The Tramways of


Allen Morrison


Ecuador's capital city sprawls along a narrow valley at altitude 2,850 m (9,350 ft), about 20 km (12 mi) south of the Equator. It is one of the world's highest capitals and was the last in South America to have rail transport. Quito had plans for horsedrawn tramways in 1892, 1897 and 1904, but none materialized. (Ecuador's most populous city, Guayaquil, had a horsecar line in 1873 and electric trams from 1910.) The arrival of the steam railway from Guayaquil in 1908 produced a need for public transportation between Chimbacalle railway station, atop a hill on the south side of town, and the commercial center on the other side of the Machángara River [see map].

Quito Tramways Company was registered in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1910 and was controlled by Ecuadorian Corporation Ltd. of London. QTC began construction of an electric tram system in 1911 and ordered four 2-axle electric trams from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia on 17 February 1914. The new electric line, from the railway station to the city center, was inaugurated on 8 October 1914 [see map]. QTC ordered two 4-axle cars from Brill in 1915 and two more 2-axle models the following year. Track gauge of the Quito tramway, as of the steam railway, was 1067 mm (42 in).

QTC seems to have operated the same eight trams on the same two routes for the next 34 years: from Chimbacalle station to San Diego cemetery and from Chimbacalle to Av. Colón [see map]. The carbarn was located on Av. 18 de Septiembre, called Av. 10 de Agosto today, at the corner of Calle Jorge Washington [see map]. In 1921 a local corporation, Compañía Nacional de Tranvías, built a 9 km tram line from Av. Colón north to the village of Cotocollao. Since QTC had exclusive rights to electric traction, the CNT used gasoline power. It imported the chassis and motors for its trams from Allgemeine Elektricitäts Gesellschaft ("AEG") in Berlin, but built the car bodies in Ecuador. The Cotocollao line, which also used 1067 mm (42 in) gauge, opened on 22 June 1923.

About 1926 Ecuadoran investors reorganized the Compañía Nacional de Tranvías and acquired the QTC. The new owners closed the Cotocollao gasoline line in 1928 and the city's electric tramway system about 1948. The exact date of Quito's last tram could not be found.

Quito's nicely preserved historic center was declared a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO in 1978. No new structures can be built and no advertising or neon signs are allowed on its streets. Quito is also famous today for its reserved-lane trolleybus line, which opened in 1996 along Calle Maldonado and Av. 10 de Agosto, from Chimbacalle to Av. Colón [see map]. Quito’s new transport system exactly duplicates its first tramway line of 1914 . . .


see pictures


(in order of publication)

Municipalidad de Quito. La Municipalidad de Quito y Los Tranvías Eléctricos. Quito: Imprenta Municipal, 1912. Eight-page pamphlet describes the tramway project.

"Cars for Quito, Ecuador" in Brill Magazine (Philadelphia), April 1915. Diagrams and photographs of the 8-wheel model, pp. 117-120.

Ciudad de Quito, levantado por orden del Sr. General Don Rafael Almeida S., jefe del E.M.G. y obsequiado al Ilustre Concejo Municipal de Quito, en homenaje al centenario de la batalla de Pichincha. Quito, 1922. Nice street map, scale 1:5,000, provides track detail of the tramway system.

Monografía ilustrada de la provincia de Pichincha. Quito,1922. Paragraph on "Tranvías", p. 18.

"Street Railway" in Pan American Union Bulletin (Washington), 3/1923, p. 288. Brief description of the gasoline trams.

U.S. Bureau of Foreign & Domestic Commerce. Trade Promotion Series, v. 39. Washington, 1927. Nice descriptions of the the organization and operations of both the Quito Tramways Co. and the National Tramways Co.

"Quito Has Modern Tramway System" in AERA (American Electric Railway Association, New York), 11/1928. Nice description of the tramway, pp. 679-682, with five photographs and a system map.

Carlos A. Rolando. Obras Públicas Ecuatorianas. Guayaquil, 1930. Chronology confirms the date of Quito's first electric tram, p. 213; first gasoline tram, p. 218.

Plano de la Ciudad de Quito hecho para actividad, 10 de Agosto de 1931. Quito, n.d. [1931]. Large street map shows tram routes.

U.S. Bureau of Foreign & Domestic Commerce. World Survey of Foreign Railways. Washington, 1933. Finances, general description, technical data, etc., of the Compañía Nacional de Tranvías.

U.S. International Trade Office. Industrial Reference Service, v. 4 (1946). Organization and operation of the (second) Compañía Nacional de Tranvías.

Banco Central del Ecuador. Quito en los Años Veinte (Colección Imágenes v. 7) . Quito, 1986. Nice photo album has several tram views.

Evangelina Chauvín. "Los Tranvías de mi tiempo" in El Comercio (Quito), 2 July 1995. Streetcar memories.

Anne Collin Delavaud. Quito: The City and the Volcano. Quito, 2001. "The first modern communications in Quito", pp. 160-164, briefly describes tramway development and has two large tram photographs.



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The trolleybus system of Quito

The Tramways of Guayaquil

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This site was placed online on
14 September 2006

Copyright © 2006-2106 Allen Morrison