In this weeks incredibly informative interview Carlos Ortiz, Director of Associated Businesses at the Medellín Metro discusses signaling upgrades, new rolling stock, the possibility of deploying passenger WIFI, the new tram system, integrating cable cars and developing new lines to change the cities transport from an arterial to a fully integrated grid network.
Can you explain the components of the Medellín Metro?
Look, the Medellín Metro is a public company whose partners are the 50% government of Antioquia and 50% the municipality of Medellín. We have a 2006 – 2030 master plan. The master plans was created in 2005 because, well, the metro has a long-term vision for the future, at the moment we are focused on metro and the cable cars we are developing.
So, we are also creating an integrated transport system in the city and the Aburra Valley, with its 10 municipalities and then more cables and new technology; bus technology and tram technology and really the company is more than just a provider of railways, but a provider of mass transport services.
We have our master plan, we also have auxiliary plans. There are 6 defined auxiliary plans; we have the administrative and operational blueprint, which will focus on how we manage current infrastructure, such as stations, when stations have to be expanded, workshops, yards etc.
There is another plan looking at international organization, this is a little more focused here and how we can grow the organization to face futures challenges. There is a plan overseeing associated businesses, that will allow as to bring in additional income, as other metros do around the world. The the moment we have three additional businesses, which are advertising, leasing and consulting. Really, of the anual income this currently represents a little. It represents around 4% or 5% percent of income; the are metros more advanced in this regard and we want to strengthen are associated businesses.
The is a telecommunications master plan overseeing technology such as servers, computers, licenses etc. What we have will have to be replaced in time, so we have a plan for this and we have other plans for operational technology that we operate, such as signaling, cabins on the metro systems, but in the cable car we also have cabins, cable cars, pylons etc.
In buses and tram we also have a master plan for system expansion, which support for the expansion of the system to complete, lets say, the integrated system of mass transport in the Aburra Valley, which is 10 municipalities, across the future projects, metro expansion, new metro stations, tram lines, bus lines, aerial cables. Therefore, we have master plans and auxiliary master plans focusing on this completion. From here there are large scale plans and extensive investments in operational technology, so that, for example, we now have trains that have 20 years of operation and this means that in 2018 we will have to undertake some important maintenance.
How many trains does the metro operate? Are you expanding this number?
Yes, at the moment we have 55 trains; 42 are made by MAN, 13 by CAF. We are buying three more trains, when has now arrived. We still don’t have it in operation but its here. This will be train 56, in the following two months the other additions will arrive and we will have 58.
We recently signed a contract with CAF España for 20 more trains which will be operational in the next 28 months with five additional, which we have the option for and we will have to decide if we take or not.
What type of signalling technology are you operating at the moment?
We have Siemens LZB signaling, which is old but still works well, older because it is a design from the 80’s. Some aspects still function with rails, we are changing PLC’s in some section and really this is a technology that can allow headways of 2 and half or three minutes.
Do you have CBTC?
No, we don’t have CBTC. It is something we are studying at the moment with other alternatives that can improve frequency. We have to run more trains on the line at greater frequency, so we are studying CBTC, ERTMS, as well as other alternatives to see which will be best to implement in the future.
What type of telecommunications networks do you operate? What challenges have you faced and solutions implemented?
In telecommunications, two and a half years ago we connected trams, buses and cabins. We also have a network which we call metro internet for communication. Now all of the lines have one of these networks. Therefore, in regards to telecommunications I think we are now in a good position, although we will continue to monitor developments.
Is the construction of the tram network nearing completion?
Yes, the ideas is that by the month of October it will be in operation. We are going to do investigative operation, a ‘white run’ and after we will put it into commercial operation. The tram connects to two more cablecars, one in December will also begin operation and the other cablecar will be for 2016 but its going well. We are doing tests and we are practically ready, all of the vehicles are in Medellín and we are close to completion.
What criteria does the Medellín Metro have when choosing suppliers and partners for new projects?
Well, look, firstly we choose a company to complete various pre-viability studies, viability studies to analyze lifecycle costs of the systems. This allows us to look, because there are many components that are now considered obsolete technology and we will have to ultimately replace to have the best operations.
What also applies here generally also is that we are very public and open. We are also governed by private law and must have private aspects, but generally when we are choosing technology we have a public tender with the specific functions or technologies we require. Then we choose our technology partners, however we always undertake many studies to see if we choose a technology or not.
Good, so, the trains at present are very comfortable, in fact, I traveled here today on the metro. Do you have any plans to continue to improve the passenger experience, such as WIFI or other innovations?
Yes, there is a plan we are developing to offer improved communications to the users; operational communications and service communications, however it is still a project that is in the development stage of what we are going to do.
In regards to what you say about WIFI, there was an agreement past by the Medellín advisory board across certain companies in the municipality requesting the metro to provide WIFI at stations and on trains. This, well, is to be implement and it is an idea that is being explored for feasibility and if it is viable economically we could do it.
Is there the possibility of an underground expansion of the network? What other plans does the metro have for the future?
Yes, the idea is that at the moment Line A is like the spine of the transport network across the Aburra valley. Therefore, lets say, this is where the priority lies in regards to optimizing conditions, with very low headways times, higher numbers of trains. But, of course, this line has a top capacity.
At the moment, we are moving 820-850 thousands users, and the top capacity of Line A could be 1.2 o 1.3 million users, depending on the signaling system that we have. Therefore, surely there must be some additional lines to create a transport grid, as is the case in some of the worlds most important cities.
Not only to have a principal line and an supplementary line, but instead a great transport grid. For example, there are some corridors we have been thinking about; on the hillside and there is an the important possible tram corridor along the 80, which will complement Line A because not everyone will have to travel directly. This line doesn’t depend on upon Line A, but instead creates rings routes which also has supplementary integrated transport routes.
In regards to underground lines, there is the Parques del Rio (River Park) project. The project aims to create some flexibility for passing vehicles, while also creating a park alongside the river while giving priority to pedestrians and the bicycles over vehicles.
Some sections of the line may be underground, but that is something we are studying and defining for the future, because there is going to be another line parallel to Line A that will a multi-purpose rail, which basically will be called a commuter train to go from the north to the south but also connecting the city, so soon there could be something.