Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Riding the Rails Through Bogotá's History

About 1900, horse-drawn tranvias cross Plaza Bolivar.
Bogotá's City Hall is planning to criss-cross Bogotá with rail lines to carry people efficiently and cleanly across the city.
An electric tranvia

If the plan is realized - a big IF - it'll harken back to a legendary mode of transport from the last century - and a system which also marked Bogotá's social and political history.

Bogotá's first rail system - the U.S.-owned Bogotá City Railway Company - used horse and mule-drawn vehicles which ran on wooden rail along Ave. Septima and other routes, north to Chapinero, then a rural area outside the city. The animal-powered system operated from 1884 to 1910, expanding west to the Estacion de la Sabana. In 1910, the system's elecrification was begun.

Tranvias burn on Plaza Bolivar during the Bogotazo.
A tranvia at the Gaitan Museum.
That same year, however, the Tranvia turned into a target of nationalist ire after a Railway employee was accused of hitting a young boy. The incident triggered a boycott of the tramway, driven in part by anger over U.S.-backing for Panama's recent independence. After a seventh-month boycott, the Railway Company gave up and the system was purchased by the Bogotá city government. 

The city continued expanding the system. Meanwhile, however, new competition appeared in the form of private buses. The buses charged more, but had more flexible routes and weren't dependent on electricity from overhead cables.

An electric trolley. 
Doomsday for the tranvias arrived on April 9, 1948, when populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan was assassinated in central Bogotá. During the ensuing riots, called El Bogotazo, thousands of people were killed, much of the city was burned and many of the streetcars were pushed over and set aflame. Some say that the bus owners paid rioters to destroy the tranvias in order to eliminate competition. The system limped on for a few more years, until the mayor gave a secret order for the rails to be asphalted over.

After that, the city created a trolley system which functioned until the early 1990s.

Today, the city plans to brick rail transport back. Streetcars, also known as light rail, have lots of advantages: quietness, efficiency, non-polluting and visually attractive- but let's hope that this version is more practical and less politicized.

For more history, see: The Tramways of Bogotá.

or, Del Tranvia al TransMilenio.

Not a bad ride. One of the old horse-drawn streetcars preserved in the Archivo de Bogotá.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Anything is better than the thousands of yellow taxis, and, thousands of buses that contaminated the air, but are also visually unpleasant. The tranvia is clean and can be also very efficient. Hey Mike, what about the L system, like the one in Chicago where I'm living now, I'm telling you brother is really fast, electric, and very efficient. Also the L system for what I read is less expensive to built than the metro. I thing this is a awesome idea.

Mauricio Forero.

Miguel said...

I looked at photos of the L system, and I think that's what Petro envisions.

Yes, light rail is much cheaper than heavy rail, especially when that's stuck into a subway.


mauricio forero l said...

About the L system Mike and just coming out of it, ( I whet to my favorite book store) I thing that the only real problem whit it, is that is kind of noisy.

M Forero.

Miguel said...

And I totally agree. Anything will be better. But, since the costs are huge, we need to figure out what the best option is.


Miguel said...

When was that L line built? Today, hopefully, the technology's quieter.

Anyway, it's gotta be quieter than the roaring old buses we've got now.


mauricio forero l said...

Absolutely Mike, far more Quieter and, visually more interesting also. The Chicago L has a long history the first one was built in 1892 and, it has been changing ever since. It is very efficient but not as modern as others like in Europe or Japan. Let me tall you that also the SUSPENSION RAILWAY SYSTEM is another possibility, this system is incredibly quite and also far less expensive than the regular metro. In Germany, Japan and Australia is really well establish and popular, is clean (electric) and environmentally friendly, it is perhaps a better system than the L.