Latin America's Metro Operators Compare Underground And Elevated Metro Lines

Latin America’s Metro Operators Compare Underground And Elevated Metro Lines

During Metro LatAm 2016 in Medellin, Colombia in April this year, over 100 senior engineers and directors from all over the region shared experiences and discussed some of the major new projects.

During the conference, Dr. Andres Escobar Uribe gave his first presentation as the Director of the newly created Metro de Bogota company, as plans for the Colombian capital’s first metro line continue to advance.

While initial plans were for a underground metro, the new major of Bogota has expressed his preference for a cheaper, elevated approach. During this year’s conference, directors from the region’s major metro operators and technology companies gave their views on the project and experiences with the two options.

Manuel Wu, General Manager, Metro de Lima

Manuel Wu, General Manager of Line 1 of the Lima Metro, explained that in his experience a combination of elevated and underground lines may be best.

“It is the start of rail system in a city that does have one and needs one. If Bogota creates the first line in the air, in the future, with greater investment, they could construct other underground routes, as is the case in Lima with Lines 2 and 3”, Mr. Wu explained.

The Lima Metro, which has been in operation for five years and moves 330,000 passengers each day, the construction was delayed for 25 years because they initially planned and underground route. Following extensive discussions and analysis, the government decided they did not have the economic capacity and decided to construct the initial line on an elevated route.

This can be a very positive approach, as it can demonstrate demand and increase support for further rail projects in the city, as has been the case in the Peruvian capital.

According to Manuel Wu, if the cheaper option to create an elevated metro had not been ultimately pursued, then there probably wouldn’t be a metro in Lima. He was assured that the benefits of this type of metro for Bogota would far outweigh some of the technical challenges and disadvantages of an elevated system, such as sound, vibrations and visual contamination.

“They are issues that can be resolved, always and when the project advances. In our case, the metro became a tourist attraction for those who didn’t know the city; the people get their bearings, go on a journey; it is something positive, apart from other benefits of the investment”, he added.

Rodolfo Gonzalez, Director, of Metro Bahia

Rodolfo Gonzalez explained that the most important thing is that Bogota has clarity on the necessity of a metro system, to support mobility solutions and reinforce the TrnasMilenio BRT network.

He explained that while major urban centers with highly dense populations often opt for underground systems, there are also cases with elevated or surface system, such as Medellin.

Benefits of these include cost of investment and completion time, which are both reduced, however, you must take care to ensure the route is efficient and take into account the integration with other modes of transport.

Gonzalez explained that the advantage of underground metros is that they can have a positive impact on urban mobility and cover large areas of the cities. The metro can be constructed underground, but to reduce cost and work times, can be expanded with level or elevated sections.

German Correa, President, Valparaiso Metro

Metropolitan trains, such as Valparaiso in Chile, serve the city with both underground and overground routes. Metro President Correa explained that the line reaches Viña del Mar, where three km of underground route have been constructed. This is a decision that preserves the attraction of this touristic area of the city.

This metro, which has been in operation for 10 years and moves 75,000 passenger daily, was never planned as such. It was bought upon various existing tren lines, connecting the cities of Valpraiso and Viña del Mar.

“When we completed the line, it had an urban development impact that clearly benefited quality of life and the city. Real estate development would not have been so positively impacted if the line was elevated”, he explained.

For Correa, the underground system is necessary where there are historic and touristic areas which the city would like to preserve. For this reason, he recommends that Bogota analyze the situation and deploy a combination of both options.

Andreas Näf, Latin America Director, Bombardier

For Andreas Näf, an elevated metro is viable at the edges of a city, however, in the central zones it is not.

For the expert, it is difficult and expensive to construct an elevated metro in densely populated cities. You have to acquire properties, these heavy structure can have a negative impact on the lift of the people and often prevent real estate development, especially in touristic areas.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city with almost 12 million inhabitants, a large section of the metropolitan train is underground, however, they also have a mix of underground, overground and elevated routes, while also incorporating tram, monorail, as well as integrated bus and bicycle routes.

Näf explained that the key is technical studies; there has to be more time planning a project that executing it. This is how he believes the right balance can be reached and different forms of transport can be integrated.

This planning has to be event more rigorous when developing an underground project, because there have to be long term studies to gauge demand over the long term (between 50 and 100 years).

“Bogota is doing the right thing; revising the project to determine the areas where the metro can be elevated and where it can not”, he explained.

These experts and many others, including the new General Manager of Bogota Metro, the Director of Transcaribe and the President of the FDN, discussed these and many other issues during Metro LatAm 2016.

The event was organized by Infrastructure Conference Network in collaboration with Metro Americas. Senior directors from transport operators will be meeting again at our future events in Buenos Aires and Lima in the coming months, visit our website for more details