The Santiago Metro is the Metro system in Santiago de Chile. It is mostly an underground, subway line, but in places runs on at grade or elevated tracks. By ridership, it is the third busiest and extensive metro system in Latin America (behind the Mexico City Metro and Sao Paulo Metro), and one of the 25 largest in the world. Planned since the early 20th century, the first line was opened in 1975, and the system has grown since then, with the lines being extended, and new lines being added. The first line was Line 1, which currently runs from the near-western suburbs of the city, through Santiago's core around La Moneda in downtown, out to the financial and business districts around Escuela Militar and Manquehue in Las Condes. The additional lines are Line 2, which runs from north to south through the center of Santiago; Line 4, which runs along the east to the vast suburban area of Puente Alto; Line 4A, which connects Line 2 and 4; and Line 5, which has a looping route from the southeast, crossing line 1, and then continuing on to the southwest. Line 3 and Line 6 are currently under construction and are expected to open in 2017 or 2018. Lines 1 and 2, being central urban lines, are almost all underground, except for a brief section that runs along a recessed freeway. Lines 4 and 5 are partially underground and partially elevated, and Line 4A runs along a freeway. Most stations are placed around half a kilometer apart towards the city center, and around a kilometer apart in more residential areas.
There is a lot more that could be written about the technical aspects and history of the metro, but I want to address the rider experience. Especially since, the imagery that comes to mind for some readers upon hearing the words "subway system in South America" might be less than charitable. So let me answer a few questions:
- Reliability: As the cliche goes, the trains run on time. During rush hour, they run every two or three minutes. Even during late hours or weekends, they run every ten minutes, and there have been very few times when they did not show up. I have been on a stopped train a few times, but only for a few minutes. One downside is that the trains do not run all night: they stop a little before midnight and start up again around 5 AM. But in general, the trains are very reliable.
- Cleanliness: The trains, and stations, are very clean. It would be unusual to see even a piece of trash on a platform. The stations and trains can be a bit dirty and gritty, especially during one of Santiago's occasional storms, but in general, everything is very clean.
- Comfort: Here is some bad news. The trains can be very crowded, especially during morning and evening rush hour, which lasts from 7-9 in the morning and 5-7 at night. It is impossible to find a seat, you will probably be standing up, and you will probably be standing up with people shoved against you. Getting into trains might involve some waiting, on bad days I have had to wait over 10 minutes to get on a train. I usually arrange my schedule so that I avoid the worst times.
- Accessibility: The Metro has made an effort to make their stations accessible to the disabled, and seats are reserved for those with "preferencia" (pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly), but given the crowded conditions, it would be very difficult for someone with mobility issues to use the train.
- Convenience: The larger stations have stores attached, either outside the turnstiles, or (in larger transfer stations), between levels. Want to get a McDonalds ice cream cone? Easy! Want to get an empanada? Also easy! How about a cover for your cell phone? Simple! Want to buy some scarves, luggage, bongs, or t-shirts commemorating your favorite heavy metal band? Probably easy. Want to pay your utility bills, get money from an ATM, or put more data on your cellphone! There are kiosks for that! Don't have a cell phone? Buy one from a vending machine, and get a DVD player, fidget spinner and Breathalyzer from the same vending machine. Although the suburban stations don't have these amenities, the central stations are their own little self-contained worlds. The platforms also have large screen TVs that show news, weather and humorous clips while you wait.
- Entertainment: Outside of rush hour, there is usually something fun going on, on the metro, usually musicians of some sort. Usually its just a single person singing or playing an instrument, but I've seen five piece bands with standup bass, entire rap crews freestyling, dancers and a sexy Spider-Man who did erotic gymnastics on the trains hand holds. Keep some 50 or 100 peso coins for the entertainment.
- Safety: Supposedly, petty theft is common on the Metro, so keep your hands in your pockets and your bags tightly held. But violent crime is very rare, and I have never seen any.
- Interoperability: The trains and buses in Santiago all use the same contactless card, and the buses connect along the main train line, so its pretty easy to use the Metro to get where you want to go. Many stations are also intermodal, connecting to long range touring buses that go to every corner of Chile. At Estacion Central, the system connects with commuter rail and long range rail to Chile's South.
These are my experiences as a rider, riding pretty much every day for the past year. Different people might have different experiences, and some people's tolerance for the crowded nature of the Santiago Metro might be less than mine. But, in general, I would encourage visitors to Santiago to try the Metro...at least outside of rush hour.