1952: Valparaíso Gets a New Trolleybus System

December 31, 1952

In Chile, a new transit era began with the debut of trolleybus service in Valparaíso. These trolleybuses were introduced the day after the city’s trams (streetcars) had made their final runs. (Valparaíso’s longtime tram service started in 1863 with the inauguration of a horse-drawn railway; electric trams were introduced into those operations in 1904.)  The trolleybus system in Valparaíso was the second one to be launched in Chile. The first of these systems had begun service in the capital city of Santiago in 1947.

Empresa Nacional de Transportes (ENT), an agency established by Chile’s national government, initially oversaw and operated the trolleybus systems in both Santiago and Valparaíso. In setting the stage for Valparaíso’s system, ENT ordered 30 trolleybuses from the Pullman-Standard Car Manufacturing Company. These trolleybuses were the last to be manufactured by that Massachusetts-based company.

The first of the trolleybuses built for service in Valparaíso arrived on the city’s docks in November 1952.  A total of seven trolleybuses began operations when the system was inaugurated the following month on New Year’s Eve. This first line for this system was located between Plaza Victoria and Plaza Barón on Avenida Pedro Montt, one of the city’s main arteries.

Valparaíso’s trolleybus system was soon extended, and the new service proved to be a popular means of public transportation within the city. ENT was reorganized in 1953 as Empresa de Transportes Colectivos de Estado (ETCE), and that state-owned agency ran the trolleybuses in Valparaíso for the next 28 years. After a military junta took over the Chilean government in 1973 and subsequently declared General Augusto Pinochet to be the country’s new president, however, there was a sharp decline in funding for public transit.

In the wake of these budget cuts, ETCE struggled for a few years to adequately maintain Valparaíso’s trolleybus system. Ultimately, though, the system ceased operations altogether in November 1981 and ETCE was dissolved.

Trolleybuses did not remain defunct for long in Valparaíso. Pedro Massai Barrios, a prominent Valpraraíso entrepreneur, and other local businessmen quickly rallied to bring back trolleybus service to the city. They acquired the trolleybuses and such other one-time ETCE assets as the infrastructure and operating rights for the system. In April 1982, these men formed the private company Empresa de Transportes Colectivos Eléctricos to officially resume trolleybus service in the city.

The trolleybuses have since continued to operate in Valparaíso. This system, as the only one of its kind to operate in Chile since 1994, has achieved iconic status not only within Valparaíso but also throughout the entire country. In 2003, for example, the Chilean government declared that those trolleybuses were collectively a national monument. Several of the original Pullman-Standard trolleybuses have remained part of that system’s fleet, and they are now the oldest trolleybuses in regular service anywhere in the world. Since 2007, Valparaíso’s trolleybus system has been owned and operated by Trolebuses de Chile, S.A.

For more information on the trolleybus system in Valparaíso, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybuses_in_Valparaíso and http://www.tramz.com/cl/v/vae.html.

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