Milan Transit Report (Part One: The Metro)

All urban transport (I was scolded today at work that I must say transport and not transit, because Europeans don’t know what transit is or think it is too generic) is run by ATM.  No, not a cash machine, and yes, the inverse of MTA – Azienda Tranporti Milanesi.  Like many European cities, the beauty of transport in Milan is the integration – that all modes work together to form a cohesive transportation network that is generally easy to use, convenient, and comprehensive.  That being said, let me talk about each mode individually a bit!  Sorry for being so late in posting this, and please, for the uninterested, consider looking at the pictures and moving on – but this is my bread-and-butter stuff, so allow me to go into some excruciating detail.  Part One here will be the Metro, and I’ll try to do Part Two for the rest tomorrow. 

First, for the uninitiated, the worldwide term for a grade-separated, “heavy rail” or “subway” system is metro.  The Metropolitana di Milano consists of three lines – Red (1), Green (2), and Yellow (3) – that cover about 46 miles with 85 stations.  The Red Line is the oldest, having first opened in 1964, followed closely by the Green Line in 1969 and the Yellow Line in 1990.  Each line has had extensions regularly opening over time, and there are currently extensions to both the Green and Yellow Lines under construction.  In addition, a Purple Line (Line 5) is currently under construction and pictured (as “future”) on maps throughout the system. 

The network, showing both current and under construction (and the suburban S-lines in light blue). Courtesy of

On the Red Line trains alternate between the two western terminals while all trains operate to Sesto FS in the north.  The core part of the line is almost at a 2-minute headway during weekday rush hours, with a standard midday service of a train every 7-8 minutes to each western terminal.  On the Green Line, all trains operate to Abbiategrasso in the south (at least until the under-construction branch opens).  Although the northeast arrangement is like the western end of the Red Line, the setup is a bit different.  In the peaks, trains do alternate between the terminals, up to every 4-6 minutes to each branch.  However, during all off-peak times, three services operate; one to each branch and one that terminates at Casona Gobba, the last joint station (which also has an automated people mover connecting the station to a nearby hospital campus).  Weekdays each of the three services operates every 12 minutes, yielding a 4-minute core headway, but on Saturdays the branches mostly go to every 20 minutes, with the short service operating every 10 minutes (and most of Sunday the branches are every 30 minutes with the short service every 15 minutes).  Finally, the Yellow Line is simple; all trains serve the whole line and the service is very linear: trains operate about every 3 minutes during rush hours, every 4-5 min weekday middays, every 5-6 min Saturdays, and every 7-8 min Sundays. 

Overall, I would say that the Metro is simple but effective.  The system is largely underground, with the only real outside section being a long tail to Line 2 in the northeast, which was taken over from a suburban railway and has relatively infrequent service outside of weekday rush hours (at least by European standards!).  The stations are utilitarian and quite uniform in appearance, particularly on the older lines 1 and 2 – they share a very spartan, black semi-vinyl flooring and overall fairly dark appearance.  The stations on the newer Line 3 have a slightly brighter and more modern appearance. All stations, though, have excellent real-time information with bright, clear displays that count train arrivals to the half minute. 

The newest and cleanest example of the Lines 1 and 2 standard station design at Abbiategrasso, the southern terminus of Line 2 that opened in 2005.

Lodi TIBB on Line 3 (change here for trolley buses!). Can you tell that it is on the Yellow Line?

Finally, a word about the trains.  There are some older cars rolling around, to be sure, but some quite bright and open newer trains now serving Lines 1 and 2, with air conditioning and open gangways to allow free passage between cars.  Given the crowding I saw, this move to wide doors with more standing room is a good idea.  Also, you will see that there is no graffiti – unlike much of the rest of the city, and the metro in Rome which is famous for being full of graffiti, Milan keeps its system spic and span. 

This is the older rolling stock on Line 2 - it gives a bit of a Soviet Bloc feel (note the chain attached to the center pole!).

The newer stock on Line 1, clearly branded and colour-coded.

The newest trains in the system have TV monitors by each door showing detailed route and connection information (as well as ads to finance the screens). This is great "wayfinding" and helps to reinforce the intermodal, integrated transport network.

 Of course, the one thing it is hard to get good pictures of in transit are the people – real crowding is too hectic to take pictures, and as some of you may know all too well people don’t always take kindly to someone taking their picture (even if the train in the background is the real subject!). 

That’s the story on the Metro, if you haven’t died of boredom you can return tomorrow for some pictures of trams and buses in Milan, and then finally the fantastic Piazza del Duomo. 



Posted on 14/03/2010, in Transit, Travel to Europe and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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