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Mendoza: The trolleybus service faces the final curtain

One of the Marterfer trolleybuses at the depot in late 2018, before the service resumed | © J.L. Guevara

The trolleybus service on the only remaining line in Mendoza, Argentina, located at the foot of the Andes in the far west of the country, is coming to an end. Currently, only two vehicles are still operational at all. After testing them in passenger service for some time, the transport company STM Sociedad de Transporte de Mendoza is now starting operation of new gas buses as well as various battery-electric buses from the Chinese manufacturers BYD and Zhongtong delivered during past two years.

Zhongtong battery bus | © STM
Zhongtong gas bus | © STM
BYD battery bus on the former trolleybus route 5 under the existing overhead line | © STM

Just a few years ago, urban transport in Mendoza was dominated by trolleybuses, with a network of six routes served by around 60 vehicles in daily service on weekdays:

  1. Parque – City Center (Opening: 14.02.1958)
  2. City Center – Villanueva (Opening: 1959)
  3. City Center – Dorrego (Opening: 1961)
  4. City Center – Pellegrini – San Martín (Opening: 1963)
  5. Las Heras – City Center – Cruz Godoy (Opening: 27.04.2004)
  6. UN Cuyo – City Center (Opening: 14.10.2005)

The decline began with the necessary replacement of the aging fleet of used vehicles that had been taken over from Vancouver, Canada, in 2009/10. At that time, they replaced the by all means robust Krupp/Ludewig trolleybuses that had previously been the backbone of the fleet. All vehicles had been bought from Solingen in Germany in 1988/89. The Canadian trolleybuses, however, turned out to be by no means as reliable as the elder German trolleys, as they were already much older and more worn out when purchased.

Mendoza 2011 | © Allan Morrison
Ex-Solingen Krupp/Ludewig trolleybuses at the depot in 2008 | © J.L. Guevara
Flyer trolleybuses ex Vancouver (2012) | © Dirk Budach
The Canadian Flyer trolleybuses did not proof to be very reliable in Mendoza | © Dirk Budach
The first Argentine-built trolleybus was proudly presented in 2013 – less than eight years ago! | © J.L. Guevara

As a consequence and for the first time, the transport company EPTM Empresa Provincial de Transporte de Mendoza (EPTM) ordered new vehicles from local production in 2013 – as a necessity of the nationwide import restrictions and self-sufficiency efforts of the economy. However, the operator had to deal with quite a number of teething problems, and in the end only 13 buses ever arrived in Mendoza, the last of which was actually never completed, but remained as a pure shell to serve as a source for spare parts. All were numbered nos. 401-413. The manufacturer was the Marterfer company in Santa Fé, the electrical equipment mainly came from Schneider Electric, was installed in EPTM’s local workshop itself and finally received approval for passenger service after numerous test runs.

Long-lasting political discussions and debates eventually culminated in the final consequence of the dissolution of the EPTM and its replacement with the newly-founded, but again publicly-owned STM. The STM showed little interest in trolleybus operations, and after a full write-off of the last of the Canadian New Flyer trolleybuses, all lines were converted to non-electric operations during the first half of 2017, with the last trolleybus moving into the Calle Perú depot on 4 May 2017. Even the new trolleybuses were moved out of the depot shortly afterwards and became soon vandalized. Some of the regular services were taken over by private bus companies as concessionaires, using various, mostly elderly types of diesel buses.

This modern low-floor trolleybus saw just two years of service, before the operation ceased in 2017. The vehicle was heavily vandalised shortly afterwards. (2018) | © Samuel Fuentes
Eight of the almost new Marterfer trolleybuses were refurbished at the depot in late 2018 | © J.L. Guevara
First public service of trolleybus 04 during the early hours of 2 Januar 2019 | © J.L. Guevara

Following public pressure, the STM finally put eight of the low-floor trolleybuses back into operational condition – they were renumbered 01 to 08 (former nos. 405, 402, 403, 404, 407, 406, 411, 408). Service resumed on 4 January 2019, but these few trolleybuses were only used on one single line, the former circular line 1 “Parque”, which had been rebranded Line 130 and offered a 12-15 minute frequency during the day. This required a maximum of 6 vehicles.

In the meantime, however, only two trolleybuses are still operational, no. 01 and 07, and the trolleybus service remains without any real prospects for the future and might be discontinued at any time – unless another “miracle” happens….

More information on trolleybus operation in the city can be found on the pages of the “trolley:motion” association, among others: https://www.trolleymotion.eu/trolleystaedte/stadt/?id=3

Other trolley bus operations in the country can be found in Córdoba and Rosario – see also: https://www.urban-transport-magazine.com/en/rosario-a-new-argentine-low-cost-trolleybus/

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