Ex-Zürich GTr 51 trolleybuses in Valparaiso
There are across the world, certain sites that every transport enthusiast should have seen. For the trolleybus fan, Valparaiso must be one of them. To my regret, I am unable to present at present a first hand report (although I hope one day to that change that). However, with the world's oldest active articulated trolleybus reaching the age of 50, and that trolleybus being ex-Zürich, it would be wrong not to dedicate a short article here.
Valparaiso (Chile) features the world's oldest trolleybus still in regular service with its original operator. The fleet still includes several Pullman Standards of 1947, dating back to the opening of the system and now declared national monuments. In later years, Valparaiso modernised its fleet by adding second-hand Swiss trolleybuses, some of them from Zürich (and hence connecting back to the main topic of my trolleybus web page). These too have since reached a most notable age in trolleybus terms. Among them is 105, probably the oldest working articulated trolleybus in the world. Having entered service in 1959, it is now 50 years old! Operating besides it are two slightly younger sister vehicles: 503 of 1963 and 504 of 1964 (ex VBZ 129 and 132).
The GTr 51
The first GTr 51 entered service in Zürich in 1957. Numbered 101, it was the first articulated trolleybus in Zürich (VBZ having obtained its first articulated diesel in 1955). The GTr 51s operated with a conductor seated by the the rear door who would inspect and sell tickets. The conductor controlled the doors of the rear section of the bus and the driver those of the front section. A lot of the electrical equipment was positioned inside the passenger area which was the reason that many of the seats were longitudinal. The trolley poles were equipped with lights to facilitate the re-wiring at night. They were the first VBZ type with such a feature.
The GTr 51 had two MFO motors with series/parallel connection. One motor drove the middle axle and the other the rear axle. This two-axle drive gave them an advantage over types with single axle drive, especially in winter when snow makes adhesion problematic and steep hills (of which Zürich has many) can be tricky to climb. Unfortunately subsequent trolleybus acquisitions abandoned this feature, namely the Jumbos (GTr 91, numbers 74-100 of 1974) which reverted to single-axle drive and the Mercedes O405 GTZ (1-36 and 101-143 of 1986, 1988-9 and 1994) which at least when in pure electric mode had single axle drive (1). VBZ didn't return to the expensive but effective two-axle electric drive until the recent acquistition Hess Swisstrolley3 and Lighram3 trolleybuses.
But back to the 1950s! The prototype visited Winterthur, Bern, Geneva and Lausanne in 1957 and 1958 where it was greeted with much interest and enthusiasm. Winterthur (101-105) and Bern (21-29) both bought similar buses. Zürich's series GTr 51s 101-133 followed in two batches, with a first being deliverd in 1959 and the second not following until 1964. The two batches were largely identical but differed from the prototype in various features, mostz visible of these was the windscreen design.
length: 16.08m (prototype 16.04m)
Power: 2x 103kW
Seats: 30 (32 after removing conductor's desk)
Operation in Zürich
The GTr 51s proved very reliable, most of them covering more than 7 million km in Zürich. The prototype was withdrawn as non-standard in 1974 and stored for possible museum use, but scrapped in 1986. The others remained in service until 1989-91, being finally replaced by the Mercedes O405 GTZ 2-36.
116, 122 and 123 were sold to Lausanne and one of these later went to Roumania. 105, 107, 109, 111, 129 and 132 went to Chile (as we shall see below...). Number 130 was transferred to the social department of the city of Zürich and was for a while used as a mobile information unit and mini clinic for homeless women and prostitutes etc who were taking drugs. In this function it wasn't driven with its own power but generally stayed at the same location for a longer period. When it had to be moved it was towed and was hence really just a big caravan. It was scrapped in about 1992. 102 was set aside for a future museum use and is still in store today.
The Chilean "Empresa de Transportes Colectivos Eléctricos" (ETCE) had for years been modernising its old Pullman Standard trolleybuses, often restyling the front end or even totally rebodying them. In the late 1980s, plans were developed to return trolleybuses to Santiago in order to fight pollution. In the early 1990s new trolleybuses were acquired from China and second-hand ones from Switzerland.
Seven of these came from Zürich (six FBW 51 GTr and one FBW 91 GTL). The first six of these arrived at the port of Valparaíso on 22nd September 1991. 105 and 111 entered service in their blue colour as delivered (2) and created quite a stir: Their modern looks contrasted with the venerable Pullman Standards and long queues of people formed to test these new blue vehicles in their city. Later, advertising liveries were applied.
The other buses, 107, 109, 129 and 132 were repainted in white, red and brown and numbered 501-504 for service in Santiago with Empresa de Trolebuses Santiago S.A. (ETS). Sadly, the Santiago system closed on 9th July 1994. the four GTr 51s were returned to Valparaiso.
In 2000, 501-504 were moved to the depot, which was then situated in Avenida España. They were joined by 111 which ceased to operate in 2001. In 2005, repair works started on some of these and other stored units. 503 and 504 were returned to service in 2006 and 2007 and advertising liveries were applied.
In 2007, trolleybus opration passed to a new company, Trolebuses de Chile S.A. The two routes assigned were the traditional Av.Pedro Montt (route 801) and Av. Colón (route 802). Plans were put forwards to extend the system but nothing came of these. The trolleybuses were repainted in a smart green, cream and grey livery.
Sadly, 111, 501 and 502 were never returned to service but finally scrapped, together with many other trolleybuses. But still in service today are 503 (ex VBZ 129 of 1963) and 504 (ex VBZ 132 of 1964), and, probably the oldest active articulated trolleybus in the world, 105 of 1959.
Trolleybus blog Valparaiso
I am greatly indebted to Samuel Fuentes in providing information and pictures on trolleybus operations in Valparaiso. Samuel has an excellent blog site: trolleybusvalparaiso. blogspot.com .
1) On the O405 GTZ, two axle drive is possible when using electric and diesel traction simultaneously, as the diesel drives the middle axle directly (this option is actually used sometimes under extreme conditions). (return to main text)
Kamm, P., Der Trolleybus in Zürich, Verein Tram Museum Zürich, 2008.