The increase in AVE passengers overflows the Sants station

The incessant increase in high-speed train passengers leaving or arriving from Barcelona is pushing Sants station to its capacity limits.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 August 2023 Thursday 10:55
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The increase in AVE passengers overflows the Sants station

The incessant increase in high-speed train passengers leaving or arriving from Barcelona is pushing Sants station to its capacity limits. It is the collateral effect of the liberalization of the sector, which has led to the entry of Ouigo and Iryo as a competition for Renfe and which has lowered ticket prices while the number of passengers who bet on the train has skyrocketed.

At the peak of the day, up to 3,100 travelers per hour are registered. Those in the longest line go to Madrid, on one side are those who are going to Girona, and further on are those who have a journey of more than six hours to Paris... The situation, under maximum stress, on the brink of collapse, is perceptible in a lobby that was never thought for all this. 15 years ago there were 17 circulations throughout the day, now there are at least 44 each day, with times of the day when three trains leave in a row for Madrid in just ten minutes.

Although Sants station has been crying out for reform for years, it has been the emergence of high-speed rail that has made expansion an urgent and urgent matter. But the project is still being drafted and the start of the works is still missing, so the railway infrastructure administrator (Adif), as manager of the main station in Barcelona, ​​has had no choice but to improvise and patch up wherever been able in recent months to try to resolve the situation. Every few weeks he moves pieces to scratch a few square meters here and there to give some air to lines that are getting longer every day.

The most relevant action in recent months has been the opening of a new entrance to the high-speed zone from one of the sides to lighten the central access from the lobby. With this new access control to enter the departure lounge, the flow of travelers is divided and thus the burden on the traditional entrance is reduced. The security control was hastily enabled in a provisional way months ago, and since this summer it has already been made permanent. If at first the passengers diverted there depending on the track on which their train was parked, finally it has been decided to allow the entry of all travelers, regardless of the train they are going to take.

In addition to this new entrance, named C, there is a third one (B) on the other side of the lobby that is only open at specific times and is considered fast-track, a quick access that is enabled if a team arrives. football or some large group on time.

At the same time, the central corridor that linked both sides of the station has been closed to incorporate it into the high-speed space. The idea is to turn it into a new exit route that adds to the escalators and the only existing door so far. The closure of the corridor has forced the transfer of Renfe's customer service offices and Adif's assistance services for travelers with disabilities. In turn, the Renfe Club room (accessible to travelers with first class tickets) has changed its entrance, and from now on it is accessed once security controls have passed, as is the case in Atocha.

In addition to the new accesses, a small expansion work has been carried out that has made it possible to gain almost ten meters in width in a 55-meter section that was previously part of the sidewalk that led to the Joan Peiró square. In that same area, one of the three entrance doors to the station was closed years ago to shield the space for high-speed rail. Throughout the day the alarm goes off several times in the emergency exits there because more than one opens it from the inside thinking they can go out to smoke or tries to force it from outside to enter by mistake.

Adif sources frame these works in the previous phase of the great terminal remodeling project. “The main objective of this preliminary phase is to expand the accesses and useful space of the high-speed services boarding lounge to guarantee better management of high-speed passenger flows and facilitate faster, more comfortable and agile to the platforms”, point out from the infrastructure manager.

The search for more space to improve passenger access is a turning point in the approach that Adif had made in Sants in recent years. The wide hall between the high-speed area and the Rodalies area, which was once diaphanous, was filled with shops and commercial establishments of all kinds: underwear, Barça shirts, sunglasses, creams, hams... The manager Infrastructures tried to take advantage of the commercial vein, with appetizing economic returns, imitating the Aena model in airports, until it had to close instead of open in order to fit all the pieces of the puzzle of the station.

This summer, for the first time, instead of adding stores, one of them – the Barça store – has been removed from the central island and its place has been taken over by seats for travelers waiting for their moment to access the area of boarding, since another of the measures taken is the limitation of access to a maximum of one hour before the train arrives to prevent the most farsighted from occupying the space of those who arrive just in time.

Small adaptation works are done in parts, always making them compatible with the normal operation of the station. The idea is to continue advancing in this line as far as possible. "The current situation will be extended depending on the solutions defined in the first comprehensive remodeling project of the station", they acknowledge from Adif, pending the drafting of the project that specifies the plans designed by the renowned architecture studio RCR and the Sener and Fhecor engineering.

The first phase, which should start in a matter of months, plans to invest 130 million euros before 2026, which if not carried out will be lost since they depend on European funds. By then it is expected to have a true expansion of the lobbies, with 36,000 more square meters for a new waiting room. The building will grow on both fronts and the facades on the mountain side and the sea side will be opened to make it more permeable.

The bulk of the action will last until 2030 with an estimated investment of 410 million. This second phase will include a second floor designed for commercial activity, more green areas and the remodeling of the Plaza de los Països Catalans, maintaining its essence, but providing the space around green areas and turning the taxi grid and the arrivals area into an underground road.