Colombia's second-largest city, the capital of Antioquia department, lies in a valley carved by the Medellín River about 200 km northwest of Bogotá. Altitude is 1,500 m. The city's population in 1930 was about 100,000. The metropolitan area today has 3.2 million inhabitants.
Medellín had a street railway a quarter century before it had a steam railroad. Ferrocarril de Medellín acquired an unknown number of horsecars from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia in 1886 – which seem to have been the same model that Bogotá acquired from Brill in 1884. Horsedrawn trams began carrying passengers along Carrera 52, between Plazuela de la Veracruz (near Plaza de Berrío) and El Edén, on 23 January 1887 [see map] [col. AM]:
The places named on the side of the car – towns far south of the city – were never reached by the horsecar line, which passed to a Belgian company in 1889 and closed in the 1890s. The city's first steam railroad, Ferrocarril de Amagá, finally opened a line from its station on Calle 44 to Caldas in 1911 [see map]. The second steam line, Ferrocarril de Antioquia, began operation in 1914. Both railroads used the same 914 mm (36 in) track gauge.
Medellín introduced electric street lights in 1895, but did not consider electric traction until well into the 20th century. The Empresa de Tranvías Eléctricos, founded in 1919, was reorganized as Tranvía Municipal de Medellín in 1920 when its franchise was acquired by a government agency, Empresas Públicas Municipales. TMM/EPM ordered twelve 2-axle "Birney Safety Cars" from J. G. Brill on 24 June 1920, began construction and inaugurated the city's first electric tram line, from Plaza de Berrío to América, on 12 October 1921 [see map]. The postcard view below shows a Birney at the Plaza terminus [col. AM]:
Track gauge of the electric tramway was 914 mm (36 in). TMM built 10 more tram routes and purchased 52 more Birney cars from Brill in the 1920s: 6 in 1923, 7 in 1924, 2 in 1925, 9 in 1926, 14 in 1927 and 14 in 1928. Six of the cars purchased in 1928 were large 4-axle models. The following view, taken in the 1930s, shows a 2-axle Birney on the other side of Plaza de Berrío [see map]. Note the Swiss and American hat shops [postcard, col. AM]:
The next postcard shows a tram climbing the grade on Calle 56, preparing to turn south on Carrera 43 [see map]. This is the Sucre tram line. Note the Andes beyond [col. AM]:
The illustration below appeared in the 1930 Informe of the Empresas Públicas Municipales, operator of Tranvía Municipal de Medellín: "See for yourself. Everybody in Medellín rides the streetcar. It's the perfect way to get around town."
In addition to its electric tram lines, TMM also built a 5 km gasoline-powered line to El Poblado in 1925 [see map]. Three trams with internal combustion engines were purchased from Edwards Railway Motor Car Co. in Sanford, North Carolina, USA. But the service was short-lived and no pictures of TMM's gasoline cars have been found. The Poblado line was electrified in 1927 and extended to Envigado in 1929.
Medellín had another tramway company, Tranvía de Oriente, which also opened a gasoline-powered line in 1925. It ran eastward from Manrique [see map] over the mountains to Marinilla and Rionegro, total distance 52 km. Origin of the equipment is unknown, but it was probably also built by Edwards in the USA. Operation continued until 1942 [postcard, col. AM]:
Tranvía Municipal's suburban lines were picturesque. The Belén route [see map] crossed Río Medellín on its own steel trestle. This car is decorated with banners and flags – perhaps for the line's inauguration in 1926 [postcard, col. AM]:
The Aranjuez line opened as far as Bosque (a park) in 1921, was extended to Moravia in 1922, to Aranjuez in 1927, and finally reached Berlín in 1931 [see map]. This photograph of the Moravia terminus must have been taken between 1922 and 1927, before the track was extended up the hill in the distance [postcard, col. AM]:
Image quality is poor, but this is the only illustration that the author could find of the 10 km Envigado line, which was one of the few genuine electric interurban tramway lines in South America [see map] [E. Livrado Ospina – see BIBLIOGRAPHY]:
A pleasant scene downtown in 1947 [Henricks Hodge]:
Pictures of Medellín's 4-axle trams are also rare, since they were not built until 1928 (after the postcard era) and there were only six. The following photograph was taken at the Brill factory before the double-truckers left Philadelphia [col. AM]:
The October 1940 edition of National Geographic Magazine contained an article entitled "Hail Colombia!" which included the color photograph below. Birney 37 was climbing the hill on Calle 55, on the Sucre line [Luis Marden]:
A transportation survey conducted by the U.S. Government in 1945 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] found 61 trams running on 45 km of track in Medellín. But operation declined quickly after the War. A network of single-track lines with turn-outs was no longer adequate for a growing city and gasoline buses replaced the trams one by one. When English tramway enthusiast Edward Piercy visited Medellín in July 1951, he found only the Aranjuez line still in operation. Piercy took this photograph of an 8-wheel car on the twisting reserved track section where the line climbed the hill [see map] [H. E. C. Piercy]:
The Aranjuez line closed – Medellín's tramway system disappeared altogether – sometime in the latter half of 1951. The exact date could not be found. The city's electric tramway era had lasted only 30 years.
If Medellín was late to install electric trams (nearby Panama City had them in 1893), it was one of the first places in South America to operate trolleybuses. Tranvía Municipal de Medellín purchased two trolleybuses from Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies in England in 1928 and opened a line to Los Angeles on 12 October 1929 [see map]. It later bought more trolleybuses, built its own trolleybuses, and opened a second line to La Toma. Electric bus service seems to have ended in 1950. See photographs of Medellín's Trolleybus Pioneers.
Metro de Medellín began construction of a rapid transit railway in 1984 which was finally inaugurated on 21 November 1995. Line 1 stretches from beyond Aranjuez on the north to Itagüí, near Envigado, on the south. Line 2 runs west to San Javier, which is near the former terminus of Medellín's first electric tram line, at América [see map].
Medellín. Empresas Públicas Municipales. Informe. The annual reports of the 1920s and 30s supply excellent data about the installation and operation of the city's trams and trolleybuses.
Alfredo Ortega Díaz. Ferrocarriles Colombianos. Bogotá, 1920-1949. The chapter "Tranvía de Oriente de Medellín", p. 271, presents good technical and historical information.
R. A. Bishop. The Electric Trolley Bus. London, 1931. Photograph and brief description of the Medellín trolleybus, p. 77.
Medellín. Empresas Públicas Municipales. Plano General de Medellín, scale 1:10,000. Medellín, 1931. Superb large street map shows the tram routes, including the long Envigado line, in detail.
Colombia. Departamento de Antioquia. Anuario Estadístico. Various editions in the 1930s and 40s present statistics about the Medellín tramway operation.
United States. International Trade Office. Industrial Reference Service, vol. 4, part 1, no. 2 (February 1946). A 1945 transportation survey describes the operation and finances of the "Medellín Street Railway".
E. Livrado Ospina. Una Vida, Una Lucha, Una Victoria: Monografía Histórica de las Empresas y Servicios Públicos de Medellín. Medellín, 1966. Tramway history, pp. 136-143, says that the system closed in 1946! (It closed in 1951.) The photograph of the Envigado line shown above was copied from an illustration opposite p. 190.
Colombia. Departamento Nacional de Estadística. Medellín en Cifras: Ciudad tricentenaria, 1675-1975. Bogotá, 1976. "Movimiento del Tranvía Municipal desde su Inauguración", p. 246, records system size, rolling stock and passengers carried from 1921 to 1951. Confirmation that the system closed in the latter year.
Uriel Ospina. Medellín Tiene Historia de Muchacha Bonita. Medellín, 1976. "Unos Armatostes Llamados Tranvías", pp. 111-114, is a colorful and affectionate tribute to the city's trams.
Lisandro Ochoa. Cosas viejas de la villa de la Candelaria. Medellín, 1984. "Primer Tranvía de Medellín", pp. 166-169, describes the installation of the horsecar line – which, in contrast to other sources, this author says was inaugurated on 22 October (not 23 January) 1887.
A. L. Minter. Medellín City Transport: A History. Sandwich (England), 1991. Impressive 67-page history, with emphasis on trams. Maps, charts and many illustrations. [See below.]
"Los Años Felices del Tranvía" in El Colombiano (Medellín), 26/11/1995. Full-page newspaper article about Medellín's trams includes a striking, large overhead view of two Birneys.
A. L. Minter. "Medellín City Transport: A History" in Tramway Review (London): part 1 in #172 (Winter, 1997); part 2 in #173 (Spring, 1998). Condensed, slightly revised version of the text above. New map.
Juan Santiago Correa. Urbanismo y Transporte: El Tranvía de Medellín (1919-1950). Bogotá, 2003. Excellent survey of the city's economic development with emphasis on its tramway. Photographs. Entire article can be downloaded (as a pdf) here.
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