The Trolleybuses of
Chile's capital is the fifth most populous city in South America, after São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Bogotá. Most of the metropolitan area is flat, but the Andes begin in the eastern suburbs, which are about 40 kilometers (by air) from the Argentine border. Santiago had South America's first horsedrawn street railway in 1858 and one of its largest electric tramway systems between 1900 and 1965 [see Santiago chapter of The Tramways of Chile]. It had three trolleybus eras: an experimental line in 1940, a large system with 200 vehicles between 1947 and 1978, and a new 7 km line with 32 trolleybuses from 1991 to 1994. The first two periods are discussed in Part A, below. [See Part B.]
Part A: 1940 and 1947-1978
In 1940 Carlo Magno Coggiola, owner and director of the Ferrocarril Eléctrico Santiago Oeste, which operated a private tram line along Calle San Pablo, built a trolleybus in his garage and ran it along Calles Catedral and Compañía to the Plaza de Armas and back [see map]. The vehicle reportedly made two trips, but aroused no interest from investors, so never ran again. Mechanics consulted at the depot years later claimed that it used a single pole, but they had no pictures and did not know its ultimate fate.
On 15 September 1945 the city's principal tramway operator, the U.S.-financed Compañía Chilena de Electricidad, was expropriated by the Chilean government. The new organization, Empresa Nacional de Transportes ("ENT"), resolved to replace the city's 488 trams with rubber-tired vehicles and during the next two years ordered 100 trolleybuses from Pullman Standard Corporation in Worcester, Massachusetts. The exact dates of construction of the vehicles is uncertain, but shipments began in 1946, the first trolleybuses reached Chile in early 1947, and all 100 vehicles had arrived by 1948. Santiago's trolleybuses were numbered in the 800 series, since its trams had been numbered through the 700s. In July 1947 President González Videla drove Pullman trolleybus 801 along a section of wire in Parque Forestal [see map] and the city's first trolleybus line, from Calle Mac Iver to El Golf, was formally inaugurated the following 31 October. Commercial service began the next day. The depot was on Calle Alcántara in El Golf.
The system grew rapidly and within two years trolleybuses had replaced all the trams in the residential districts of the city's east side [see 1949 itineraries]. A new, larger trolleybus depot was constructed on Av. Francisco Bilbao and new lines extended west along Calles Catedral and Compañía, where Sr. Coggiola had run his homemade trolleybus a few years before. Trolleybuses ran down Av. Bernardo O'Higgins ("La Alameda") to the railroad station called Estación Central: this was the route of South America's first tramway in 1858 [see map].
In 1952 ENT ordered 30 more trolleybuses from Pullman Standard for a new system that it was building in Valparaíso, Chile's chief port. (Valparaíso's Pullmans were numbered 701-730.) It also ordered 100 trolleybuses from the French builder Vétra (Société des Véhicules et Tracteurs Electriques) for its system in Santiago. These were numbered 900-999. On 2 May 1953 ENT was restructured as Empresa de Transportes Colectivos del Estado ("ETCE"), which operated the trolleybus systems in both Santiago and Valparaíso from then on.
With a fleet of 200 vehicles the Santiago system grew to considerable size. By 1958 there were eight routes, in the central area, down the Alameda, and between the east and west ends of town. In 1959, the year that it ran its last tram, ETCE transferred 39 of its Pullman trolleybuses to its system in Valparaíso, to fortify that fleet and serve a new suburban line to Viña del Mar. After the Viña line closed in 1965 some – but not all – of the 800 series trolleybuses returned to the capital.
A 1966 itinerary list shows 10 trolleybus routes in Santiago. A new line ran down Av. Pedro de Valdivia to Plaza Zañartu on the east side. Another crossed the Mapocho River and ran north up Av. Recoleta. The Alameda line was extended west to Av. General Velásquez. All routes, impressively, squeezed through Plaza Italia, known today as Plaza Baquedano. Many of the services were circular, forming complex figure-8 patterns [see map]. There were approximately 200 km of overhead wire. The Santiago trolleybus system approached its maximum extent.
Alas, everything changed after the military coup of 11 September 1973. The new rightest administration of Augusto Pinochet cut funding for government-run transport organizations and the trolleybus system deteriorated quickly. All Vétra trolleybuses were scrapped. A visitor in 1974 found only a handful of Pullmans in operation, all in poor shape, on a single line, route 4.
Amazingly, there was a trolleybus renaissance in 1977! The first section of Santiago's rubber-tired metro under the Alameda opened in 1975. When the metro reached Salvador station in March 1977 [see map], 16 refurbished trolleybuses inaugurated new "Metrotroley" route 11 from Salvador metro station along Avenidas Providencia and Apoquindo to El Golf – where the first trolleybuses had run 30 years before!
The revival, unfortunately, was short-lived. The exact date of Santiago's last trolleybus has never been found. Transport histories traditionally write 18 June 1978 – but that, in fact, was the day that ETCE began removing the wire. Newspapers report trolleybuses still running in August 1978, so the power was turned off sometime after that date.
After closure, the 27 salvageable Pullman trolleybuses were transferred to ETCE's division in Valparaíso. Some were going there a second time. After reconstruction, some would return to Santiago again in 1991! And run again in Valparaíso today . . .
"Se Aumentó a Cien la Compra de Trolebuses" in El Mercurio (Santiago), 16/11/1945, np. Long article says that 100 trolleybuses have been "acquired" in the U.S. for Santiago and Valparaíso. 30 are ready for shipment to Chile. 15 will run between Valparaíso and Viña del Mar.
"Chilean Economic Review" in U.S. Department of Commerce, Internationonal Trade Office, International Reference Service, vol. 3, no. 59 (12/1946). "Street Railways" section describes trolleybus plans in Santiago and Valparaíso and purchase of 130 trolleybuses in the U.S.
"Primeros Trolebuses Comenzaron a Circular Ayer en Esta Capital" in El Mercurio (Santiago), 1/11/1947, np. Inauguration of Chile's first trolleybus system. Photo and detailed description.
Memorandum DAK. Guía de Bolsillo. Santiago, 1949. "Servicio de Trolleybuses" section describes the itineraries of the city's first four trolleybus routes.
Ramón Lira Lira. Los Viejos Tranvías Se Van. Santiago, 1955. Large 768-page transport history describes the trolleybus plan, purchase and inauguration, pp. 743-748.
Guía de Santiago EURA. Santiago, 1966. "E.T.C." Empresa Transportes Colectivos del Estado: Trolebuses. Itineraries of ten trolleybus routes, pp. 323-325.
Alvaro Rojas R. Mucho Trolley: Los Trolebuses de Valparaíso, Chile. Impressive website. The "Historia" section details trolleybus development in Chile.
The author wishes to thank Santiago residents Mario Buschiazzo, Diego González, Sebastián López, Daniel Salazar, Raúl Moroni and Juan Pablo Berasaluce for their kind assistance in the preparation of this site.
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