Milano, Italy’s second largest city, boasts one of the best-developed light rail/metro systems in mainland Europe.

The system opened its first line in 1964, and over the next 30 years, it grew to comprise three lines and serve 84 stations.

Construction and maintenance are in the hands of the privately owned Metropolitana Milanese SpA (MM), with operations being the responsibility of the Azienda Trasporto Milanese (ATM), or Milano municipal transport authority.

The ATM has much wider responsibilities than just the light rail system. It also oversee the operation of extensive networks of other transport systems. These include three heavy rail commuter lines, and 120 tram, trolleybus and bus routes.

In addition, ATM also manages parking at its stations and interchanges, and controls on-street parking in the historical city centre and commercial districts.

The project

The mass of tram routes criss-crossing the city are gradually being superseded by the more technologically advanced light rail, in a rolling programme that will eventually see the elimination of the 420-strong tram fleet, which has an average age of more than 50 years.

Early in the 1990s, city leaders realised that they would not be able to afford, either financially or in terms of the likely disruption to traffic and business, substantial further tunnelling or other works involved in developing new light rail alignments.

There are plans for the expansion of three existing lines and development of two more. Some of the funding will come from the €1.06 billion allocated for light rail development by the central government in June 2000.

Specifically, these comprise taking Line 1 to the New Exhibition Centre, Line 2 from Famagosta, in the south-west of the city, to Abbiategrasso and expanding Line 3 in two phases, from Zara northwards to Maciachini, and later by a further 4km to Comasina.

MM is now actively exploring Line 4, an east-west line to link the university and main hospital in the west to Linate in the east. Line 5 will connect the northern suburbs to the city, and will be financed by a private finance initiative.


Fixed rail installations on the Milano Metro network are managed by ATM, which has developed a sophisticated series of integrated data processing systems. These collect data on the state and deterioration of the tracks and give notice of any potential unforeseen problems.

“In addition to these control functions, an Automatic Train Operation system is installed which helps control the precise stopping points of trains at stations and reversing manoeuvres in the termini.”

The whole of the trolleybus, light rail and bus fleet is maintained in four fully equipped major workshops, capable of carrying out all maintenance up to and including general overhauls, and a further 22 depots, equipped with stocks of spare parts and consumables.

The metro system extensions will incorporate new safety measures, including segregation from the road network using long, grassed reservations.

Rail is being mostly laid on concrete, using resilient fastenings to minimise noise and vibration. Where the routes pass near buildings, floating slab track is being installed, with the concrete placed on a resilient mat.

Rolling stock

In contrast to the original tramway lines, which are served by a fleet of 420 trams each an average 50-years-old, the new light rail routes will be serviced by one of the most modern and successful designs of rolling stock.

A fleet of 20 seven-section Adtranz Eurotrams has been constructed by the same plant in Derby, England, as built the original Eurotram order for Strasbourg, France.

Each Eurotram is 34m-long and carries 270 passengers in an air-conditioned interior. The units boast large areas of a low floor for ease of access and each single pneumatic sliding door also incorporates a retracting ramp which is automatically extended at stops. The absence of under-seat obstructions also allows easier access.

Signalling and communications

In recent years, ATM has introduced a new control system with the aim of imposing the latest technology on a network which was designed to 1960s safety standards.

It has now installed a system which sends non-stop information on the position of each train to the control centre, which adjusts signals accordingly to ensure train flows are kept regular.

A new information system has also been installed on the new trains operating on Line 3, which informs drivers and station operators of the status of on-train equipment.

In addition to these control functions, an Automatic Train Operation system is installed which helps control the precise stopping points of trains at stations and reversing manoeuvres in the termini.

A further safety system is also installed which automatically slows trains which exceed the ruling speed over track-fitted speed detectors.

Signals at road-tram junctions will be phased so that trams are given priority.

A new telecommunications system is also being installed to improve security at stations. Help points are also fitted and monitored by closed-circuit television from the main control centre.

The future

ATM’s future direction is governed by its aim of making public transport increasingly competitive and increasing its share of all journeys made across the city, which as of late 1998 stood at around 48%.

Like other major cities, ATM is also having to address the shift in the city’s population, which has seen de-population of the central areas and the corresponding growth of new suburbs in outlying areas.

While only 36% of residents in the outskirts of Milano were discovered to use public transport at the same time as the above survey, that share decreases further, to just 14%, for journeys between business centres around the city outskirts.

ATM is also looking at evaluating a Smartcard-based fare collection system which will be valid across the city’s other transport modes, promoting seamless travel between them, and further enhancing its aim of increasing its market share.