Friday, 4 January 2013

VALENCIA


Although I frequently visit Spain, I had not been back to Valencia since the year 2000 when I was preparing my first book 'Metros in Spain'. With the metro construction boom having spread from Madrid to other Spanish cities during the early 2000s, there was enough to catch up with since my last visit.

  

Although the Metro is operated by FGV and the local buses by EMT, there are also good ticket options for tourists that allow unlimited rides in zones A and B (including the airport which otherwise requires a special fare!). Zone B reaches Torrent and Rafelbunyol, and large parts of the northern L1 branches. These tourist cards are only sold at tourist offices and the likes, for 1, 2 or 3 days (I had a 3-day, i.e. 72-hour ticket for 25 EUR, which includes the typical discounts in museums etc.). There is also a normal daypass for transport only, but just for zone A, which covers Valencia city and the closest municipalities like Mislata, Burjassot and Alboraya.

The problem with the Valencia network is that it is not a system planned from scratch but rather the result of many often short-sighted decisions, although what has been created since the mid-1980s is quite considerable and useful, but not ideal. But this is true for many cities in the world.

Line 1 still has the disadvantage that it somehow misses the city centre. The north-south route was built in the 1980s to connect to previously existing regional narrow-gauge lines to create a cross-city line. While this was a very good idea, it is difficult to understand, why it wasn't built via Estació del Nord (Xàtiva metro station), which is located near the City Hall and not too far from the main shopping area (Colón metro station). Maybe Renfe didn't allow them to enter their terrain, although later a tunnel was built to connect this first underground route with the new east-west route, a tunnel via Bailén that does run beneath Renfe (now ADIF) terrain. So passengers who wish to take Line 1 need to walk a bit more. The problem was later partly solved by using the abovementioned linking tunnel, designed only as a service tunnel, by regular trains to Torrent (L5 southern leg). Originally Line 1 was labelled as lines 1 & 2, a separate number for each of the northern branches. No idea, why this was discontinued, as service patterns are quite regular as far as the southern termini are concerned (I can't remember now which is which, would have to look into a timetable), so two numbers would actually help and not mess up the overall network structure.

The east-west line (L3/L5) was added in the 1990s, first by bringing the old Rafelbunyol line underground into the city centre, later by extending it west and adding a new branch in the east. The designations L3 and L5, the latter with two western branches, one of which is shared with L3 and the other with L1, is a bit confusing, so for the Torrent – Marítim-Serrería service a separate line number would be justified to clear things up. On the other hand, the line numbers are purely theoretical as neither the next-train indicators nor the annoucements on trains actually use them, they use just the destination. So it appears that they don't really believe in their line numbers either. Imagine the case that you want to tell someone how to get from the airport to your home in the east of the city: is it easier to say 'Take a train that says Marítim-Serrería' or 'take an L5 train' (easily translatable into any language)?? There is no accoustic warning on the train at Alameda, Colón or Empalme like 'This train goes to Marítim-Serrería. Change here for Rafelbunyol.' With Colón and Xàtiva, L3 has two stations in the city centre proper.

 

Lines L1, L3 and L5 are no full-scale metro lines, although the service in the city centre is similar to one, but once outside the tunnels, there are a few level crossings, although many have been eliminated in recent years, and most of those remaining are next to stations. The overall feel is thus similar to the Stadtbahn systems of Frankfurt or Hannover. All three lines run every 15 minutes on urban stretches, with double the frequency during peak hours. From Marítim-Serrería, L5 runs alternatingly to Aeroport and Torrent. The outer stretches on L1 are single-track and only served every 30 minutes, the section south of Torrent every 45 minutes. L3 is also single-track beyond Alboraya-Peris Aragó, but has passing loops at almost all stops.

 

Line 4 is also the result of the 1980s rebuilding of the old rail infrastructure. It runs basically along old narrow-gauge routes which were converted into a tram line and thus made much more urban. The line was later extended northeast to serve new neighbourhoods and is pretty busy running every 10 minutes. While good as a northern tangential line, L4 pretends to go to the centre but stops short of it by several hundreds of metres, too (700 m to the Cathedral). Strangely, the sort of loop it takes to reach the former railway station Pont de Fusta was built fully double-track (i.e. actually 4-track) when a single-track real loop would just have done the same job. The actual tram stop is about 100 m north of the old station and westbound trams first take the long loop near the old station building before actually reaching the tram stop (with some traffic lights on the way...). A much more ideal solution (and still recommendable today) would be to add a single-track loop across the old river bed with a stop next to Torres de Serrano (where L2 is supposed to get a deep-level underground station).

The short tram line also labelled L5 between Marítim-Serrería and Neptú is another product of accidental planning. As high-level surface platforms were rejected in this part of Valencia, the line was split into a high-floor light rail line L5 and a low-floor tram line L5, another very unconventional and confusing way of naming lines! Apart from that, I did not understand why the terminus Neptú was built about 300 m short of where it should end, and that's near the beach. Public transport users therefore have to walk through an empty area used as a car park to get to the beach promenade! Yet another accidental line is L6. Its northern part was to become the northern section of the planned north-south line L2, for which a tram tunnel is to be built through the heart of the Old Town, but as construction was halted due to the lack of funds, L6 was established to give the finished section some sense. It's probably useful for people from those areas wishing to go to the Politechnical University or to the beach, but to get to the city centre, a bus will be much quicker. There are proposals to extend L6 one day into a circular line.

 

The abovementioned L2 is mostly finished, tough without catenary, on its southern surface section. The underground section from Alacant (future railway station) was started but no construction is taking place nowadays. Also the deep-level station at Mercat Central in the heart of the city seems to be built as a shell (and with an underground car park above it, of course, what else?....), but the tube tunnel to link the northern and the southern sections has not been started yet. In the current financial situation it is also unclear whether the new railway station along with a north-south railway tunnel will ever be built or whether the temporary high-speed rail station called 'Valencia Joaquín Sorolla' will become permanent. This station is about halfway between (ex-Jesús) J. Sorolla (L1/L5) and Bailén (L5) stations, some 600 m south of the old and still in use Estació del Nord. In the final layout, Bailén (L5) and Alacant (L2) would be connected via the new railway station, which would be located between the present two railway stations, under and integrated into the Parc Central.

The Valencia metro stations mostly have pleasant designs, the older ones on L1 are quite uniform except for a different colour along the tiled ribbon along the lower part of the walls, but compared to my last visit, when they appeared rather dim, they now feature improved lighting and new signage which makes them much more pleasant. Depending on each stage of expansion, the underground stations on L3/L5 feature special designs, the most outstanding being Alameda (by Santiago Calatrava, once a Valencia hero, now critised for moving to Switzerland for tax reasons!) and Avinguda del Cid. The later built stations on the eastern L5 are rather uniform with white panelling, while the stations on the western extension towards the airport feature a typical modern design with mostly stainless steel and glass (in fact I was positively surprised as the plans for this extension were modified so often, from fully surface to fully underground!). The newest underground stations, those on a section put underground in 2011 in Benimàmet, are very nice with decorated glass panels covering the cut-and-cover walls, stylish furniture, and with similar entrance pavillons on the surface – good examples that pleasant stations don't need to be expensive.

 


The fact that the airport extension was a bit improvised can also be seen in the location of the current airport terminus which is a 2-track stub that did not really allow a further extension. Therefore L5 will diverge just past Rosas station and continue on the surface, mostly single-track to Riba-roja: like the section between Faitanar and Rosas, this section follows the old Renfe line. It was rebuilt for the Metro, is about 95% finished, but as the Valencian regional government didn't pay its bills, the construction companies left, which shows how serious and hopeless the situation is in Valencia. This city and region really deserves better, but in the end they voted for those incompetent politicians.

Punctuality is similar to that provided by Renfe, i.e. they to allow extra time to get to the station. The next-train indicators, which show the estimated time of departure rather than the minutes remaining, usually update their times only a few minutes before the train arrives, which is a bit strange, when the main objective of such a system is to calculate the time from the current position of the train, but here I had the impression that the scheduled time is shown until the train is some 2-3 stations before the station in question and only then the delay is added to the announced time, resulting in permanent frustration of waiting passengers.

Valencia is officially a bilingual city, with Spanish and Valencian (Catalan), but the use of each language on the metro is not very clear, not even within Valencia city itself (although most are in Valencian), and less so in municipalities in the outskirts. And what's worse, in many cases even place names are simply spelt wrongly, although there are quite clear rules in both languages on where accents have to be written, they are often omitted or wrong, for example all signs inside the new Benimàmet station lack the compulsary à, the same is true on many signs at Àngel Guimerà (the last à missing). 'Marítim-Serrería' is a bit confusing to me, as the first is clearly Catalan spelling, while the second part is Spanish with the accent! But this reflects the general mix of languages in Valencia without clear guidelines like those found in Barcelona, and probably for most local people this is not a major issue. But a company like FGV should have a language consultant!



3 comments:

  1. There's no confusion with the metro labeling. Unlike Spanish, Valencian language has two accents as the word "Pólvora"(gunpowder) or the word "arròs" (rice). Otherwise, excellent job!

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    1. You misunderstood my criticism, I'm well aware of the different accents (I speak and write Catalan fluently, and as far as I know there is no difference in this between Catalan and the Valencian variant) - what I meant is that in many places the accents are written wrongly (like pòlvora or arrós in your examples) or simply forgotten, just visit "Benimamet" station and you'll see.

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  2. It's really hard to understand why much money was spent to have some sections entirely underground while other sections were only built as short feeder tram lines (there are still no tram lines running into the city center apart from line 4 with its strange loop!).

    Construction of line 2 also seems to be quite half-heartedly. Perhaps it would have been better to construct line 2 as part of the existing high-floor Metro system to allow it to be used by trains from Torrent on line 1 (or with an connecting section, Machado on line 3) as well. But as the north-south tunnel is built for low-floor trams now, it now probably makes sense to split line 4 at Pont de Fusta and integrate both parts into the new line 2 tube, which would also offer a direct connection to the (historic) city center for passengers from Empalme. Has this been considered?

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