1985.
Today, the network covers 12 lines, 294 kilometres and 302 stations serving not only the capital, but also the metropolitan area of Madrid, making it the most densely populated in the world, the third longest underground in Europe, after London and Moscow, and the ninth in the world. It is also the seventh longest network in the world in terms of kilometres, behind Shanghai, Beijing, London, New York, Canton, Seoul and Moscow. In regard to the number of stations, with 302, Madrid is the fifth in the world, surpassed only by New York (472), Shanghai (329), Seoul (308) and Paris (303), although with the planned inauguration of the Arroyo del Fresno station in the spring of 2020, the Madrid metro will match the Paris metro.
Before Madrid there was only a metro in twelve cities around the world: London (1863), New York (1868), Chicago (1892), Budapest (1896), Glasgow (1896), Boston (1897), Paris (1900), Berlin (1902), Athens (1904), Philadelphia (1907), Hamburg (1912) and Buenos Aires (1913), but it was the first to be 100% electric, unlike those already operating at that time.
It is also a reference in terms of accessibility, as it is the second metro in the world with the most escalators (it has 1705), only behind Shanghai and the one with the most lifts: 530, more than the sum of those in London, Paris and New York. In fact, by 2020, 73% of stations will have lifts thanks to the Accessibility and Inclusion Plan 2016-2020.
The Madrid metro has been a benchmark in the public transport policies of other cities, such as in Buenos Aires in terms of environmental measures or in London for the installation of the train control signal system (CBTC). The sophistication of its Command Post -inaugurated in 1983-, the train circulation system and its complete infrastructure network in terms of energy, facilities and security, have attracted delegations from all over the world, both from Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, India, China, Vietnam and Singapore; Middle Eastern countries such as Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Algeria; and Latin American countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Panama and Ecuador; as well as European countries, for example, from French and Norwegian cities.
Internationally the Madrid metro is held in high esteem and this was reflected in newspapers such as El País, where various public transport leaders from different parts of the world have highlighted the virtues of the underground: “The Madrid metro is a reference in Latin America. It is beautiful, clean, easy to use and efficient, accessible stations and comfortable trains”, he explained to the newspaper José Arturo Blanco, from Mexico City. David Hughes of the London underground said that “it is a very simple metro to use especially for those visiting Madrid for the first time, even without speaking Spanish”. In addition, Pierrix Lamazou, of the Paris subway, said: “I was impressed to see the number of lifts that they have in their facilities” and Roland Zamora, of the Santiago de Chile subway, highlights the value of the control center, which he described as “on a world-scale it is a tremendous development, which is able to permanently monitor the entire network.”
A centenary celebrated in style
A century later, the Madrid metro continues to bring millions of passengers closer to their destinations, the busiest stations are: Sol, Avenida de América, Nuevos Ministerios, Moncloa and Plaza de Castilla. The busiest months are October and November, and the date with the greatest volume of passengers is, from 2015, on the day of the “Black Friday” sales.
Today, Metro Madrid celebrates its birthday in style with cupcakes, surprise gifts and live music performed by the Orchestra and Choir of the Community of Madrid. There were also events organised with the participation of a senior citizen who was born on the same day as the inauguration of the underground and the first line in operation was line 1, at 6 o’clock in the morning, decorated to emulate the one King Alfonso XIII travelled on the day of its inauguration. Google has also joined in the celebration dedicating its doodle to the 100th anniversary of the metro. The design of the doodle was an illustration of an animated train, reflecting the model that circulated in Madrid for the first time, 100 years ago.