The long journey of the Vallecanos

This week sees the closure of Madrid Metro’s Line 1, which will be in effect until November and will most affect residents of the Vallecas neighborhood

Carmen Pérez-Lanzac
One of the replacement Metro buses on Monday.
One of the replacement Metro buses on Monday.Álvaro García

Every month more than 7.5 million people travel on Metro de Madrid’s Line 1, which is the oldest route on the network and the second busiest after Line 6 (also known as the Circular). But starting this week, 25 of the 33 stations on the blue line will be closed, to make way for refurbishment work that will cost nearly €70 million, and will see improvements to the stops between the Sierra de Guadalupe and Plaza de Castilla stations.

The most affected zone, the working-class neighborhood of Vallecas, has no other Metro line to turn to, so buses from the EMT public transit service will be passing by every three minutes as an alternative.

Gladys, from Ecuador, was heard to exclaim “What a nuisance!” summing up the thoughts of many of her fellow passengers

At the first few stops on Monday morning, just a few passengers climbed aboard the replacement bus service, but after the Portazgo stop the crowds began to pour on, many of them grumbling at the inconvenience to their journeys. Gladys, from Ecuador, was heard to exclaim “What a nuisance!” summing up the thoughts of many of her fellow passengers.

By 7.42am, a worker named Antonio from OHL – the Spanish-based construction company overseeing the refurbishment project – was standing at Sierra de Guadalupe stop, reminding passers-by of the line closure. He reported that everything was going fine, but remarked that “a lot of people are forgetful.” Among the forgetful was Ideldia García, a 36-year-old from Cuba. Without Line 1, she had no idea how to get to her destination, Estrecho, 21 stops away. There was a bus she could take to Atocha — but what line would she have to catch there? Another woman leaned over to give instructions: get off at Pacífico, take the Circular line to Nuevos Ministerios, then walk for a while and catch a different bus. Ideldia nodded quietly. She needed to be at work by 9am.

Passengers wait in line for one of the replacement buses on the Avenida de la Albufera, in Vallecas.
Passengers wait in line for one of the replacement buses on the Avenida de la Albufera, in Vallecas.ÁLVARO GARCÍA

Another passenger, 48-year-old Juan, realized at 7.55am that he had caught the wrong bus – he was trying to head toward Conde de Casal but ended up on a bus to Atocha. “There’s still so far to go,” he complained, with the clock ticking until his work day started at 8.30am. “And I even left 10 minutes earlier than usual...”

By 8.10am, the bus was packed. It was nearly impossible to reach the exit, and the seats reserved for pregnant women and the elderly were occupied by whoever had the good fortune to be pushed into them. Elena López, 57, was fed up. She decided to get off at the next stop and wait for a less crowded bus. “I’m only going to see my sister after all...”

Sign up to our newsletter

EL PAÍS English Edition has launched a weekly newsletter. Sign up today to receive a selection of our best stories in your inbox every Saturday morning. For full details about how to subscribe, click here.

The closure of the line, which is expected to last until November 12, came after a series of delays. But beginning the work in the summer months may have actually been a blessing for commuters, given that many Madrileños will be enjoying their vacation this month and next. Initially the line was supposed to close on May 21, and then June 18, but the date was pushed back even further to avoid coinciding with the strikes by employees of train company Renfe.

According to City Hall and the Madrid regional government, the first day of the Line 1 closure passed by without incident. But over recent months various collectives have implored Metro de Madrid to undertake the project in phases rather than closing 23 stations all at once, something that the regional government ruled out as unfeasible for technical reasons.

City Hall, which also supported the idea of closing the line in phases, reached an agreement with regional government to extend the alternative EMT bus service. Today up to 60 special-service buses were running, and around 50 workers were stationed at various stops to remind passers-by of the need to find alternative transport.

English version by Allison Light.

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS