Medellin Metro system map. (North to the left)
Medellin's Metro system is acclaimed as the best public transport system in South America. With 19 miles of train line, 6 miles of cable car line, 3 miles of street based light rail, and 31 'green' buses that cover the entire Aburrá Valley, the Metro makes commuting easier, and brings, as its motto says, a quality of life to all its passengers.
System map of the Medellin Metro showing the new 'P' line Metrocable, under construction.
The new 'P' line cable cars will run from Acevedo station, just opposite the 'K' line, to serve El Progreso up the hill to the west. Like all the Metrocable lines, the 'green' Metro buses, and the Tranvia street level T-A line, the Medellin Metro system was designed and built to tie the city together, and to give people access to better jobs, more social events, a better quality of life, and a connection to each other. Every day in the Aburrá Valley more than 1 million people utilize the Metro system, making those goals a reality.
Estacion Santo Domingo
The Medellin Metro encompasses all modes of transport in the Aburrá Valley: The light rail Metro trains, all four cable car lines, the green Metro buses, and the Tranvia, surface train.
The picture above is from Santo Domingo station, last stop on the 'K' line, 6,000 feet above sea level, and halfway up to Parque Arvi. Change cable cars here at SD, enter the 'L' line cable car, and continue up the mountain. Two stations later you'll arrive at Parque Arvi, 8,000 feet above sea level. Take a jacket; it's chilly up there.
The view from the 'L' line of the entire Aburrá Valley is breathtaking.
Open to the public since 1997, Medellin's Metro system is unique. Considered by many to be the best light rail, fully integrated, and effective public transport system in South America, the Medellin Metro carries people to jobs, eliminates their trek uphill to their homes, and removes nearly 100,000 vehicles and attendant pollution from Medellin's streets every day.
The A & B lines are Metro light rail trains
'A' Line Metro train arriving at Estacion Poblado
Metro 'A' line trains run 19 miles in total, from Niquia in the north of the Aburrá Valley, to La Estrella in the south. Each of the 21 stations along the 'A' line serves a section of Bello, Medellin, Envigado, Itagui, and Sabaneta. The trains and stations are clean, safe, efficient, fast, inexpensive, and easily accessible. We love the Metro, partly because, when Medellin traffic is heavily congested, the Metro keeps rolling along.
'J' line 'Metrocable' serving San Javier to Aurora
The 'J' line runs east & west between San Antonio station downtown, the central hub of the Metro rail system's A & B lines. The 'B' line ends at Estacion San Javier. At San Javier we catch the 'J' line Metrocable up the hill, and four stations later we'll arrive at Aurora station, near San Cristobal. The 'J' line cable cars may provide the overall best view of western Medellin, and the real urban landscape that makes Medellin and its barrios rich with Colombian culture.
The Aburrá Valley from Aurora
Metro 'B' line train arriving at Estacion Floresta
The Medellin Metro system is much more than public transport. In addition to its basic role in providing easy and inexpensive travel to residents, the Metro system is a symbol of public pride and solidarity. The first thing riders notice about the system is its cleanliness and order. There's no graffiti on any car—ever; no one would dream of littering; stations are clean and well lit; and there's a police presence in every station around the system clock. Here are a few details:
Hours of operation: Trains operate between 4:30 am and 11:00 pm, longer for holidays & special events. The 'L' line above Santo Domingo may not operate on certain Mondays when Parque Arvi is closed.
Costs: Riding the Metro anywhere within the system entails an average charge of $2,550 COP, about 70 cents USD. There are discounts available for older citizens, students, and frequent riders for work purposes. Also, unlike at amusement parks—"You must be this tall to ride"—children smaller than 1 meter ride free on the Metro.
Accessibility: Every station has elevator access to the upper turnstile areas. In addition, there are wheelchair lifts at each stairwell, and public phones at each level for added safety and assistance.
Frequency of operation: During the week, trains arrive and depart each station at five minute intervals. During peak ridership times, 5 to 9 am and pm, a train arrives every three minutes. Station electronic boards display important system information, and the ETA of arriving trains.
Safety: Police patrol every station at all times. Closed circuit TV cameras monitor all activity. Rules are posted in prominent spots, and riders abide by them. Since we moved to Medellin 3 years ago we've heard more announcements and route information in English.
Rules & Regs: There are regulations against sitting on the floor of the station, against littering, any public display of conflict, and even warnings about unruly behavior. There are restrictions against the carriage of certain objects such as weapons, chemical compounds, hazardous cargo, and medical oxygen bottles larger than 682 liters. Smoking and drinking are not allowed, nor are animals except for service dogs and the like. Also, there's a prohibition against proselytizing and political speech on board Metro vehicles, another reason to take the Metro.
Numbers: The Metro system operates 240 train cars traveling 31.3 km (19.4 miles), 500 cable trams covering 14.6 km (9.1 miles), 31 'bendy buses,' one of which is fully electric, 12 surface trains of the 'T-A' line, the Tranvia segment on 4.1 km (2.6 miles) of track, and 47 green 'feeder' buses.
History: The first Metro 'A' line train entered operation in late 1996, final station Poblado. The extended line south to La Estrella opened in 1997. Before the Metro system came along, a worker living in Bello on the far north of Medellin faced a 2 hour commute each way to Envigado. The trip now takes 30 minutes.
Environmental: Possibly the most important impact the Metro has had on Medellin is the reduction of pollutants from vehicular traffic. It's estimated that the Metro system reduces carbon emissions 20,000 tons per year in the Aburrá Valley, mitigating air quality issues, and reducing respiratory problems citizens may have.
Colombiano Pride on Display
The picture above was taken inside the main San Antonio station, downtown Medellin. The Metro system is a focus of pride for Colombianos.
Other benefits: It's impossible to quantify some of the enhancements the Metro system offers. One of those is the reduction in traffic accidents because of fewer vehicles on Medellin's roads. Another is the creation of jobs, from maintenance people, operators, control center monitors, and the many limpiadors who keep the stations and cars clean. Crossover footbridges were built for easy access to the Metro, which helps people cross busy roadways. There has been a noticeable, and steady decline in gang activity since the Metro system tied all of Medellin's barrios together. An interesting side note: Young people driving the A & B line trains are all college students. Their employment as train operators grants them a stipend to help defray the costs of their education.
The Metro is much more than transit from point A to B.
Not just a way to get around Medellin easily and cheaply, the Metro system is a centralizing factor in city life. As shown above, some train stations have libraries, many have tiendas of all sorts, and all act as a focal point for neighborhoods. The Metro system website lists such offerings as helpful tips on using the system, interactive electronic games that riders can play, downloadable documents with Metro information, a helpful trip planning guide, and much more.
Recognizing that the Metro system must serve all citizens of Medellin, the leadership of this public resource have created several programs to benefit riders and citizens. One is Amigos Metro, Friends of the Metro. Amigos is a regular workshop offered to identify and train individuals who are influential in bettering civic life in Medellin.
"What word connects your heart to the Metro?"
In this dictionary, promoted by Amigos Metro, kids from Medellin answer the question, and include drawings that illustrate their sense of dedication to a better city. Samples below, with translations.
Above, 14 year old Sara says, "It is to know that we all have the same rights, in spite of our differences."
Above, Juliana, age 10, states (la comuna) "is a society (where) people live together."
Twelve-year-old Sara says, 'Basura' (trash) "Is the enemy of the environment."
My Metro moves me
Another initiative offered by the Metro authority is 'a contarlos,' 'counting them,' a chance for citizen riders to record and submit short 'sketches,' stories based on their experience using the Metro system, and win prizes for them. Each submission must be a cell phone video, between two and three minutes long, and previously unpublished. Three winning videos will be featured, with prizes of $1,000.00 (USD), $700.00, and $300.00 respectively. Not bad for telling a commuting tale.
'Art opens our minds & hearts.'
In this picture with the 'T-A' line, the Tranvia, public art has been encouraged along the surface train's right of way, adding to the efforts of the Metro authority aimed at inclusion.
Art exhibits enhance many stations
As the motto of the Metro states: 'Calidad de Vida,' Quality of life. The system is much more than public transport in Medellin and the Aburrá Valley. It's a focusing mechanism for people's connection to their city, and a visible symbol of their pride. It's a way the city has enhanced that quality of life by facilitating movement within the city, easing work travel and commuting time, providing jobs, reducing the number of vehicles and accidents, improving air quality, and bringing people together in more ways than one. The Metro has succeeded in its original goal, to tie together the disparate barrios and pueblos ringing Medellin, and making all the citizens of the Aburrá Valley consider themselves neighbors and citizens.
Electric vehicles are the future
The next post will cover the many ways Medellin is addressing its air quality dilemma. Due to rapid and steady growth in the past 30 years, Medellin and the Aburrá Valley have gained the unenviable distinction of having some of the worst air quality in South America. City and county government are actively working to address the issue. Many initiatives are already in place, including the acquisition of 'green' all-electric public transport, like the bus pictured above, and 'green' taxis as well. The goal is full electric public transport by 2030. The reduction plan is working, if slowly. Next blog post will fill in the details. Thanks for reading.