THE CHILEAN capital Santiago is a rapidly expanding city, and its population is expected to grow from 6.5 million inhabitants today to 8 million by the end of the decade. At the same time, demand for mobility is also expected to increase from an average of 2.6 trips per inhabitant per day to three trips. Car ownership will expand correspondingly from 1.2 million vehicles, or 0.2 vehicles per inhabitant, to 3.6 million vehicles and 0.5 vehicles per inhabitant by 2020.

In parallel with the expansion of the city, the metro network has grown steadily since the first section of Line 1 opened in 1975. Santiago boasts the second-largest metro in Latin America, after Mexico City, and totals 103km with 108 stations. The metro is also a financial success and operates without subsidy, having achieved a profit every year for the last decade.

SantiagoRidership grew at a consistent pace until the creation of the TranSantiago network in 2007. This reduced the number of bus companies from hundreds to just 13 (which unlike the metro remain privately-owned), abolished duplicating routes, and integrated the bus network more closely with the metro. TranSantiago also introduced an integrated fares system, with free bus-to-bus and bus-to-metro transfers, and an integrated contactless smart card.

TranSantiago had a difficult birth. The network was launched with an inadequate bus fleet, which meant severe overcrowding and as management struggled to overcome the problems, bus routes were revised on an almost daily basis. With the certainty of a fixed, reliable network, bus passengers flooded onto the metro, and ridership ballooned by 81.5% in 2007.

After the initial disruption subsided, metro ridership fell back slightly, but the integration of the two modes has had a permanent impact on passenger numbers. Today the network carries 2.3 million passengers per day, and at peak times ridership on Line 1 can reach 44,000 passengers per hour. Santiago Metro is adapting to these challenges with a variety of measures designed to boost capacity, enhance the travel experience for passengers, and explore new revenue streams.

With traffic rising so rapidly, increasing the number of trains available for service was an immediate priority. According to Santiago Metro, fleet availability improved from 88% in 2007 to 98% last year, while the number of delays attributable to rolling stock has fallen sharply as Santiago Metro has invested in expanding its spare parts pool, and focused on tackling problems with train doors.

Meanwhile, a further 15% capacity boost has been achieved by introducing limited-stop express services in the morning peak on lines 2 and 5.

Nonetheless, Santiago Metro CEO Mr Roberto Bianchi acknowledges it will be difficult to squeeze any more capacity out of the existing trains "We're currently using 99.7% of our trains in the morning peak, and relying on that level of availability is too risky," he told delegates at Terrapinn's recent MetroRail conference in London.

CAF recently delivered 20 nine-car air-conditioned trains for lines 1 and 5 under a contract signed in 2007, and Santiago has exercised an option for a further 12 sets, which are due to arrive by the end of next year. Bianchi says the delivery of these additional trains will reduce the peak fleet requirement to a more manageable 95%.

The Alstom NS 73 trains, which are used on lines 2 and 5, will also be refurbished over the next six years. These are Santiago Metro's oldest trains, dating back to 1973, and still constitute around a third of the total train fleet.

However, increasing fleet capacity will only provide limited capacity gains. Headways are already tight, especially on Line 1, and the high number of passengers boarding and alighting at certain key stations, such as Baquedano and Los Heroes, limit the potential for further improvement without infrastructure enhancements.

In February 2010 Santiago Metro awarded Alstom a $US 90m contract to implement CBTC on Line 1, which will reduce the operating headway from 120 seconds to 80 seconds. Alstom is providing its Urbalis CBTC solution and will maintain the system for at least three years. The line is being equipped during night time possessions to minimise disruption to traffic, and the system will initially operate in shadow mode to ensure a high degree of stability is achieved before revenue service begins.

In order to improve capacity at stations, Santiago Metro has used microsimulation of passenger flow to develop pre-defined pedestrian flow plans. Platform assistants are employed at 12 key stations to improve flow, and information campaigns have sought to encourage passengers to make use of the whole length of the platforms with the aim of reducing dwell times.

The metro is also focusing on improving the station environment and passenger services. A five-year programme to improve ventilation at stations, and improve passenger accessibility by equipping all stations with lifts, is due to be completed by 2014. Free passenger Wi-Fi is now available at 20% of stations, and the number of free secure bicycle parking spaces is also being expanded.

According to Bianchi, culture is another important aspect of the metro experience, with a fifth of stations housing artworks relevant to the areas they serve, while 19 stations accommodate public libraries which last year lent a total 300,000 books. Stations also host free 15-minute music concerts, and Chile's largest live poetry contest.

New lines

With demand rising rapidly, a core focus for Santiago Metro over the next five years will be the construction of two new lines, which will expand the network by 37.3km.

Line 3 was initially proposed in the early 1980s but the plans were dropped following the 1985 earthquake, lying dormant until 2010. The 22km line will run from the northern district of Huechuraba to the city centre, where it will follow Avienda Mattam passing beneath Irarrazával, before terminating at Larraín. The first section will open in early 2017, and the entire line will be completed by the end of 2018. The line will have 18 stations, including six interchanges with other lines, and will cost around $US 1.72bn to construct.

The Chilean president Mr Sebastián Piñera has asked the metro to examine the feasibility of extending the line beyond Larraín to Escuela Militar, which would make the network accessible to more residents of La Reina and neighbouring Peñalolén.

Line 6 will be 15.3km long with 10 stations, and will connect Pedro Aguirre Cerda in the west with Los Leones on Line 1, intersecting Line 3 at Carmelitas. The $US 1.03bn line will open at the end of 2016.

Of the total $US 2.75bn investment, the Chilean government will provide $US 1.3bn, while the state-owned Production Development Corporation (Corfo) will contribute $US 500m, and $US 900m will be funded by Santiago Metro. Rolling stock accounts for around 20% of the total cost of lines 3 and 6, and a fleet of 74 three-car trains will be required.

When both new lines are complete, the metro will extend to 140km with 136 stations serving 26 municipalities. It will carry a total of 2.7 million passengers per day.

Experience gained from the operation of the existing network has been applied in the specification of the new lines. To improve the efficiency of the lines, the average distance between stations has been increased to 1.38km. Both lines will be technically compatible, employing UTO with platform screen doors and overhead electrification, and they will be physically linked, allowing them to share a common train fleet.

Earlier this year Santiago Metro appointed Systra to provide technical assistance on all systems and rolling stock on both lines. Systra is currently carrying out basic design, and will be involved throughout the project, assisting Santiago Metro with awarding of contracts, reviewing construction design studies, supervising works, testing, and commissioning.

Both the city and the state see public transport playing a vital role in the sustainable expansion of Santiago, and further additions to the urban rail network are likely to emerge in the longer-term. These may take the form of LRT or suburban rail, so providing a high level of connectivity with the metro is essential. Bianchi points out that the rail network will be shaped by public policy on modal shift, including disincentives for car use such as parking and congestion charging, which may help the city to finance further rail projects.

But with an ambitious programme of improvements and expansion already in the pipeline, Santiago Metro looks well placed to continue its steady growth through the rest of this decade and cement its reputation as one of Latin America's leading urban rail systems.

Transforming MetroTren's commuter rail operation

OF South America's three major business centres - Buenos Aires, Santiago, and São Paulo - Santiago boasts the largest metro network but the smallest suburban rail system. Just one line, known as the MetroTren, links Santiago Central station with Rancagua, 80km to the south, with a few trains extending further to San Fernando.

metrotren-cruce-irjThe 21km section as far as Nós lies within the Santiago urban area, and serves communities such as Buin and Paine, which are increasingly taking on the role of dormitory towns.

The suburban service was severely pruned during the military government's regime between 1973 and 1990, when the shorter distance trains were abandoned completely. However, it was restored shortly after democracy returned in 1990. The route is electrified and is operated exclusively by former Renfe series UT440 emus.

The service is administered by Trenes Metropolitanos, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chilean State Railways (EFE). In recent years, it has carried approximately 7.5 million passengers annually but remains heavily loss-making. Now EFE plans to upgrade the service and effectively split it into short and longer-distance segments.

Firstly, there will be an almost metro quality service between Santiago Central and Nós, with a four-minute interval service at peak times. This will be supplemented by an enhanced Rancagua Xpress, which will operate at 15-minute intervals in peak periods, running non-stop from Central to Nós, and calling at all remaining stations to Rancagua.

Contactless smart cards are envisaged for both services. There will be a stand-alone card for Rancagua Xpress, while stations as far as Nós will be integrated into the TranSantiago ticketing system.

A major reason why MetroTren ridership has not achieved its potential is that people travelling between central Santiago and the southern suburbs can travel as far as Nós by bus or bus-metro combination paying just the standard TranSantiago fare. Using MetroTren incurs a separate charge, additional to the bus or metro fare, on both legs of the journey.

The Nós service will interchange with Metro Line 6 at Pedro Aguirre Cerda. To provide sufficient capacity for the enhanced suburban service, a third track will be added to the Central - Nós section, and level crossings will be grade-separated.

The MetroTren project is due to be completed in 2014 and is budgeted at $US 260m, which includes around $US 75m for the acquisition of 13 new trains. This will not provide enough rolling stock to cover both services, and refurbished UT440s are likely to be retained for Rancagua services.

Studies have also been carried out into the restoration of suburban services on the 61km Santiago - Melipilla line, and part of the 50km line to Til-Til.