Metro rail systems are one of the major urban public transportation systems in Europe, carrying millions of passengers daily. Europe is home to the world’s oldest metro system, London Underground.
Railway Technology lists the ten oldest metros in Europe, based on their year of opening.
The oldest metros in Europe: Top ten
1. London Underground – 1890
2. Budapest Metro – 1896
3. Glasgow Subway – 1896
4. Paris Metro – 1900
5. Berlin U-Bahn – 1902
6. Athens Metro – 1904
7. Hamburg U-Bahn – 1912
8. Madrid Metro – 1919
9. Barcelona Metro – 1924
10. Moscow Metro – 1935
London Underground – 1890
Originally opened between Paddington and Farringdon Street in 1863, the London Underground in the UK is the oldest metro in Europe and the world. Also the world’s first underground metro system, the Metropolitan Railway was operational between 1863 and 1933 until it was merged with the London Passenger Transport Board.
Also known as The Tube, London Underground is the world’s first deep-level electric railway opened in 1890. It is operated by London Underground Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Transport for London (TfL). The initial routes were built in shallow cut-and-cover tunnels and included several vents for the escape of smoke from steam locomotives. Although the majority of the central London network was completed in the first 50 years, another phase of construction followed since the beginning of the 20th century due to the development of electric traction. The transit system was further expanded into London’s suburbs in the 50 years that followed.
The Tube currently has 270 stations across 11 lines, with a total network length of 402km. Approximately 45% of the network is underground, while the remaining is located above the surface in the suburbs. London Underground serves more than one billion passengers a year, with a daily ridership of up to five million passengers.
The network has been expanded and upgraded multiple times over the years, in order to increase frequency, enable faster and more reliable services, and accommodate the growing number of passengers. 4G connectivity was introduced for the first time on the Underground in March 2020 and plans are underway to offer 5G access in the future.
TfL is currently building the Crossrail railway line (officially named as Elizabeth line), which will cross London from west to east, to relieve pressure on the London Underground.
Budapest Metro – 1896
Budapest Metro in Budapest, Hungary, is a rapid transit system which became operational in May 1896 with the inauguration of the M1 line (yellow). Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the line is equipped with innovations such as bi-directional tram cars, electric lighting in the subway stations, overhead wire structure, and tram cars.
Designed to alleviate congestion on the roads, the underground transportation system was built within two years. The 4.4km-long line is still operational and became an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) milestone in March 2020, in recognition of outstanding technical developments. It runs below Andrassy Avenue, which links the city centre Vorosmarty Square with the City Park.
The network features four underground lines. The 10.3km-long M2 line (red) was opened in 1970, while the 17.3km-long M3 (blue) and 7.3km-long M4 (green) lines became operational in 1976 and 2014, respectively. With a total track length of 39.7km, Budapest Metro has 48 stations. The final metro line (Line 4) was opened to passengers in 2014.
The metro authorities undertook a fleet modernisation exercise and introduced the first renovated metro car on the M3 line in March 2017. The northern, southern, and middle sections of the M3 line are being refurbished and reconstructed to offer improved passenger services.
Glasgow Subway – 1896
The third oldest metro system in the world, Glasgow Subway became operational in December 1896. The entirely-underground subway comprises two lines, namely the Outer Circle and Inner Circle in which trains operate clockwise and anti-clockwise respectively around the same route in separate tunnels.
Glasgow Subway is undergoing a full-scale modernisation programme, which includes the procurement of 17 new trains to be operated in a four-car configuration, and modernisation of signalling equipment, control systems, and control centre, as well as new platform screen doors. Upon completion, the systems will allow the subway to transition to unattended train operations from the existing partially automatic trains. Works completed so far also included tunnel improvements and upgrades to 13 stations.
Operated by the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT), the metro system has an annual ridership of more than 13 million. The network spans 10.5km and includes 15 stations.
Paris Metro – 1900
Europe’s second-busiest metro system, Paris Metro serves the Paris metropolitan area in France. The metro system has a uniform architecture and its station entrances are inspired by Art Nouveau style. Line 14 of the Paris Metro became the world’s first 100% automatic wide-gauge metro line when it entered service in 1998, while Line 1 was fully automated in 2012.
The metro has 16 lines and 302 stations, catering to more than 1.84 billion passengers a year. It is facing overcrowding issues as an increasing number of commuters are switching to metro rides. Line 13 of the Paris Metro is the fifth most congested in the world.
France is working on the construction of a 200km-long group of subway lines under a project, dubbed the Grand Paris Express, to reduce the burden on Paris Metro and provide better connectivity for people residing in the suburbs. The project will involve the construction of four new lines and extensions to two existing lines.
The 214km-long Paris Metro is operated by Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP), a state-owned public transport operator. In October 2020, the first MP14 eight-car rubber-tyred automated metro entered commercial service on Line 14. The quieter trainsets are designed to increase passenger comfort while reducing energy consumption and air pollution by up to 20%.
Berlin U-Bahn – 1902
The Berlin U-Bahn is a rapid rail transit system in Berlin, Germany. Opened in 1902, the 151km-long metro has 173 stations and ten lines, and served more than 553 million passengers in 2017. The network includes both underground and overground lines, but the majority of it is underground.
Operated by public transport company Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, the metro system was developed in three phases and designed to tackle increasing traffic flowing into and out of central Berlin.
The extension of the U5 line from Alexanderplatz to Brandenburg Gate in Berlin is nearing completion. The city administration is considering three extensions of the U-Bahn network. Results of a study commissioned to study the feasibility of the extensions confirmed the feasibility and were presented to the Berlin Senate in March 2020.
Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe ordered 1,500 metro cars for the U-Bahn network from Stadler under a €3bn ($3.23bn) framework contract in the same month. The new metro cars are energy-efficient and offer noise reduction features.
Athens Metro – 1904
The only metro system in Greece, the Athens Metro includes 68 stations spread across three lines. Line 1 of the Athens Metro has its roots in the nation’s first conventional steam railway that was opened in 1869. Electrified in 1904, the line has undergone multiple changes to transform into its current alignment.
Underground lines 2 and 3 were opened in January 2000 to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. The Line 3 extension to the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport was opened in 2004, while the Line 2 extension to Anthoupoli and Helliniko was completed in 2013.
A 4km-long section (from Agia Varvara to Nikaia) of the planned 7.6km extension of Line 3 was inaugurated in July 2020. Served by three stations, it is expected to have a daily ridership of 63,000 passengers, connecting the city’s western suburbs and Eleftherios Venizelos Airport. The remaining 3.6km-long extension of the line with three more stations will be opened in 2022, linking the port of Piraeus with the airport. The extension will increase the total length of Line 3 to 24km and ridership to 132,000 a day, upon completion.
In November 2020, a consortium led by Alstom was selected or the construction of the first section of Line 4. The 12.8km-long first section will include 15 stations covering the most populated areas of central Athens, while the entire section will have 35 stations spread across a 38km-long network.
Hamburg U-Bahn – 1912
Opened in 1912, the Hamburg elevated and underground urban transit system became the second metro line in Germany. Operated by Hamburger Hochbahn, the metro has a route length of 106km, which is set to increase further with planned extensions.
Approximately 60km of track operates alongside dams and viaducts, while 44km is located in underground tunnels. The system operates the DT5 latest-generation metro trains that offer enhanced passenger comfort, smooth operation, and low noise levels.
Line 1 (U1) connecting Norderstedt to the city centre is the longest metro line in the U-Bahn network, with more than 55km of track and 46 stops. The second line (U2) is 24km-long and operates from Niendorf Nord to the city centre and on to the Mümmelmannsberg district. Opened in 1912, the U3 runs in a circular ring through the city centre, along the harbour and past the Elbphilharmonie.
The Line 4 (U4) extension to Elbbrücken was opened in December 2018. It will be expanded further to Horner Geest area over the coming years. Hamburger Hochbahn is also planning to build a fifth line to encourage greater use of public transportation.
Madrid Metro – 1919
Spanning a total length of 293km, Madrid Metro is one of the world’s longest rapid transit systems. The first line of the system was opened to passengers in 1919. The metro rail system comprises 13 lines and 302 stations serving more than 670 million passengers a year.
The rapid transit system also ranks third among the metros with the highest number of escalators. Operated by Metro de Madrid, Madrid Metro serves 12 municipalities and has the majority of its network underground.
In July 2019, Metro de Madrid announced plans for the extension of Line 11 by 6.3km to serve more than 800,000 people residing in Leganés and the districts of Usera, Carabanchel, Retiro, and Arganzuela. The €300m ($210.77m) extension will include four new stations and an interchange at Conde de Casal.
Line 8 will have a 4.5km-long branch running from Feria de Madrid station to Valdebebas, with three new stations. Line 5 will also be extended from Alameda de Osuna to the airport complex.
Barcelona Metro – 1924
With a 166km-long network and 189 stations, Barcelona Metro serves central Barcelona and the city’s suburbs. The first line of the metro was opened in December 1924. Mostly underground, the system is locally known as Metro de Barcelona and has 12 lines.
Barcelona Metro is operated by two companies, Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB) and Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC). TMB operates eight lines covering approximately 123km and FGC operates the remaining four.
TMB reported a 1.1% growth in passenger traffic to 411.9 million in 2019. A 1.6km extension of TMB’s Line 10 with the first elevated station of the metro system was opened in February 2020.
Moscow Metro – 1935
Moscow Metro is the major transportation system of Moscow, Russia, connecting the city centre with industrial and residential areas. Opened in 1935, the rapid transit system accounts for approximately 56% of the passenger transportation in the capital.
The metro system has 15 lines, including the Moscow Central Circle (MCC) and the Moscow monorail transport system. It has 275 stations, including 238 metro stations, 31 MCC stations, and six monorail stations. Average daily ridership on weekdays is nine million passengers.
The final phase of Line 15 with a 14.4km extension and six new stations was opened in March 2020. Moscow Metro commissioned the first of the next-generation Moscow-2020 trains on the Koltsevaya metro line in October 2020. More than 170 Moscow-2020 trains will join the fleet in the coming years.
Manufactured by Metrowagonmash, the modern trains will operate on the Koltsevaya, Kaluzhsko-Rizhskaya, and Bolshaya Koltsevaya lines.