On February 14, 1985, architect James Stirling and the Provincial Council of Biscay signed a contract to design a preliminary project for what was to be called the Abando Passenger Interchange. It was a new chapter in the long effort to create an intermodal station in Bilbao, one that could be traced back an entire half century and, staring into the future of three more decades, one that is still unbuilt. On March 22, 1933, Indalecio Prieto, at the time the Minister of Public Woks, presided over a meeting at the Provincial Council of Biscay that approved the concept of building a station in Cantalojas. A train (but not intermodal) station was indeed built and inaugurated in 1948, but its design would ultimately wall it off from the rest of the city. It was a design that disgusted Prieto, who favored the project that architect Ricardo Bastida had prepared and that would have created a “large, open, landscaped square along Hurtado de Amézaga Street.” Prieto and Bastida were decades ahead of their time and the project was sadly abandoned. It wasn’t until 1975 that new conversations about the need for an intermodal station resurfaced.
Another ten years passed until James Stirling Michael Wildford & Associates presented a preliminary report to the Provincial Council of Biscay in January 1986 that, after incorporating a few modifications, would be unveiled to the public in July 1987. Introduced as Abando 2000, the project was considered by the local authorities as “one of the fundamental projects for the future of what we now call metropolitan or greater Bilbao.” After the passing of James Stirling in 1992, Michael Wilford would lead the project, but it never came to fruition either.
After the opening of an intermodal station in San Mamés in 2004, the future arrival of the high-speed rail to Bilbao revived the idea of creating a second intermodal station in Abando. In December 2016, the Spanish and Basque governments, after years of discussions, agreed to create an underground intermodal station that would free over 22 acres of space used for public amenities and new housing. This project would once again stitch the city together as Indalecio Prieto and Ricardo Bastida had first envisioned it almost eight decades ago.
While we wait for the next chapter in this saga, here we reproduce the general project description, from the preliminary report presented to the Provincial Council of Biscay in January of 1986 by James Stirling Michael Wildford & Associates (urban design and architecture), Ove Arup & Partners (engineering concept and transportation planning), and Davis Bedfield & Everest (initial cost estimate).
General Description by James Stirling Michael Wildford & Associates
The site of the new bus station adjacent to the Abando railway station will ensure convenient passenger interchange between bus, train, and metro. Located between the old and new towns close to the Circular Square, it will also provide direct access to business, social, and shopping activities in central Bilbao. The operations of eighteen bus companies will be combined to provide improved passengers facilities and reduce traffic congestions caused by the present fragmented on-street arrangements.
Passengers will enter the bus and railway stations form a new Plaza connected to the Hurtado de Amézaga Street and Bailén Street by shopping arcades and to the old town by a new footbridge across the river. The Plaza (approximately twice the size of the Plaza Nueva) will be a focus of civic activities in Bilbao, with traffic-free space for markets, fairs, and concerts. The Plaza is bordered by colonnades containing shops, bars, and restaurants with hotel/office accommodation above. Glass and steel canopies indicate arcade entrances from existing streets. Wide steps with viewing balconies connect the eastern arcades to new shops and cafes along the river walk.
Entrances to the bus and railway stations will be situated at each end of the Plaza, balancing activity in the space. The Plaza will be sheltered from winds and provide its own microclimate which, together with the colonnades, will ensure its use and enjoyment throughout the year. The ground surface comprises a series of shallow stepped planes landscaped with trees and rocks. Covered car/taxi drop-off points and 400 parking spaces will be situated below the plaza with escalator connections to the bus and railway station entrances. Stairs and lifts within the colonnades will provide additional access to the Plaza.
It is intended that the formation of the Plaza and shopping arcades through the elevated plateau on which the Abando railway station and sidings are situated will reduce the present barrier between the old and new towns and regenerate commercial activity in the Area.
Ramps from Hurtado de Amézaga Street and Bailén Street will serve the car/taxi drop offs and parking. A sliproad from Naja Street passing below Bailén Street will provide truck access to the parcel depot and service docks for commercial deliveries and garbage removal. Buses and coaches will enter and exit the bus terminal via ramps to the San Francisco railway bridge, proceeding either to the city streets or directly to the southern motorway on a new exclusive road.
The Plaza, bus station, and railways stations will be separate buildings for operational and security purposes. If required, the Plaza, bus station, and arcades could be constructed in advance of the new railway station.
Passengers will enter from the Plaza colonnades and the car/taxi drop-off. Escalators and lifts [at] either side of a central information desk will connect the spacious entrance hall to the suburban and interurban stations above. The hall will focus towards the interurban ticket/check in counters from which passenger luggage is separately conveyed to the buses. Shops, kiosk, and other passenger conveniences will line the sides of the hall with offices on a mezzanine above. Public toilets and telephones are provided at each level. Quick interchanges with metropolitan bus services on Hurtado de Amézaga Street can be made via the shopping arcades.
Suburban Bus Station
Arriving and departing passengers will pass through an island concourse connected to the entrance hall and interurban bus station by escalators and lifts. Sunlight will filter into the concourse through a roof lantern above the bar and lounge.
Buses circulate clockwise in a roadway around the concourse to twelve boarding gates. Passenger alighting and boarding can either be combined at each gate or occur separately on opposite sides of the concourse. A central indicator board will direct passengers to the appropriate gate. Seating areas will adjoin the gates that can accommodate buses with front, middle, or rear doors. Emergency maintenance and staff activities will be provided adjacent to the bus entry and exit ramps. A restaurant for interurban passengers enjoys views across the Plaza through a large bay window.
Passengers will alight and board the coaches through glass doors linking twelve coach parking bays with the arrival and departure lounge. The lounge will have seating areas on each side of the escalator and light connections to the suburban bus station and entrance hall. A central information desk and doors to a terrace overlooking the Plaza will be flanked by a bar and news/tobacco shops. Separate stairs and lifts at each end of the lounge will connect to the restaurant below.
A central island in the couch maneuvering area will accommodate twelve parcel/luggage loading docks connected by lift to the check-in and parcel areas. Cleaning, emergency maintenance and additional coach parking bays will be situated on either side of the bus ramp with drivers’ cafeteria and dormitory above.
Abando Railway Station
A new railway station will be constructed on the east side of the Plaza to contain six platforms for long distance and Vitoria airport express trains. When this has been completed, the existing station will be modified to accommodate short distance services including those to Orduña and the lines currently terminating in La Naja. The present six platforms will be shortened to provide a large concourse area and escalators y the ticket hall at street/Plaza level.
A new passenger concourse across the northern end of the Plaza with escalators and lifts to entrances from the Plaza and Hurtado de Amézaga Street will unify the new and existing stations. Short distance ticket windows will remain in the existing Abando hall with long distance ticketing relocated adjacent to the Plaza entrance. New escalators in the Abando hall will provide direct access to the metro station beneath Circular Square. Additional stairs for peak hour use will link the platforms in both stations to the arcades at the southern end of the Plaza.
To provide a site for the Plaza, bus station and new railway station, the RENFE sidings and support activities will be relocated to Ollargon. The parcels storage and handling facility will be rebuilt adjacent to the existing Post Office building in the southeast corner of the site. Any remaining RENFE facilities essential to the Abando location will be accommodated in the existing station or the new buildings on the Plaza and Bailén Street.
Santander Railway Station
The Santander Station will be relocated adjacent to the southeast corner of the Plaza and Bailén Street. The new station will have its own car/taxi drop off, improved concourse facilities and a restaurant on the second floor overlooking the river. The existing station will be restored as a museum or similar public facility.