December 15, 2017

Chilean capital’s metro network enters an era of expansion

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Santiago is already home to South America’s most extensive metro, and with two new lines nearing completion and a third planned, the network is set to expand to eight lines totalling 174km. Ian Thomson Newman reports.

THE 103.5km five-line metro network in the Chilean capital carries around 670 million passengers a year. Apart from a couple of extensions to lines 1 and 5, no new lines have been added since Line 4 opened in 2006. But this is changing with the opening of Line 6 last month followed by Line 3 in the second half of 2018.

CAF SantiagoLine 6, which officially opened on November 2, is 15km long with 10 stations and will radically improve the connectivity of the network. It runs south from Los Leones on Line 1 via Ñuñoa, where it will interchange with the future Line 3, to National Stadium, which has sufficient capacity to handle large crowds attending football matches and other events. The line then heads west to Cerrillos and connects with Line 5 at Ñuble and Line 2 at Franklin. Line 6 also provides an interchange with Chilean State Railways’ recently-inaugurated Nos Express suburban service.

Whereas lines 1, 2, 4, 5 are all intensively used - Line 1 alone carries some 261 million passengers annually - traffic on Line 6 is expected to be more modest with 42 million passengers per year forecast. This is because Line 6 does not pass through the city centre and extends only as far as the western edge of the more recently-developed commercial heart of the city, known locally as Sanhattan, which is centred on the eastern municipality of Las Condes.

The total cost of Line 6 was $US 1.26bn. This compares with a budgeted $US 1.79bn for the 22km-long Line 3, which will have 18 stations. Line 3 will run from Los Libertadores in the northwest of Santiago via the city centre to Fernando Castillo Velasco on the eastern side of the city. Line 3 will interchange with all lines on the Santiago metro apart from Line 4A, and is expected to carry an estimated 73 million passengers annually.

In common with Line 4, but unlike the older metro lines in Santiago which are operated by rubber-tyre trains running on concrete beams, Line 6 has steel-wheel trains running on conventional steel rails. Together with Line 3, Line 6 is fully automated, with platform-screen doors and overhead electrification.

Standard configuration

Whereas the existing fleet comprises around 150 trains, of between three and nine cars each, a standard configuration of five-car sets has been adopted for lines 3 and 6. CAF is supplying 185 cars, of which 65 are for Line 6 and 120 will be for Line 3.

By 2014, the original 1974 NS 74 rubber-tyre trains were reaching the end of their serviceable life. A contract was subsequently awarded to Alstom to rebuild and modernise the trains to extend service by 20 years.

However, following the discovery of significant asbestos contamination in the trains, the contract had to be renegotiated. Alstom will now supply 35 new seven-car trains in kit form for assembly at the Line 1 maintenance depot for operation on lines 2 and 5. Most of the NS 74 units will be a given a general overhaul to enable operation for another 10 years, while the remaining trains will be withdrawn.

New metro lines have to meet the somewhat conservative socio-economic evaluation criteria set by Chile’s Ministry for Social Development. However, both lines 3 and 6 sought not only to increase socio-economic welfare but also to spread that welfare to more of Greater Santiago’s 34 municipalities.

Although the future Line 7 must also meet these criteria, it has another purpose: to provide badly-needed extra capacity along the city’s main east-west axis.

Whilst Line 6 has alleviated some of the acute overcrowding afflicting Line 1, into whose trains are crammed up to six passengers/m2 at peak times, it will not provide a definitive solution. Indeed, the opening of Line 3 is likely to worsen over-crowding on the eastern section of Line 1 as passengers from northern Santiago bound for the eastern part of the city are expected to transfer to Line 1.

The first section of Line 1 opened in 1975, when Santiago’s population was around 3.3 million. Now the city is home to approximately 6.5 million people. Line 1 is partly responsible for sucking economic activity out of the traditional city centre towards Sanhattan, which in turn has fuelled ridership growth. This was further boosted in 2007, when Santiago’s public transport system was restructured, under the much-maligned TranSantiago banner, which fed bus routes into metro stations thereby encouraging people to switch to the metro.

The need for a new metro line along the same axis as the west-east Line 1 has been talked about for years, and finally on June 1, Chile’s president, Ms Michelle Bachelet, announced plans for such an addition to the network. The new Line 7 will be 25km long with 21 stations, and will connect the northwestern district of Renca with the northeastern area Vitacura running along the northern edge of both the city centre and Sanhattan. Line 7 will connect with lines 2 and 3 at Puente Cal y Canto, lines 1 and 5 at Baquedano and Line 1 again at Salvador.

Thought was given to putting the construction of Line 7, which is estimated to cost $US 2.53bn, out to tender as a concession, but it will now be built and run by the state-owned Metro de Santiago, which has unrivalled experience in building and operating metro lines.

Because of the need for exhaustive environmental studies and the complex nature of some of the civil works, Line 7 is not expected to open until 2024 or 2025. Until then, pressure on Line 1 will continue to mount since virtually everything that can be done to increase capacity has already been done. CBTC, which was introduced in 2016, has enabled peak-period frequencies to be increased, raising capacity from around 45,000 passengers/hour/direction to 50,000. The only other short-term measure envisaged is to improve bus priority along Providencia Avenue, under which Line 1 runs.

Few metro companies in the world are in such a sound financial position as Metro de Santiago which is able to cover all of its operating costs and a third of investment from revenue and the payments it receives from TranSantiago per passenger carried.

Metro de Santiago’s Ebitda margin is normally in the 33% to 36% range. It fell below 30% during a period in which energy was being bought at marginal cost prices, but Ebitda should recover now that stable energy prices are assured (see below).

Looking to the future, fares will have to rise as the network expands, especially once Line 7 comes on stream, since many of its passengers will not be new to the network but rather people switching from Line 1 to Line 7. However, the company has little room to manoeuvre as it is obliged to abide by the government-imposed flat-fare policy covering the Santiago area which is unaffected by distance travelled.


Santiago metro goes green

SANTIAGO’s metro consumes around 0.6% of the electricity generated in Chile and has a policy to source it primarily from renewables.

Almost 20% of the energy consumed by the Metro is unrelated to the movement of trains but rather to such things as lighting and escalators in stations, offices and workshops. Underground stations on Line 1 had not only the most wasteful lighting on the metro but the illumination was weak enough to pose a safety risk for passengers. After a successful pilot project in one station, the entire electrical system at 18 stations has been renewed using T5 fluorescent tubing. Illumination has improved and lighting energy consumption has been cut by 60%. As a result, work will soon start on a similar upgrade at stations on lines 2 and 5.

Some 36% of installed electricity generation capacity in Chile is hydroelectric, although its effective contribution to the total electricity produced varies directly with rainfall and reservoir levels. The country also has great potential for generating electricity from renewable sources (ERNC) especially wind, solar and geothermic plants.

When Metro de Santiago’s 10-year electric supply contract expired in April 2014, it invited bids for a new long-term contract, but all the prices offered were considered too high. As an interim expedient, the metro signed a short-term contract with EnorChile but this meant the price fluctuated between $US 40 and $US 200/MWh, depending on the extent to which thermal rather than hydroelectric generation was used, compared with just over $US 80/MWh under the former long-term contract. The metro invited new bids, giving preference to those from ERNC suppliers. As a result, two 15-year contracts were signed in May 2016 with Total-Sunpower for solar energy from a new plant to be built at the southern end of the Atacama desert and Latampower for energy from a new wind farm in the same area. Energy will be supplied at less than $US 100/MWh. These new contracts will cover 60% of the metro’s energy needs, with the rest coming from a new contract with Enel running to 2023.

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