All about the Santiago Metro

Discussion in 'Commuter Rail and Rail Transit Discussion' started by Matthew H Fish, Jun 7, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Jun 7, 2019 #1

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    I am from the United States, and have been living in Santiago, Chile, for the past three years.

    Santiago is a bit far afield, so the Santiago Metro isn't very well known, but it is very interesting, and is quite a success story.

    Some basics about the Santiago Metro: the first line was opened in 1975, after years of building and possibly decades of construction. It has grown steadily since then, and now has 7 lines. In order of opening, they are the 1, 2, 5, 4, 4A, 6 and 3 (There is a long story for why they opened out of order). There is also a commuter rail line, opened in 2017, that uses heavy rail, but is cross ticketed with the Metro/bus system. It is mostly below ground, but some parts of the line in the suburbs run on viaducts, or in the medians of highways. One line, the 4A, runs purely above ground.

    The Santiago Metro is one of the world's larger Metro Systems. It is not gigantic, but it is up there. It is in the Top 30 in the world in terms of stations, miles of line, and ridership. In terms of riders, it is the third busiest Metro system in the Americas, behind the NYC Subway and Mexico City Metro. In 2017, before the latest 2 lines were opened, it was already 3 times as busy as the Washington DC Metro or Chicago L lines.

    All fares are paid with a contactless, rechargable smart card, which is the same card as the Santiago city bus system uses. Rides are currently a little bit more than 1 dollar to get in, and you can then transfer to a bus without paying extra for the next two hours. Or, if you stay inside the gates, you can transfer subway lines as much as you want, and theoretically ride from opening to closing.

    The stations are very big. Both in terms of the amount of riders that go through them, and also just the physical space involved. Some of the stations double as mini-shopping malls, mostly outside the fare gates, but with some shops inside the fare gates. A few of them have libraries. Some of them have vending machines, not just for snacks, but for hygiene products and electronics. If you are ever on the Santiago Metro and need to buy mayonnaise, deodorant, and a new cell phone, you might be in luck!

    [​IMG]
    (Above: Estacion Quinta Normal, which is easily larger than a basketball court)

    The stations are also usually extremely clean, like even a food wrapper or receipt dropped on the platform is unusual.

    The latest two lines, the 6 and 3, which opened in 2017 and 2019 respectively, involved some high tech upgrades. The most obvious is that the trains are driverless: they are driven by computer. It is pretty fun to go to the front of the train and watch it go through the tunnels! The platforms also are closed, with platform doors that synchronize with the train doors. The inside of the trains is more spacious, they have digital flat screen monitors to tell you where you are, and it is generally...very futuristic.

    The biggest problem with the Santiago Metro is it is still very crowded, especially during rush hour. It has gotten better since they built the two most recent lines, and it is pretty easy during non-peak hours and weekends, but during rush hour, even though the trains run on time, you might have to take a tight squeeze to get on, or wait for a few trains.

    There is a lot more I could say, objectively and subjectively, about the Santiago Metro. Feel free to ask questions if you want!

    I guess the bottom line for me is, that Chile is not an exceptionally rich country. Chile is a developed country now, but it has only really reached "Developed" status in the past 10 years. Despite this, there has been a lot of political and popular interest in developing mass transit, and investing heavily in quite ambitious projects. There is also the general idea that mass transit is a normal way to travel...even people who own cars and use them to travel outside of the city prefer to use mass transit in the city.

    Without getting too political about it, I think it does show that being able to build good transit systems isn't just a matter of money and resources, but also of political and popular interest. If Chile gets to have robot trains and subway stations where you can buy computers from vending machines, there is no reason the United States can't as well...
     
    Ziv and v v like this.
  2. Jun 7, 2019 #2

    seat38a

    s

    seat38a

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    Location:
    Orange County California
    Thanks for sharing. I have to say our systems here in the US are even bigger dump after reading this and having seen Mexico City 2 week ago myself.
     
  3. Jun 7, 2019 #3

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    Well, to be fair, there is a few factors that made it develop here, and then it turned into a feedback loop.

    Chile is a very narrow country, which is pretty easy to see from maps. There isn't much room between the mountains and the ocean to build, so most towns were built in pretty narrow valleys. So there were geographic reasons that towns were built close together, and couldn't sprawl. There is also less preference culturally for having lots of space.

    So I think because towns were originally denser, people started riding buses. And then they built up instead of out, because mass transit made that possible. And then Santiago got big enough to need a Metro line, and then more people moved to Santiago, and there was more demand for lines...

    So some of it is just the way the city developed, but also, yeah, there is a commitment to infrastructure that could be easily matched in the United States, if there was the interest.
     
    seat38a likes this.
  4. Jun 7, 2019 #4

    seat38a

    s

    seat38a

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    1,843
    Location:
    Orange County California
    Can't speak for other jurisdiction, but in California, we can't seem to build anything on budget or on time. If it isn't billions and years over budget, it wasn't done right. MTA aka Metro, learned this the hard way during the 90's when the voters clipped its wings for bungling the red/purple line and took about 20 years for voters open their wallets again. With so many big projects bungled recently, I don't think voters will have an appetite for more taxes for big projects when asked.
     
  5. Jun 8, 2019 #5

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    Well, again to be fair...the fact that it is efficient and works now, doesn't mean building it was always easy. I mentioned that Line 3 opened up as the seventh line, 41 years after Line 2 opened, and 21 years after line 5 opened.

    Some of the reason for that has to do with changing demographics (there was higher demand than expected from new regions, so they built the lines to those regions first), part of it has to do with Chile's high level of seismic activity (there was an earthquake that damaged the construction). But part of it was just...delays.

    But one of the things is, when people have positive experience with transit, and think of it as normal, then they don't see a delay as a sign that all transit is somehow wrong. I have noticed that in the United States, when transit projects go over budget or over time, it is seen as an indictment of all transit. But people don't look at highway construction problems the same way. So even when there has been delays here, people still have examples of the system mostly working right.

    Also, another thing is, this system was built in increments. So people didn't wait for 10 year and then get to use a line...they got some access to it, every 2 years or so. So even though it did take a long time to finish, it didn't seem like just a hole in the ground that no one could use.

    (For example, the Line 5, which I believe is the longest line, opened in seven stages, from 1997 to 2011. That is a long time to wait, but at least people had something to work with in the meantime).
     
  6. Jun 9, 2019 #6

    Metra Electric Rider

    M

    Metra Electric Rider

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2016
    Messages:
    715
    One of my best friends spent a year (or more) in Santiago studying at the University before the Metro was extended to it and told stories of literally hanging off buses the transit was so crowded at that time (early/mid 90's). But hasn't much of the intercity rail faded away (if less so in comparison to the rest of Latin America)? I'm not surprised at the density - Spain is crazy urban* even in comparison to Portugal next door and I think their urban living pattern transferred to Latin America - Mexico feels very Spanish to me in a lot of ways (at least CDMX).

    *A smallish town in Spain will have dense apartment buildings in the city center -6/7 floors while in Portugal it'll be a few 4-5 floor buildings and lots of houses in a similar sized town.
     
  7. Jun 9, 2019 #7

    Matthew H Fish

    M

    Matthew H Fish

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    May 28, 2019
    Messages:
    25
    Well, I don't know what campus they were studying at, but a lot more of the city is connected than it was in the 1990s.

    The buses can still be uncomfortably crowded, especially during rush hour, but I haven't seen any people hanging off the sides of buses. Also, with the construction of the two new Metro lines, I think buses have become less crowded as well. And they are replacing the old bus fleet with new buses, that have things like USB charging ports.

    In general, Latin America has changed a lot over the past 20 years. It kind of got lost in the headlines, because there was not a single "Oh wow" moment, and I think in the United States, our attention was taken up by more dramatic parts of the world. But big parts of Latin America are now "developed", and one of the ways that is clear is in the construction of mass transit lines. There have been 15 systems opened across Latin America since 2000, and most of the existing systems, such as Santiago, have doubled in size.

    As for intercity rail...yes, it exists. I regret I didn't get a chance to take it. One of the reasons why it isn't more popular is that intercity coach buses are run so well, and are so cheap and efficient. If you want to go from Santiago to Valparaiso (about 60 miles away), you can get a coach bus every 15 minutes, for usually 5-7 dollars, you get an assigned seat, and the trip takes about 2 hours. So there is no call to build passenger rail along that. The passenger rail runs along the Central Valley, but bus prices and convenience are just as good for that. So rail isn't really in high demand.
     
  8. Jun 11, 2019 #8

    v v

    v

    v v

    Conductor AU Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2012
    Messages:
    1,051
    Location:
    UK / France
    Substitute UK for the United States, it's the same response.

    Although in comparison with the US the UK doesn't have too much land that isn't built on (not sure about Chile as have never visited), the opposition to a new rail line (HS2), or a major new road has a second layer of opposition to the regular reasons, it's from the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) people.
    We have 2 sets of friends who are totally against a new rail line anywhere near them, both live in moderately expensive leafy county town type places in different parts of the country.

    London is about to complete the new Crossrail Line, several years late and heavily over budget. The reason it gets done is the City of London understand what a major enhancement it is to London economically, most objections are smoothed over as power and money talks.

    Thanks for writing all this up Mathew, it is quite fascinating
     

Share This Page



arrow_white