Interview: Claudia Restrepo, General Manager, Metro de Medellin

Interview: Claudia Restrepo, General Manager, Metro de Medellin

In the first in a series of interviews with the leaders of Latin Americas most important transport projects, we sat down with the General Manager of the Medellin Metro to discuss new metro, tram, metrocable and monorail projects, technology upgrades, supporting the Bogota Metro and TransCaribe and the role the metro has played in Medellin’s development.

What constitutes the Metro de Medellin today and how does the system serve the city?

Really we have an integrated transport system in the Aburra Valley, because we say the fundamental principal of the entire system is the integration and multi-modality. Medellin has been learning to first understand how to operate as a ‘regional city’, because we don’t only want to resolve the problems of the city of Medellin but also the Aburra Valley with the municipalities that connect to Medellin. In this regard, another principal is to consolidate and strengthen the model of public transport. The heart, the artillery is the rail line, which is the original and principal which is two lines; Line A which connects North and South and the Line B which connects the Centre to the West of the City.

What we have learnt with this process is how we can expand using different transport modals. For example, today we have two cable, one that goes from the North zone and another from the Western zone. Much more so than the Metro Line, the cable car is a solution that can be constructed on a steep hillside.

We are also operators of BRT’s. The region has been developing a system of rapid transit buses, complimenting and expanding the mass transit system and with this we are consolidating a modal which is principally noted to be advancing rapidly intelligent networks in all of the systems, not only mass transit but also collective solutions which we are continually integrating. Further, a very important component is that these systems, we understand, as means to develop citizenship and a citizen culture.

Three of of our most important profiles for the system are; obviously the sustainability, this obviously critical; another is the citizen culture and another very important thing is development and innovation. Because to introduce technology, for example the cables, is something that the rest of the world don’t use for mass transit, to use it on a mass transit system we are obliged to improve our systems of maintenance, of innovation, development of suppliers and these are other goals we have for our mobility system.

What projects do you have in the coming years and in the future to continue improving the transport system in Medellin and Aburra Valley?

We have three very important areas in this process. One is the expansion plan, a plan to increase the area we cover. In the next three or four months we will begin operation on the Western ecosystem, which is principally a 4.3 km tram line. This tram line will connect to the rail line and will end at two cablecar lines. Therefore, with this we will be able to move something like 100,000 passengers per day, when the system is fully operational with the two new cablecars and the tram. This is one of the most important projects in the short term.

Another critical point is we are advancing the design of a cablecar to reach the North-Western zone to provide a corridor in all of the North side of the region from East to West, with a connection in the air. The cable we have currently runs from the North-East and this will connect the North-West; we are talking about a more than 2km connection in aerial cable. This is also in design at the moment.

We are analyzing two more projects to create a corridor in the West of the city that we are considering may be a tram line, we are studying the technology and really it will be a route that helps a lot.

This is all a part of the Expansion Master Plan (Plan Rector de Expansion), which is from 2006 to 2030. So, the Metro is prioritizing the projects identified by the municipal and regional government. These are the projects we have imminently, but that are currently be analyzed.

This is in expansion, but the second aspect of improvement is in the quality of service. We are very well qualified in regards to client-service, however, for us one of our key goals is to continue to improve the experience of our users. This is something we are looking to achieve with implementations, such as intelligent Smartcards and a more robust system. So that, for example, users can top-up and personalize their Smartcards online, they can use it not only on the mass-transit system but also the cities collective transport network. This is another important element which we are working on.

Thirdly, a project which for us is fundamental is to work closely on the expansion and to be at the heart of growth of the ecosystem in the region. We, for a while, have looked to be seen as not only a metro company or a rail operator, but instead to be seen as a provider of intelligent transport systems in the region. This means the is a greater demand for solutions for the entire region, we are looking to provide a system of bicycles, we have thought about how we can support key projects such as the ‘River City’ in Medellin.

I think these three areas are the most important aims for the organization at the moment.

With these new projects, how are you communicating these developments to citizens in the region and developing a ‘metro culture’?

The metro culture has two fundamental principles. One is an increase in communication; we have our own communication channels which are very important to remain in contact, such as a system newspaper, we have a virtual platform with informative articles. Recently we have been working on a digital strategy project. Such as social media, to make sure we deliver all of the necessary information to our users.

Also, there is a component that is a cultural education, where we develop a number of projects with communities, such as at the moment we are working on projects of socialization, appropriation, consideration. Now we are working very hard to promote aspects of the metro culture; values, good citizenship, system appropriation, sharing information about the system. This is helping also people to appropriate the Medellin Metro and this really helps to build a metro culture; it is a culture of taking care. We take care of the users and the users take good care of the public system of transport in the city themselves.

Part of aims of the project is to build a culture of users of the system and a culture of citizenship, in the mobility network in the region.

You have said you are working more in Antioquia, to expand and to provide support to more of the region. Are you also working to share your experiences and support the Bogota Metro project?

Yes, in fact, one of our principles is that the experience we have allows us to support other region’s with their development of mobility and mass transit projects.

Today we are working with Cartagena, in the TransCaribe project. Providing our experience and providing, more than anything, our emphasis on service.

We are also working with the Bogota Metro, helping with OPEX for the system. Sharing not only our experiences and things we have learnt, but also operative design we have on the metro and helping them to understand aspects form other projects in the region that can be included. Our level of operation, expansion and service is well-noted regionally, and we can provide our advisory and consultancy services to the Caribbean, the western zone of the country and now, in the case of Bogota, accompanying them in this project.

We think we have things we can share which will be useful in the development of the country.

Many people have been speaking about the development of the city of Medellin, in regards to the economy and security. What has been the social and economic impact of the metro in the city?

The Medellin Metro celebrate 20 years of service this year. The story we have lived through is more complex than many; social vulnerability, vulnerability in regards to security. The metro has also played an active part in the transformation of this city, we have contributed structural elements because Medellin has had a very important transformation in regards to urbanism and understanding what is negative urbanism.

We have looked at urbanism to develop human capital, for this reason we have put infrastructure and urban investment that generates new aesthetics and a new way to relate. In this the metro has been a structural factor, not only with metro culture, but for example in the last ten years the arrival of the aerial cable cars, which incorporate a different way to connect.

Many of the problems and social issues in the region are a result of disconnection. What does disconnection create? It creates, fundamentally, inequality and social imbalance. In Medellin the two biggest battles historically have been achieving coexistence and reducing violence in the region and gradually creating a more peaceful, equitable, connected and socially integrated community.

The metro has played a decisive role in this. When the metro arrived it created an improved security conditions; not improved security in the areas where the metro arrived but also more integration and connectivity. Areas which had previously had difficulties integrating with the rest of the city, today are able to.

In this regard there has been a fundamentally important transformation in the city of Medellin.

Now there are coming new projects which will be highly transformative, like the Ayacucho tram, which will substantially transform the way in which the city relates to the Central-Western zone.

Additionally, with the development of the city we create new goals. We are thinking carefully and strongly considering what we have to do, and we we can achieve that.

What is your opinion of the possibility of incorporating a monorail system in the city of Medellin, do you think it will provide a good solution in this area of the city and do you have integration plans with existing infrastructure?

Which monorail project do you mean, La Ladera or the 80?

I meant La Ladera, I thought the 80 would be served by a second tram line?

What happened is, in regards to the 80 transport corridor, we are still evaluating and considering the possibility of developing a monorail. This is why I ask.

Look, what we have to consider carefully is how we can incorporate this type of transport modal, as a corridor, within the mobility ecosystem in the region. This is something that is very much in the hands of the metropolitan government. We are prepared to operate and guarantee the operation with excellence mass transit in whatever corridor of the region.

The subject of monorail in the La Ladera zone, has passed to the analysis which should be lead by the metropolitan to decide the origin and destination. This is the point where we are; analyzing the conditions of planning, the height of La Ladera to avoid these systems densifying the area.

However, it is effectively a very interesting corridor. It will create a longitude for the mass transit system, and this, without doubt, means it is worth analyzing, more than anything, in regards to cost-benefit. More than anything it is worth considering because a railway is a system ‘masivo’, so we have to consider carefully.

It is something worth thinking about, for us the big question is; which technology system can guarantee this connection, this corridor? This is the question we are looking at in all of our analysis, to offer the best solution to the city.