Barcelona Metro Rail

Barcelona’s Metro Continues Its Expansion at a Relatively Cheap Price

» The latest segment of lines 9 and 10 opened last week. The city should have 30 miles of automatic metros by 2014.

Over the next ten years, New York, Los Angeles, and Barcelona each hope to have new underground rapid transit lines up and running. Gotham will spend $4.5 billion on a 1.7-mile line under Second Avenue. Los Angeles will get a 8.6-mile extension to the Westside for $6 billion. And Barcelona will have built 30 miles of automated subways for €6.5 billion ($7.9 billion according to today’s exchange rate).

Perhaps it’s an unfair comparison: Spain has lower labor costs, and despite Barcelona’s international prestige and high densities, land values there are generally lower than in the two American metropolises. But the disparity in infrastructure creation remains dramatic; countries like Spain and China are able to build far more than American cities can even dream about.

Barcelona’s newest exploit was the opening last week of the first shared segment of the L9 and L10 lines. Both are being constructed as part of a unified program that will increase the metro system’s size by a third, providing a new north-south circumferential corridor west of the city center, access to northern neighborhoods, a connection to the new high-speed rail station at La Sagrera, and direct links to both the airport and the port to the south. The first segment of L9 opened in December 2009 and the first section of L10 in April this year. The southern links will be completed in 2012, with the full program in service in 2014. That’s six years after the project was originally expected to be done.

Though Barcelona’s project doesn’t come close to the scale of Madrid’s metro expansion program — that city increased the size of its network by more than 100 miles between 1995 and 2007 and now has the highest metro route miles per person in the world — Barcelona will have Europe’s longest underground route and the continent’s most extensive automated line in four years.

For €6.5 billion, the city will be getting 52 stations, 20 of which will include transfers; the project is expected to attract 350,000 daily riders. Because of Barcelona’s already very dense metro network, the line has been built below everything else. Tunnel boring machines, which Spain specializes in, were used for the entire underground path (the line includes a few miles above ground on viaducts); this decreased costs by limiting surface cuts and land purchasing. The city also has taken advantage of the line’s building to produce some very interesting street reconstructions.

Stations in the center city are so far below ground that the transport authority has designed stops so that commuters move to and from trains by elevator.

This subway project has consumed the majority of the region’s transportation funds, but the city was also interested in investing in surface transit. Specifically, several boulevards were set aside for a bus rapid transit system. Yet the mayor’s biggest priority was supposed to be the reconstruction of the Diagonal Avenue, which cuts across the city roughly east-west. Though both its eastern and western extends are served by trams, its central section has no rapid transit either on it or below. So Mayor Jordi Hereu attempted to invoke public participation in the elaboration of the project, calling a referendum on the program to implant light rail and a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape there.

But the mayor’s effort to involve the people was a failure — the poll attracted only 12% of the electorate, and they voted massively against any of the two changes proposed by the mayor. For now, Diagonal will have to stay as it is.

Thus Spain’s second city will have to content itself on its relatively ambitious subway expansion program. Not too disappointing a result…

Image above: Barcelona L9 Tunnel, from Generalitat de Catalunya