Lisbon Metro: A transport system at the heart of Portugal’s global village

Portugal has made an exemplary rebound from the financial crisis that began 10 years ago. This rebound has been driven by its capital city Lisbon, which has gained a reputation across Europe as something of a tech hub. Its hosting of Web Summit, the world’s largest tech event, attracts the greatest minds in technology to the Portuguese capital every year - over 200,000 people in total.

When the Web Summit chose Lisbon as its destination in 2016, it cited the city’s infrastructure as one its main motivations for doing so. A key component in this infrastructure is Metro Lisboa, the city’s metro network. In 2019, it will celebrate 60 years of service to ‘Alfacinhas’ (as Portuguese people affectionately call people from their capital), so we decided it was a good time to check in on the metro and admire its progress.


The Lisbon Metro, or Metropolitano de Lisboa, was founded as a public corporation in January 1948. Its initial brief was to conduct technical and economic studies to look at the feasibility of an underground passenger transportation system that already existed in larger European capitals like London, Paris and Madrid. Authorization for the installation and development of public services quickly followed in July 1949.

Construction on the line began in August 1955 and a little over four years later, in December 1959, the system began carrying the first passengers - changing life irrevocably for everyone in Lisbon, who until then, had largely relied on the city’s overground tram network. The initial section of line opened to the public was Y-shaped line with just 11 stations. In its first year of operation, it carried a massive 15.4 million passengers - a massive figure when one considers that the city was home to a little over 1.3 million people at the time.

In the intervening period, several expansions to existing lines were made to cater for growing demand, and the Red Line was added in 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the company’s foundation, as well as marking the occasion of Expo ‘98 - to this day, a landmark event for the city.


The metro is also renowned as being one of the most aesthetically pleasing of its kind in the world. In line with contemporaries such as the Moscow and Stockholm metro systems, many of its stations are filled with pieces and installations by respected Portuguese and international artists. For example, 10 of the original 11 stations had artwork by painter Maria Keil. More recent stations include works by contemporary Portuguese artists such as Rolando de Sá Nogueira in Laranjeiras, Júlio Pomar in Alto dos Moinhos, Manuel Cargaleiro in Colégio Militar/Luz, and Vieira da Silva in Cidade Universitária.


In 2018, the network stretches across a total of 45 kilometres and 56 stations, six of which connect to other modes of transport. Its rolling stock has 330 cars and it carries around half a million passengers every day. In 2017, it carried just over 162 million passengers and this is expected to grow by around 4% in 2018.


Innovation at its Heart

Perhaps one of the advantages of being one of the newest metro systems to be developed in a European capital cities is that the Lisbon Metro has had a culture of innovation since it was created. This continues today, with the company stating that its values are:  ‘Innovation and development, continuous technological evolution in the best interest of its customers.’ As part of this culture, in 2017, the company’s board of directors established a nucleus entirely dedicated to fostering innovation for the metro.

For example, the metro is considered a front-runner in what has become known as ‘mobility as a service’ (or ‘MaaS’) - integrating the city’s bus, tram and metro network with the am of significantly enhancing the mobility of people visiting, working and living in Lisbon. As part of this move, it is currently looking into state-of-the-art ticketing solutions, with a particular focus on mobile ticketing, which most MaaS operators see as key to improving transport in cities.


Partners and Suppliers

Metro Lisbon has developed a network of partners and suppliers, which assist it to deliver on its mandate on an ongoing basis. Modern metro systems are more than a network of railway lines and carriages - they’re a nexus of technology, electricity, ventilation, telecommunications and engineering, and this is reflected in the profile of Metro Lisbon’s partners and suppliers.

This network of partners includes companies like RARI - Metallic Constructions , Engineering , Projects and Industrial Solutions, ENA Portugal, which have fitted out the metro with its underground 4G mobile network, Safira, which manages many of the onsite facilities, Opway Engenharia, S.A., responsible for management of the many engineering tasks that continuously arise on a project like this and Thyssenkrupp Elevadores, SA, responsible for the elevators in and between the stations on the line.

Support services are provided by Grupo 8, which takes care of the day-to-day security on the underground system, Redecor, which is helping to refurbish and modernize the stations, and Eurest (Portugal) which caters to the millions of people passing through the metro system’s various corridors and walkways on their way about the city and its environs.

Continuing the Journey

Progress on the metro continues. In terms of infrastructure, work recently began on the platform of Arroios station, allowing six-car train operation and an increase of the system’s supply capacity. Several stations are also being refurbished and modernized. This involves everything from improving elevators and sanitation facilities to lighting and signalling systems.

In early December 2018, it was announced that the Portuguese government had given the green light to a 210 million euro investment in the Lisbon metro, for a plan which includes two new underground stops and the refurbishment of Cais do Sodre, the city’s main transport hub for trains, metro and ferry boats. The works will commence in 2019 and are expected to finish in 2023.

One of the iconic images of Lisbon is tram 28 winding its way through the city’s cobbled, hilly streets with the rooftops of Lisbon in the background. But underneath all this, there’s an equally impactful mode of transport which is constantly being improved. The Lisbon Metro has made huge strides in its 60 years of serving the people of Lisbon and hopefully it will do so for many more.