The Double-Deck Trams of

Allen Morrison

At least 65 towns in Chile had passenger-carrying street railways. About two thirds of the vehicles that ran on these lines had two floors. Chile had the largest collection of double-deck trams outside the United Kingdom, and many were models not seen anywhere else. Both the horsetrams that opened the Valparaíso tramway in 1863 and the electric trams that closed it in 1952 were unique. Chile had the only double-deck electric trams built in Germany (none ran in Germany), the only double-deck electric trams built in Belgium (none ran in Belgium), and more double-deck trams built in the United States than ran in the United States.

Of the 217 streetcars that ran in Valparaíso, 181 were double-deckers. Builder of the unusual horsecars that inaugurated the system in March 1863 is uncertain, but is thought to have been Eaton, Gilbert & Co. in Troy, New York. The three shown here are traveling south on the east side of Av. de las Delicias, known today as Av. Argentina [see map]. This famous photograph was taken in 1867 [William Letts Oliver, col. AM]:

The next picture was taken from approximately the same location as the one above, but maybe from a rooftop. Ferro Carril Urbano de Valparaíso cars crossed a trestle over a stream in order to reach the depot on the other side of Av. de las Delicias (Argentina) [see map]. That spot is occupied today by the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (see below) [col. AM]:

The most unusual aspect of the Valparaíso horse trams was the driver's position on the roof. There were a few other examples of this stagecoach design on trams in Europe, especially in France, but nowhere else in the Americas. Tram fares were collected by a cobradora in a straw hat and white apron. This engraving appeared in a U.S. textbook published in 1899 [Carpenter's Geographical Reader: South America]. Valparaíso's horsecars achieved world renown [col. AM]:

Awnings were installed over the driver's seats in the 1870s. Track gauge of the tramway was 66 in/1676 mm, the same used by the pioneer tramway that opened in the Chilean capital, Santiago, in 1858, and by the steam trains that began running there from Valparaíso in 1863 [col. AM]:

An undated photograph from the 19th century. Note the car's fleet number under the driver's foot rest [col. Pablo Moraga]:

The postcard view below shows horsetrams at the junction of Calle Esmeralda, on the left, and Calles Prat and Cochrane behind the photographer [see map]. The view is southeast. The colonnaded building on the left is still there – and still looks the same – today [col. AM]:

The man looking at the camera in the picture below, taken in 1900, was a visitor from Sandusky, Ohio, and the owner of the camera [Henry Grant Olds, col. AM]:

The next photograph is undated, but the clothing suggests early 20th century. Valparaíso had 63 of these trams, presumably numbered 1-63 [col. AM]:

The photograph collection at the Museum of the City of New York contains this picture taken at the John Stephenson Co. factory in New York. But no evidence has been found that tram 53 ran in Chile, or was even shipped there. Records of both Eaton, Gilbert & Co. and the John Stephenson Co. are lost [col. AM]:

The factory of Chile's largest carbuilder, Brower Hardie & Co., was located on Av. Argentina in Valparaíso, near the tramway garage. An 1891 description of the company includes this photograph and claims that BH&C built trams not only for Valparaíso but also for numerous other cities. How many trams it built for FCUV is unknown [col. AM]:

Whoever built them, the city's horsetrams seem to have fascinated residents and visitors alike, and the 1867 photograph was reproduced in numerous articles and books. This one, published in 1973, celebrates that picture and others taken by William Letts Oliver [col. AM]:

This engraving by Melton Prior was published on p. 180 of the Illustrated London News of 9 August 1890 [col. AM]:

This sketch by Valparaíso artist Renzo Pecchenino, known professionally as 'Lukas', was published in several newspapers and magazines [col. AM]:

Here is a cartoon that appeared in the Valparaíso monthly Sucesos of 29 July 1904: "There's nothing like the Valparaíso Urban Railway to serve the public!" [col. AM]:

Beside the Ferrocarril Urbano de Valparaíso, the city had two other early tramway systems: the Ferro Carril Urbano de Playa Ancha, shown below, which ran west along the coast to Torpederas [see map]; and the Empresa de Tranvías del Cardonal al Sauce, which ran along the east shore toward Viña del Mar. (There was a separate tramway in Viña.) Car 3 had a conventional double-deck design, with stairs at both ends, and was probably built by John Stephenson. At the turn of the century 80 double-deck tramcars were running in Valparaíso [col. AM]:

In 1902 Deutsche Bank and Allgemeine Elektricitäts Gesellschaft of Berlin purchased Valparaíso's three tramway systems and ordered 60 double-deck electric cars from Van der Zypen & Charlier in Köln [col. AM]:

AEG laid 1435 mm gauge track along a different route between Barón and Aduana and inaugurated Valparaíso's first electric line on Christmas Day 1904 [see map]. This postcard view is east across Plaza Sotomayor, toward Calle Blanco. Unlike the 1863 horsecars, the new electric cars were bi-directional, ran both ways [col. AM]:

The next postcard shows one of the new trams pulling an 1863 horsecar as a trailer. The latter has been converted to standard gauge and its rear platform has been enlarged [col. AM]:

In the following view a German electric tram is pulling two 1863 horsecars, which have acquired roofs! [col. Guillermo Burgos Cuthbert]:

New electric lines were built in the center city and to Playa Ancha and Torpederas [see map]. Car 20 is reversing ends at Cementerio [col. AM]:

In the early 1900s the new German owners also acquired their only single-deck trams: five 2-axle models from VZ&C for the hilly Cerro Barón and Las Zorras lines [see map] and ten 4-axle salon cars and ten trailers from Waggonbauanstalt Falkenried in Hamburg for the coastal line to Viña del Mar [see pictures]. Car 202 in this view of the tram shed on Calle Independencia is one of the former. The two double-deckers on the right are converted horsecars [col. AM]:

The new Compañía de Tranvías Eléctricos de Valparaíso enclosed the platforms and roofed the upper floor of the VZ&C double-deckers [col. AM]:

In 1907 CTEV ordered 20 more double-deck cars from VZ&C, which had eight side windows, rather than seven like the earlier model [col. AM]:

Here is a later reconstruction, with a new truck, of the 1907 model [col. AM]:

A drawing by the popular Valparaíso artist captured the new design [Renzo Pecchenino a.k.a. 'Lukas']:

Like the horsetrams before them, the electric trams ran west along Av. Altamirano to Playa Ancha and Torpederas [see map] [col. AM]:

Electric trams also ran east along Av. España to Viña del Mar [see map]. This was a single-track line with turnouts until the 1920s [col. AM]:

This 'Lukas' drawing shows the tramway terminus in Viña del Mar [see map]. The upper deck of the trams was then completely enclosed [Renzo Pecchenino]:

Anti-German sentiment during the First War caused problems for the German-owned tramway company. When a conductor ejected a student from an over-crowded car in 1920, passengers threw rocks through its windows and started a 4-hour riot. A mob set fire to 56 trams. 21 were destroyed completely [col. AM]:

The incident decimated German tramway enterprise in Chile. Ownership of both the Santiago and Valparaíso systems was transferred to a Spanish firm, which was under financial control of a bank in Belgium. The new owners rebuilt the damaged cars, enclosed the tops of all the double-deckers, double-tracked the line to Viña del Mar, and imported 23 massive new 2-floor trams from La Brugeoise et Nicaise et Delcuve, which were unlike anything ever produced before in Belgium [col. AM]:

The new cars had twin doors on both sides for loading from both sides of the street. They had twin stairways inside, next to the doors. The photograph below was taken at Barón terminus at the north end of Av. Argentina [see map] [col. AM]:

Before the new trams went into service in 1923 the tramway was acquired by S. Pearson & Sons of London, which formed the new Compañía de Electricidad de Valparaíso. This postcard shows a Belgian double-decker on the left and a German tram on the right passing the Arco Británico on Av. Brasil [see map] [col. AM]:

CEV was transferred in turn to the U.S. conglomerate Electric Bond & Share in 1929. This postcard view shows one of the Belgian double-deckers at Plaza Sotomayor [see map]. The large building in the center is the City Hall [col. AM]:

Here is a Belgian on Av. España on its way to Viña del Mar [see map]. Note center platform for loading [postcard, col. AM]:

Two Belgian trams pass at a center platform in Viña del Mar [see map]. The tracks in the foreground belong to the electric railway between Valparaíso and Santiago. That's Miramar station on the left. This section of the railway is underground today, as part of Metro Valparaíso ("Merval") [postcard, col. AM]:

The Compañía de Electricidad de Valparaíso was expropriated by the Chilean government in 1945 and the new state-owned Empresa Nacional de Transportes closed most of the tramway system during the next five years. By 1950 only a single route remained – between Aduana and Barón – just as tramway service had begun a century before [see map]! Rail operation ended completely on Tuesday night 30 December 1952. Thirty new (single-deck) Pullman trolleybuses took over the next day.

The postage stamp below was issued in 1978 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Catholic University, located at the north end of Av. Argentina – the spot once occupied by the tram sheds used by double-deck horsecars [see map] [col. AM]:

Unrelated to this research, an enthusiast in Spain sent this picture of his models. In the 21st century Valparaíso's unique double-deck horsecars are still one of the most recognizable symbols of the city [Rafael Antonio Gil Fornés]:





This page is primarily about the city's tram cars. For more information about both the vehicles and the Valparaíso tramway system, see my book:

The Tramways of Chile, 1858-1978. New York: Bonde Press, 1992

or its Spanish-language version, edited by Guillermo Burgos Cuthbert with text translated by Marcelo Madariaga:

Los Tranvías de Chile, 1858-1978. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Ricaaventura, 2008



tramway map 1863-1904
tramway map 1904-1952
Valparaíso's single-deck trams


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14 May 2014

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