Wednesday, 22 January 2020
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Moving story (-ies) from Valparaíso

It clatters and creaks, shakes and grinds. Older passengers sit on a bench in the shaking car while next to them others stand closely packed.

The cable car in Valparaiso. (Source: Bendl)

It is not comfortable. But the cable car works and has now done so for over a hundred years. The trip takes 80 seconds: 175 m of rails guide the Ascensor Artillería 48 m up from the harbour to Artillería Hill. From here you have the best view of the Bay of Valparaíso.

Finding a technical solution

HandwerkUp until the construction of the Panama Canal, the Chilean coastal city of Valparaíso was South America’s most important Pacific harbour. Goods were stored close to the water. But those who could afford to do so lived in the districts on the steeply ascending hills. But since climbing the steps was too arduous in the long term, an effort was made to find a technical solution for overcoming the ascent.

The historic means of transport are called “ascensores” in Chile, i.e. lifts, even if they are actually cable cars. The principle is simple: two cars travel on the metal rails of a dual track and are permanently attached to each other by cable.

They balance each other approximately: as a result, the electrical motor acting on the traction sheave in the mountain station does not require so much energy. In its heyday, there were over 30 cable cars in Valparaíso. Today there are still 16 lifts, but only eight are currently still in operation. The oldest has been in operation from Calle Prat to the 45 m high Cerro Concepción since 1883.

Important means of transport

HandwerkToday the ascensores of Valparaíso are a tourist attraction. But they remain an important means of transport for the inhabitants, like the bus and underground. A single trip costs between 15 and 50 cents and they are in daily operation from 7.00 a.m. to 11.00 p.m. A team of “ascensoristas” ensure there are no breakdowns - the cable cars are all still operated by hand.

Their numbers are also set to increase: the government is investing in the renovation of nine ascensores, including five that have long been out of operation. This is because Valparaíso’s historic city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site – and this includes the over one-hundred year old, clattering and creaking, shaking and grinding cable cars.

Helge Bendl

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