Chile's early development was similar to that of the other Spanish-speaking countries of South America. A conquistador named Pedro de Valdivia established Spain's first settlement in Chile in 1541. His fort, atop Santa Lucía Hill in Santiago, would be the terminus a few centuries later of one of Chile's most interesting railways. Chile revolted against Spain in 1810 and won its independence in 1817. In 1818 it named its first leader, Bernardo O'Higgins, the son of the Irish-born Viceroy of Peru.
Like other Latin nations Chile was aided in its early political and economic evolution by the British. Thomas Cochrane, the English naval officer whose cousin built the first street railway in Brazil [see the author's The Tramways of Brazil: a 130-Year Survey (New York, 1989), p. 15], helped Chile win its final battles against Spain. The English helped Chileans develop their railroads, industry and natural resources, particularly in the rich mineral regions of the north. Dispute of these regions in the 1870s led to the War of the Pacific against Bolivia and Peru.
Until that war Chile's land area was somewhat smaller than it is today, extending only through the present 3rd Region. The 2nd Region was a province in Bolivia and the 1st Region, including the cities of Arica and Iquique, belonged to Peru. After Chile won the Tacna district in 1883 its land area was briefly larger than it is today; but that city was later returned to Peru.
Gold, silver, iron, copper and nitrates made Chile a major industrial power in the 19th century. The North American industrialist William Wheelwright established steamship lines along South America's west coast and planned railroads over the Andes between Chile and Argentina. Funds for Wheelwright's projects came largely from Great Britain, but his engineers and materials came from the United States. It was because of the latter fact that Chile had the first street railway on the continent, which was one of the first animal-powered tramway lines in the world. [The world's first street railway opened in New York in 1832. A line opened in New Orleans in 1835, followed by lines in other U.S. cities in the 1840s and 50s. The next country to have a horsedrawn railway on a street was France, where a line opened in Paris in 1855. A street railway began operation in Mexico City in early 1858, a few months before the Santiago line.]
Wheelwright brought two engineers to Chile from the New York & Harlem Railroad in New York, which had built that city's first street railway in 1832 and its first steam railroad in 1839. Allan Campbell, New York & Harlem's chief engineer, supervised construction of Chile's first steam railroad between Caldera and Copiapó (3rd Region) in 1851. NY&H engineer Walton Evans built Chile's first horse-drawn street railway in Santiago, its capital, in 1858.
Campbell surveyed Chile's second railroad, between Valparaíso and Santiago, but the first section of that line, which opened in 1855, was built by an Englishman, William Lloyd. It was completed by another American, Henry Meiggs, and may be the oldest railroad in the southern hemisphere today. [The Caldera-Copiapó line closed in 1978. A railroad between Lima and Callao, Peru, which opened a few months before the Chilean line, closed in 1930. (The railroad that still runs today between Lima and Callao follows another route built in 1870.) The first passenger railroad in Australia began operation a week after the Valparaíso line in 1855. The first railroad on the South American continent, but north of the Equator, opened in Guyana in 1848. The first railroad in all Latin America started carrying passengers between La Habana and Bejucal, Cuba, in 1837.] The English built important mining lines in northern Chile and the first railroad over the Andes, between Antofagasta (2nd Region) and Bolivia, in 1889.
Chile's early railroads were built by foreign engineers and used foreign equipment. But, in contrast to lines in other Latin countries, many were financed by the Chilean government or local corporations and have continued under Chilean ownership until the present day. Chile's arterial railroads, from Santiago to Valparaíso and from Iquique to Puerto Montt, have always been operated by the Empresa de los Ferrocarriles del Estado, or EFE.
The street railway that Walton Evans built down Santiago's main street in 1858 was modeled on the line that he built on 4th Avenue in New York and used the same technology and cars. By 1859 the Ferro Carril del Sur was operating 20 trams at 10-minute intervals on double track along Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins.
In 1859 Wheelwright and American engineer Edward Flint built a 42 km cross-country horsecar line between a station of the Copiapó railroad and a silver mine at Chañarcillo. Passenger service began the same day as the English-built tramway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - which was two months before the inauguration of the first street railway in England. [Horsetrams began running along Liverpool docks in March 1859. Britain's first urban tramway is generally considered the line that opened in Birkenhead in 1860. Intercity horse railroads had run in Britain for a half century: a line inaugurated in 1807 between Swansea and Mumbles, Wales, is considered the world's first passenger railway. Early steam railroads in the United States often used horse power to bring trains to the center of town.] Another long animal-powered line, using wood rails, opened at Carrizal Bajo (also in the 3rd Region) in 1860 and eventually reached 53 km in length. Chile's interurban horsecar lines were not street railways in the usual sense, but are considered in this book because they used the same equipment as the urban lines - and because they are ignored in other histories of Chile's railroads.
Chile's second genuine street railway opened in Valparaíso, its chief port, in 1863. Like the tramway in Santiago the Valparaíso line connected the railroad station with the center of town, but was built, not by the railroad company, but by an independent organization formed by a local banker. The trams in Valparaíso were strange double-deckers that resembled early omnibuses, with twin staircases at the rear and a knifeboard bench and driver's seat on the roof. Tramway rolling stock in Santiago, Valparaíso, Chañarcillo and Carrizal Bajo was all imported from the United States.
Not much is known of Chile's next street railway which opened in Rengo, a small town 110 km south of Santiago, in 1872. But a section of horsecar track that has survived on a culvert in that town is engraved "RHYMNEY 1870" and is of imperial 4 ft (1219 mm) gauge. Rhymney is a district in Wales.
The Santiago streetcar system expanded in the 1870s and new lines reached the suburbs of Recoleta and Ñuñoa. Tram systems opened in Chillán (8th Region) in 1877, in San Antonio (5th) in 1880, Temuco (9th) in 1881, Talca (7th), Limache and Quillota (both 5th) in 1884, and in Concepción (8th) and San Felipe (5th) in 1886. The Temuco company was English, but the other lines seem to have been financed by municipal governments or local corporations. A Chilean company opened a street railway in Iquique (1st Region), in far northern Chile, in 1885. At century's end there were horse tramways in perhaps 25 towns.
Photographs show double-deck cars in every place, including the capital, which suggest the influence of the English. But advertisements in trade journals and other sources indicate that most of the rolling stock originated in the United States. The first trams in Santiago, Chañarcillo and Valparaíso were built by Eaton, Gilbert & Co. in Troy, New York. [In references to Santiago in his Brazil book the author assumed that the continent's first trams came from the John Stephenson Co. in New York. Later investigation of Santiago and U.S. tram builders has confirmed beyond doubt that the cars were built by Eaton, Gilbert. See Santiago chapter in DESCRIPTIONS OF EACH SYSTEM.] John Stephenson Co. in New York City supplied double-deckers to Santiago, Valparaíso, Chillán, Limache, Quillota, San Felipe and Concepción. Brill in Philadelphia built horsecars for Talca and the capital.
Most early trams were of a unidirectional design, with controls at one end only and a stairway at the other; there were turntables at the end of each line to turn them around. The conductors were women: this practice began during the War of the Pacific in 1879 and continued through the First World War, in some places into the 1930s. The typical Chilean tramway company was named Ferrocarril Urbano; in most Latin countries the term ferrocarril was reserved for steam railroad and the tramway was called Tranvía. Streetcars in Chile were usually called, simply, los carros.
In addition to the city tramways and cross-country lines a network of animal-powered railways developed at the end of the century in the mining districts of the north. Horsecars drew produce from the mines and carried miners and their families between the mines and to the railroad station. The nitrate fields near Pisagua and Iquique (1st Region) were honeycombed with short railway branches.
The Chilean government did not regulate tramway construction and animal-powered lines were built in numerous styles and track gauges. Tramways in Santiago and Valparaíso used the 1676 mm gauge of the steam railroad that ran between them. The Chañarcillo line used the 1435 mm gauge of the Copiapó railroad and Carrizal Bajo used 1270 mm or 50 inches. Other tramway gauges that were recorded include 500, 560, 600, 750, 762, 914, 1000, 1050, 1067, 1070, 1150, 1200, 1219, 1320, 1360, 1380, 1420, 1500, 1560, 1620 and 1650 mm. The gauge of several lines is unknown.
Chile also had a large assortment of tramway-like funicular railways that climbed the bluffs along the Pacific coast. The first inclined-plane railway opened in Valparaíso in 1883. Thirty more funiculars were built on that city's hills during the next 50 years. Mining railroads at Junín and Caleta Buena (1st Region) climbed from the sea on spectacular counterbalance funiculars hundreds of meters high. The lift at Caleta Buena had passenger service and attracted tourists.
The end of the 19th century brought electric street lights and the first attempts at railway electrification. The city of Talcahuano (8th Region) tried twice to build an electric tramway line, in 1889 and 1892; but both projects failed. Schuckert & Co., the German electrical firm, exhibited an electric locomotive at a Santiago fair in 1894 and installed Chile's first electric railway in a mine at Lota (8th Region) in 1896. Power came from Chile's first hydroelectric plant on the Chivilingo River. In 1898 a group of English and German investors obtained a franchise to electrify the tramway system in Santiago and founded the Chilian Electric Tramway & Light Co. in London.
The British continued to play major roles in Chile's industry and economic development, but were joined in the 20th century by investors from other European countries and North America. The new technology of electric tramways came from Germany and the United States, and it was the Allgemeine Elektricitäts Gesellschaft of Berlin and the General Electric Company of Schenectady that built Chile's street railways during the next 20 years.
CET&L hired AEG for the installation and ordered an assortment of equipment from Waggonfabrik vorm P. Herbrand in Köln. Electric trams began testing early in the new century and five open cars inaugurated the electric tramway in Santiago, the first in Chile, from the tram depot on Calle Mapocho to the Alameda Bernardo O'Higgins, on 2 September 1900.
A small Chilean company in Santiago also engaged AEG that year to build an electric rack tramway on Santa Lucía Hill - that famous knoll where the nation had been founded 360 years before. The line opened in 1902, one of the first electric rack railways in the world. [Three electric rack lines in France - at Salève, Laon and Lyon - existed earlier. South America's first rack railway, the Corcovado line in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was electrified in 1910. The rack railroad over the Andes, between Chile and Argentina, was not completed until 1910 and was not electrified until 1927.] In 1903 AEG installed an electric industrial railway that ran a passenger car down the streets of Traiguén (9th Region).
That same year another German group acquired permission to build an electric tramway in Valparaíso, Chile's second city, and formed Elektrische Straßenbahn Valparaíso in Berlin. AEG was again hired for the installation and ten double-deck electric trams built by Van der Zypen & Charlier in Köln opened the Valparaíso tramway in 1904. In 1906 ten elegant salon cars constructed by Waggonfabrik Falkenried in Hamburg inaugurated a suburban line to Viña del Mar. Two of Valparaíso's lines used a peculiar center rail for braking on its hills.
Deutsch-Überseeische Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft, the German company that already controlled the electric power industry in Argentina, became involved with electric power in Chile and acquired the CET&L tramway in Santiago in 1905 and the Valparaíso system in 1906. DÜEG was known in South America as Compañía Alemana Transatlántica de Electricidad, or CATE.
CATE ordered more German cars for both cities, including massive 8-wheel double-deck models from Falkenried for the capital, which were the largest trams at that time in Chile and probably the largest trams ever built in Germany. The construction in Germany of double-deck trams for Chile is extraordinary, since no such cars ran in Germany, nor did Germany build them for anyone else.
Everything electric in Chile, however, was not to be German. In 1906 a new company in Santiago hired General Electric of the United States to build a suburban line south of the city to San Bernardo. GE imported electric trams from St. Louis and opened the first section of the line in 1907, the entire 18 km route in 1908. The San Bernardo suburban tramway always remained independent of the German-run CET&L.
And in the same period W. R. Grace & Company, the North American steamship firm, acquired a franchise to build an electric tramway in Concepción, Chile's third city and second-largest port. The Compañía Eléctrica de Concepción engaged General Electric for the installation, ordered electric trams from Brill in Philadelphia and opened a 15 km interurban line between Concepción and Talcahuano in 1908. Local electric tram lines, also installed by GE and using Brill double-deckers, opened in both cities soon after.
The most extraordinary electric tram lines were built, amazingly, during the First War:
Residents of the tiny town of Villa Alegre (7th Region), in Chile's rich wine-growing district, formed a corporation, purchased materials and built an electric tram line between that city and its railroad station in 1915. Rolling stock was acquired second-hand from the CET&L in Santiago. The Villa Alegre tramway was publicized throughout Chile and inspired construction of electric lines in five other towns that might otherwise not have been built.
In 1916 the nearby, much larger city of Talca purchased second-hand equipment and cars from Santiago and inaugurated a tramway system of its own. Two more electric tramways using second-hand materials opened in 1918, in the cities of Rancagua and Rengo (both 6th Region). The Rancagua line used double-deck German cars from Santiago. The street railway in Rengo acquired rolling stock from the Anglo-Argentine Tramway in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Rengo project was part of a joint venture with Temuco (9th Region), which acquired six cars from Buenos Aires and inaugurated its electric tramway in 1919. All ten vehicles seem to have come from the Argentine company's original electric fleet which had been built by St. Louis Car Co. in the U.S.A. Temuco also later acquired double-deck German cars from Santiago.
By 1920 electric trams ran in ten Chilean cities, including six of its regional capitals: Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, Talcahuano, Temuco, Traiguén, Rancagua, Talca, Rengo and Villa Alegre. In contrast to its earlier horsecar lines, all except the last two electric systems used standard 1435 mm gauge. All except the last three systems used double-deck cars. Most of these were German-built.
The German company, CATE, controlled electric power and tramways in the Santiago and Valparaíso areas. But an independent Chilean firm, Compañía General de Electricidad Industrial, held rights to electric power in provincial regions and acquired control of most of the their electric tramways after the First War. CGEI purchased the Rengo line in 1918 and the Rancagua and Temuco systems in 1920. In 1921 it built a new electric tramway in Chillán (8th Region), using both single- and double-deck cars from Santiago. CGEI later also acquired the Talca system - a few months before that city and its tramway were devastated by an earthquake.
CATE and CGEI were interested primarily in electric power in Chile and did not develop their tramway systems. Maintenance was neglected, headways were infrequent, bus companies stole their passengers and the German owners did not build new lines that were specified in their contracts. The tramway systems in Santiago and Valparaíso remained relatively small despite large increases in population. Resentment of foreign management increased during the First War and on 10 March 1920 tram passengers in Valparaíso set fire to 56 cars. Twenty-one vehicles, a quarter of that city's tramway fleet, were destroyed completely.
The riot devastated German enterprise on the continent. Three months later CATE sold its tramway operations in Santiago and Valparaíso (and in other South American cities) to the Compañía Hispano-Americana de Electricidad, which was founded in June in Madrid.
CHADE, like CATE, was also interested primarily in electric power in South America, but was more attentive to its transport systems. The new Compañía de Electricidad de Valparaíso rebuilt its charred cars, double-tracked its old lines, constructed new lines and ordered 23 massive double-truck double-deck cars from La Brugeoise, Nicaise et Delcuve in Belgium. One of CHADE's stockholders was the Société Financière de Transports et d'Entreprises Industrielles of Belgium.
Financial control of the Santiago and Valparaíso tramways was transferred to new English companies in the early 1920s, which in turn were acquired by Electric Bond & Share, the North American consortium, in 1929.
With electric tramways in its major cities Chile began to electrify its steam railroads as well. The Santiago-Valparaíso line ran its first electric locomotive in 1923 and the Transandine Railway electrified its Chilean section in 1927. Several industrial lines followed the example of the Lota mine: electric railways soon transported workers at El Teniente copper mine at Sewell (6th Region), between Cruz Grande and El Tofo iron mine near La Serena (4th Region), in the nitrate fields of María Elena, Aguas Blancas and Taltal near Antofagasta (2nd Region), and at the world's largest copper mine at Chuquicamata (2nd). The electric railway near María Elena was 115 km long. Horsecars continued to run in many places.
In 1925 the Siemens-Schuckert Co. of Germany electrified the Ferrocarril del Llano de Maipo, a short meter-gauge line between Santiago and Puente Alto - which, like many railways in Chile, planned to continue over the Andes. The little steam railroad was converted into a suburban electric tramway. A funicular also opened that year on nearby San Cristóbal Hill. In 1926 the Santiago tramway company ordered the first of 90 double-truck streamlined cars from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia, and at decade's end had approximately 500 passenger motor cars and 100 trailers running on 175 km of track.
With old trams for sale a private horse tramway on Calle San Pablo electrified its 3 km line in 1929. The Ferrocarril Eléctrico Santiago Oeste and other small lines in the western part of the capital were isolated from the main tramway system by the steam railroad tracks on Avenida Matucana.
Other horse tramways in Santiago's southern suburbs and in approximately 20 other towns in Chile continued to use animal power into the 1930s. A few lines converted to gasoline traction. Petrol trams ran on Avenida Cristóbal Colón on Santiago's east side and on Calle Mapocho on its west. The Iquique tramway in northern Chile purchased a battery-powered car from Brill in 1916, but converted its entire system to gasoline traction in the 1920s. Small, tram-like gasoline-powered cars ran on several branches of steam railroads.
In all, at the peak of its tramway development before the Depression, there were in Chile an estimated 700 electric passenger trams, 50 gasoline-powered cars and 200 passenger trailers, pulled by electric cars or mules, running on 450 km of track of 20 gauges in 40 cities. Except for Santiago's first electric fleet all of the electric trams were of the closed type. Three-quarters were single-truck and three-quarters, amazingly, were double-deckers. About three-quarters had been built in Germany; the rest came from the U.S.A. or Belgium. In contrast to Argentina, Brazil and other countries in Latin America, Chile seems to have imported only one tram - a tiny horsecar in the Santiago suburb of San Miguel - from Great Britain.
Electric trams ran in very small towns such as Villa Alegre and Traiguén. But several rather large cities are known never to have had even a mulecar line. Street railways seemed conspicuously absent from San Fernando in the 6th Region, Curicó and Linares in the 7th, Los Angeles (near San Rosendo) in the 8th and Valdivia in the 10th. Antofagasta, Chile's fourth-largest city and the capital of its 2nd Region, closed its animal tramway in 1914 and remained without trams during most of the tramway era.
Several other tram systems also closed early or were reduced. The Traiguén railway disappeared in the 1920s and the Rengo tramway, after only five years of electric operation, returned to horse power in 1923. Villa Alegre converted its electric cars to gasoline operation in 1927, later returned to mules, and closed altogether in 1931. CGEI shut the Rancagua tramway in 1930.
The Depression ruined half of the tramway lines that remained. The Anuario Estadístico published by the Chilean government lists 32 tramway companies in operation in 39 towns in 1928, but only 23 companies in 25 towns in 1929, and only 16 lines in 20 towns in 1930. [See BIBLIOGRAPHY. The Anuario counts each town or comuna crossed by a suburban line. In this book, the author generally considers such operations under a single town.]
Earthquakes played surely a greater role in tramway history in Chile than in any other country. The streetcars of La Serena stopped running after a quake in 1922. The Talca system was heavily damaged by a quake in 1928 and finally succumbed in 1933. Both the Chillán and Temuco tramways closed after earthquakes in 1936. A massive quake in 1939 decimated Chile's third-largest tramway network at Concepción. It barely recovered and finally shut forever in 1941.
On the other hand, a factor common in the closure of tramway systems in other Latin countries was absent in Chile. Traffic direction was standardized on the right-hand side of Chilean streets during the First War and Chile avoided the traumatic changeover that affected street railways in the 1940s in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil.
There was a single exception to Chile's tramway decline. In 1934 the Ferrocarril Yungay a Pudahuel in Santiago electrified 4 km of its 750 mm gauge gasoline tramway along Calle Mapocho and Avenida José Joaquín Pérez. This was the last street railway built in Chile, and was its only known electric line of 750 mm gauge.
Otherwise, by the Second War, except in Valparaíso and the capital, all trams had disappeared from all streets of all Chilean cities. After four decades of use the German rolling stock in both cities was decrepit and the mayor of Viña del Mar complained that the Belgian double-deckers were too heavy for his streets. The top decks of the double-deckers were removed and Valparaíso's suburban tramway soon closed altogether.
In 1945 the Santiago and Valparaíso tramways were nationalized and absorbed by the new Empresa Nacional de Transportes. ENT purchased sixteen cars second-hand from Schenectady, New York, for its tramway system in Santiago, but closed the suburban routes to San Bernardo, Providencia and Ñuñoa. In 1947 it imported a hundred trolleybuses from Massachusetts and opened the first route of a large trolleybus network in Santiago, which was the first major system on the continent. ENT also later built a trolleybus system in Valparaíso and bought trolleybuses from France.
The Calle Mapocho electric tramway closed in 1951, but the Ferrocarril Eléctrico Santiago Oeste on Calle San Pablo survived for a few more years. At the end of 1952 ENT closed the remaining lines of the Valparaíso system and donated three of its cars to the FESO in the capital. ENT was reorganized in 1953 as the Empresa de Transportes Colectivos del Estado, which ran the last tram on Santiago's main system in 1959. After that year electric trams ran only on the FESO on Calle San Pablo and on the Ferrocarril del Llano de Maipo from Plaza Baquedano in Santiago to Puente Alto.
In addition, that is, to the capital's extraordinary park railways. Starting with a Decauville line in Quinta Normal Park in 1894, followed by the rack railway on Santa Lucía Hill in 1902 and CET&L's "Parque" route in 1905, the Chilean capital seems to have had a greater quantity and variety of electric park railways than any other place.
A tramway enthusiast in Santiago named Sergio Ríos Lavín, discouraged by his country's tramway decline, acquired a franchise in 1945 to build a new 500 mm gauge railway around Quinta Normal Park. The line opened in 1946, was extended and electrified in 1948, and continued to operate successfully for 28 years, longer than many of the conventional tramway systems in Chile. Ríos built another electric railway in 1952, 600 mm gauge, along the north bank of the Mapocho River, and a third line, 762 mm gauge, up San Cristóbal Hill in 1960. The riverside railway was destroyed by a flood, but the other two lines ran into the 1970s and may be considered the last electric tramways in Chile.
Special mention should be made of the Ferrocarril de Tocopilla al Toco, the electric railway that serves the nitrate fields around María Elena in the 2nd Region. The company purchased 22 PCC-type trams from Los Angeles Transit Lines in 1964 (five years after the Pacific Electric Railway sent 30 similar cars to Buenos Aires). The California trams were fitted with pantographs and carried workers around the mining district near María Elena until about 1975. The line still operates, with electric locomotives, today.
Most of Chile's other mining railways, unfortunately, including electric operations at Cruz Grande, Aguas Blancas and Taltal, had disappeared by the 1970s.
The precise closing dates of the FESO and Llano de Maipo railways - and of a horsecar line operated by the Army at Batuco - could not be determined. It is known only that Llano de Maipo was gone by 1963 and FESO by 1970. The FESO cars, including former Valparaíso trams of 1905, were last seen in a scrapyard in 1977. Ríos ran his last tram up San Cristóbal Hill in 1978. The funicular on the other side of the mountain still operates today, as does an aerial cableway from its upper station to a spot near the Mapocho River.
Santiago inaugurated its rubber-tired French metro in 1976. And although passenger service ended on the Transandine Railway in 1979, Chile, today, still has the longest electric railroad line and the second-largest electric railroad network in the Americas: electric locomotives pull passenger trains from Santiago 690 km south to Temuco; Chile's total electrified trackage approaches 1,000 km (Brazil has about 1,300). In addition, handsome automotores with pantographs, built variously in Germany, Italy, Argentina, Japan and Spain, provide frequent S-Bahn service around Santiago, Valparaíso and Concepción.
Chile's total population
today is 13 million. Land area is 750,000 km2, including
Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Archipelago, which was
the (fictional) setting for Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson
RETURN TO LINKS INDEX