Cuenca’s tram runs on time despite accidents and traffic jams; Its video system sees everything

Sep 4, 2020 | 11 comments

Although Cuenca’s new tram may not run with quite the precision of the Swiss rail system, its service record is impressive none-the-less. According to one international transportation monitoring service, trains in Switzerland show up within 60 seconds of schedule 99 percent of the time.

The tram, which has been free since May 25, will require a fare beginning September 23.

“We are very pleased with our scheduling since we started service in May and hope to improve as we move into the commercial phase later this month,” says Carolina Ormaza, Cuenca tram director. “Our goal is to have a train arrive at all platforms every 10 or 12 minutes, with a variance of about 4 minutes,” she says.

The variables that affect timing, Ormaza says, are traffic conditions and accidents. “Since we do not have a dedicated rail lane, we interact with vehicular traffic at many points along the route and there are events that we cannot control,” she says. These include vehicles blocking the track during heavy traffic and accidents that don’t involve the tram.

For accidents that do involve the tram, Ormaza says there are protocols that allow the tracks to be cleared and disabled train cars moved quickly to sidings. “In four months, we have experienced several dozen tram accidents, only six of them serious, and the longest service delay has been 12 minutes. We can replace damaged units quickly, transfer passengers, and resume service within a matter of minutes, which is very important to any public transportation system.”

Ormaza says there have been no serious accident injuries although there has been extensive damage to vehicles and the tram in several cases. “The exterior of tram cars are made of modular pieces and can be quickly replaced in the event of an accident,” she says. “Besides this, we conduct structural and mechanical checks of all cars involved in direct contact with vehicles.”

One of the more serious  accidents occurred Tuesday when a motorcyclist turned directly in front of the tram on Av. Las Americas (see video below). The cyclist suffered minor injuries but the motorcycle was destroyed. “Accidents with injuries and even deaths are inevitable with systems like ours and we are prepared for them,” Ormaza says.

Who pays for accident damages to the tram? “The driver always pays and so far we have not suffered any financial loses,” says Ormaza. In the case of two accidents where the driver fled the scene the tram sold the damaged vehicle to cover repair costs. “The tram always has right-of-way and it would be very rare for a tram conductor to be at fault, in which case we have insurance to cover damages.”

One reason for the system’s scheduling efficiency, Ormaza says, is its sophisticated video surveillance system. “Every meter of the tram route is continuously monitored on video as are all the tram platforms and train cars,” she says. “People ask us how we will stop riders who do not swipe their cards before boarding and the answer is that we will have their picture. They may be able to get away with a free ride occasionally but we will be able to identify repeat offenders and arrest them.”

Those who intentionally avoid payment will be fined $120 while those with multiple offenses will face stiffer penalties.

Tram cards are on sale at five location, the ETAPA office on Gran Colombia in El Centro, the Nueve de Octubre market, the Feria Libre market, the bus terminal and the airport. Beginning September 23, the fare will be 35 cents on preloaded cards and 17 cents for senior citizens, students and the disabled.