Thursday, September 28, 2006

Maybe that light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train, it’s a trolley 

The Venezuelan opposition is certainly having their campaign to unseat Chavez run over by all the public works coming on line – hospitals, houses, dams, trains, and now even trolley busses. That’s right, trolley busses. One may think of these as quaint little things of a bygone era but they are coming of age in many parts of the world including Venezuela. So today’s post on public works focuses on the new trolley bus systems being built in two Venezeulan cities. Apologies in advance as this will be very bandwidth intensive.

Merida is a small Venezuelan city of about 500,000 located in a valley amongst very high Andean mountain peaks. It is a very pleasant city with a nice atmosphere due to the large public university that it is home to. While a city of its size normally wouldn’t be a candidate for a large mass transit system, because Merida is oriented along a long narrow strip it is suitable for a system that runs along its length which is what the trolley does.

The trolley, which is almost complete and expected to open before years end, has 33 stations along a 12 mile route.

Here is what the trolley busses look like:

They are large articulated units. Due to their size the special lanes they will travel had to be reconstructed and made out of concrete. On the roof of the back of the bus you can just make out the folded unit that will attach to the over head cables – the entire system runs on electricity.

In fact here is a nice picture showing the extensive over head cabling along the route (have to love those lush mountains in the background too):

Here is an interior shot of one of the units:

A large depot was constructed to house the trolleys and provide maintanence:

As you can see it looks like all the units are on hand and ready to go.

Passengers will board the trolley at the specially built stations along the route. In addition to making boarding easier and speeding travel the stations are covered to protect passengers from the elements (it rains a lot there).

At the end of the route is a larger and quite nicely designed station:

It sure looks like very soon the residents of Merida will have a nice new system to help unclog their streets, reduce pollution, cut gasoline consumption, and help them get where they are going quickly. I hope to see it in action the next time I am there.

But Merida is not the only system getting a new trolley system. Barquisimeto, a central Venezuelan city very near and dear to my heart is getting one too. Barquisimeto has a population of about 1.1 million people and is growing rapidly. It is more spread out than Merida but the trolley will traverse the central axis from east to west and pass right through the heart of downtown Barquisimeto. Even better, it will be connected to a brand new, badly needed bus station being built at its terminus.

Here is a picture of one of Barquisimeto’s avenues right now and a computer generated rendering of what it will look like after the trolley is finished:

And here is what the trolley will look like as it goes through the downtown area:

As you can see it is quite similar to the trolley in Merida, big articulated units. This has meant that Barquisimeto has had to rip up lots of streets and reconstruct them out of concrete to be able to support the trolley. This has been a difficult and disruptive process but it is wrapping up. Here are the downtown streets of Barquisimeto streets being ripped up ( by the way, to carry out this construction they had to clear out LOTS of street vendors which provoked some pretty big demonstrations – progress has its price):

And here are the much nicer AFTER shots of the same location:

The disruption was traumatic but the results looks nice. And when there are trolleys running a nice route with potted trees it should be nicer still!

As I mentioned at the beginning the capstone of this project is a new bus station. And not just any bus station but a huge and VERY nice station as we will see shortly.

But first a little background. The major mode of intercity travel in Venezuela by far is bus. Yes car sales are booming and yes Chavez is building an entire network of passenger trains but at least for now busses are the main way to get from city A to city B. And although Barquisimeto is a large, modern, and rapidly growing city its bus station is a bad joke – beyond just being old, small, dirty and dangerous it really is a horrible way to welcome people to the city. To give you an idea of what it is like here are some pictures:

As you can see, it’s not much to look at. The ticket selling part of the station is small and very over crowded. The loading stations for the busses are also overcrowded and the roadways are jammed with busses and taxis making it difficult to enter and exit. Worse still, there is open entry from the street making security a problem.

So now that we have seen what a horror the current station is lets look at the beautiful new station being built. First we have this model of what it will look like:

The large domed structure in the center will be the central part of the terminal where tickets will be sold and the waiting areas will be located. As we shall soon see it will also house shops and restaurants. The “spokes” coming out of the dome are the actual loading bays for the busses and where the passengers will board. In front of the terminal (the top right part in the picture) is where the trolley will be. And the grey offshoot from the dome on the bottom left of the picture will be a multi screen movie cineplex.

Here is a computer rendering that gives a more close up perspective of the terminal:

Now here is what the interior of the station will look like:

I think you’ll agree with me this is just spectacular. People are going to go through culture shock changing from the old terminal to the new one! But a pleasant shock it will be.

And of course, given that the Chavez government actually builds things, rather than just leaving them on paper like some previous governments, construction is well under way on the new terminal. Lets look at some pictures of different stages of the construction.

In the beginning there was an empty lot and a billboard:

Then they brought in the earth moving equipment and the outline of the terminal was carved in the ground:

Next came the pouring of the foundation and the erection of the support pillars:

The dome starts to rise:

The work goes on around the clock:

A nice shot of the terminal taking form with the foot hills of the Andes in the background:

So as we can see two Venezuelan cities are taking big steps forward in their public transportation infrastructure. But they aren’t the only ones. Other cities will soon be having brand new trains running through their tunnels. That will have to wait for a future post. In the meantime lets hope our opposition friends in Merida and Barquisimeto take care to cross the street carefully and not get run over by any trolleys!


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