Alto del Arenal Central Control Post

The way we were, the way we are: the Command Post

Metro has a brain, the Central Control Post. Today, it controls the traffic of more than 300 stations and integrates the security, surveillance, energy management and passenger information systems of the entire network, but its embryo was a small room in Sol full of telephones and no computers. Travel back in time with us and marvel at its history!

Metro's first Command Post opened at Sol station in 1967. The first CTC (Centralised Traffic Control) system was introduced there, which was a milestone, even though at the time it wasn't possible to know the position of the trains beyond the information sent by telephone by the station masters.

Let's take a look at a picture of those early years of the command post. Is there anything that stands out? First, the lack of an essential element in any office today, and even more so in a centre of this type: computers. It's hard to believe, but the first one was still 15 years away from entering Metro.

Sol Metro Command Post in the 70s

And, of course, telephones. There is the herald one, with its unmistakable disc marker, and that funny console with an earpiece and microphone: the selective telephone. It was used to communicate directly with station staff or with drivers, nowadays electric traction train drivers, and it enabled talking to several interlocutors at the same time.

Command Post at Pacífico

The next step was the opening of the Command Post at Pacífico in 1982, which was a great leap forward because we went from not seeing any trains or some from time to time to seeing where each one was going and being able to control and stop them. In fact, it was there that the first computer to come to Metro was set up.

Pacífico Metro Command Post in the 90s

Many more elements of remote control and control of the track devices also became available. New developments were added gradually and, for example, the first radio-telephone was presented at a press conference which, as can be seen in this photo, caused a sensation:

Press conference to present the radio telephone

The incorporation of the radio telephone was a very important milestone because it enabled permanent communication with drivers, middle management (now line managers) and station staff. Álvaro Prieto, coordinator of applications and systems operation at the Central Post, points out that it was a great step forward for the operation of the lines, because it speeded up the solution of faults and the response to incidents.

Quevedo Load Dispatch

A few years later, in 1986, a little more progress was made with the opening of the Quevedo Load Dispatch, which was complemented by the incorporation of the Station Control and Metro Security Post in the hall of Pacífico.

Prieto points out that in Quevedo, the electricity substations began to be telematically controlled, i.e. they all began to be controlled by computer equipment. This was a crucial change in the company because, he points out, "before, there were two people 24/7 365 days a year in all electrical substations, an officer and a helper, and you had to phone the substation for every manoeuvre. If the incident involved several substations, the substation manager had to call each of them." This way, he adds, "just as it was a milestone to be able to see the trains, regulate them and close them, this was also a milestone in terms of personnel, who were redistributed to stairs, rolling stock, etc."

This is what the Load Dispatch was like:

Quevedo Load Dispatch in 2000

Telematic metering was also introduced there, making it possible to monitor consumption remotely. And this was possible because it was there, he explains, that "the computerisation of Metro de Madrid's operations began, the first programmes began to be designed."

The first of these was for managing energy budgets, which greatly speeded up work that previously took days. Applications were also developed for electricity consumption, high and low voltage billing, personnel control, the shift manager's daily report, etc. And what Jerónimo Palacios, head of information and operations, highlights as a revolution: the car/kilometre calculation. All train departures were recorded by hand in the past, with a scoreboard that was taken by a currier to the movement office on a 3.5" floppy disk. With the new programme, it went from taking a whole day or two to having the data on the same day," he explains.

1993: Public address messages

Palacios also comments that another important milestone took place in 1993, when it was decided to start communicating with users through the public address system on the trains. "To do this, they put a cassette on each of the lines and every so often, a message had to be sent to all the trains, which was being played on tape," he says.

Until then, messages were sent to passengers via the train drivers' radio telephones, which were passed on to the public address system.

"As sound cards were already on the rise, a programme was designed that was connected to the transmission of the Central Station and could then be formed when we had an incident based on pieces of audio. An entire audio could be composed to communicate the incident to passengers, showing them the possibilities: line, stations... between... There were institutional messages that were recorded, such as 'buy your season ticket before the 25th' but others had to be formed and for this purpose a homemade TTS (Text To Speech) system was designed in which you selected a text and it made the composition."

With the new century came Alto del Arenal

And so we reach the 21st century with the final step, the entry into service of the Alto del Arenal Control Post, coinciding with the extension of L1 between Plaza de Castilla and Congosto and the entry into service of this station.

This centre unified all the remote control points and thus integrated everything in one place: train, station and energy control, security, coordination with emergencies and even passenger information, with the implementation of the SIV (Servicio de Información al Viajero), the Passenger Information Service.

In addition, the centralised public address system and the CCTV closed-circuit television system were incorporated into this Central Station and the Centralised Station Remote Control System (Sistema de Telecontrol Centralizado de Estación, TCE) was integrated into it, from which all the metro facilities are managed: ticket machines, stairs, lighting, fire systems, etc. This system enables orders to be sent regarding elements, for example to start or stop stairs, as well as to see the status of the station's elements.

As we can see, since the first control centre in Sol was set up in 1967, Metro's "brain" has not stopped evolving. Today, it is a reference point and an example to be followed at an international level, as can be seen by the many delegations from all over the world that visit it every year. And its development is ongoing. The next step will come with the 4.0 station, which has already opened on Gran Vía, but we'll leave that for a future chapter.