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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Chilean 'Balloon Cars' ?

Chile was unusually receptive to double deck trams. Well over 400 examples were evident in the capital, Santiago, during the years of that city's electric tram expansion principally through German financing and equipment supply. However none of these were of the centre entrance variety. Valparaiso was similarly 'afflicted' with German built double deck cars; initially of open top design complete with Siemens bow collectors. Only Sheerness in England found itself with similar current collectors (and bow string overhead poles) on open top double deck trams. German interests also played a lead role in this short lived UK tramway (it closed in 1917 - victim to lack of spare parts, understandably because of the Great War raging across the English Channel).

The lengthy suburban line out of Valparaiso to Vina del Mar required new trams in the early 1920s - by which time ownership of the operating company had changed (and would change again). Re-equipment of the line fortuitously was during a period when the company was in British ownership and consequently the new trams (23 in total) were specified as being double deck bogie cars designed and built by a Belgian firm in 1922 - La Brugeoise, Nicaise and Delculve. Very substantial steel clad centre entrance trams 501-523 were delivered in a cream livery. Possibly to provide shade - the top deck had very deep roofs giving the trams a formidable appearance. The centre entrances involved two seperate doors on a drop centre frame. Eventually the cars had their top decks removed and continued as single deck trams until final withdrawal in 1952.

This well known postcard provides a good impression of the Valparaiso bogie centre entrance cars of 1922 built in Belgium for a British company and its Chilean tramway. The tram has two bow collectors. Image : John Woodman Archive

Elsewhere in Europe Leipzig's transport operator had introduced single deck centre entrance four axle cars (and trailers) in the 1920s. Their square ended design was not dissimilar to the Valparaiso double deck version. A serious proposal to build double deck centre entrance trams in this German city did not get further than the drawing board.

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