Posted by: Ali | March 4, 2010

(Not) Getting Around in Lima: Part 1

Lima’s transportation system has good things and bad things about it.  For whatever reason, I find the subject fascinating.  I am hoping that in September I will be going to school for Urban Planning, and I’ve already started seeing the world through that perspective.

Traffic in Lima is terrible.  I have made comments to various people before, but I think that the biggest problem is that there are insufficient highways or large straight roads in Lima, or perhaps the problem is that the direct roads are always congested.  Anyhow, more often than not when I take a taxi somewhere I know how to get to, we take a route that I was not expecting, going through various back roads.  For example, I have gone to the airport approximately 10 times since I arrived in Lima 6 months ago, and now that I know my way around, I can identify at least 5 different routes that my drivers have taken.  You’d think that there would be one or two, but no.  It seems that there is not one particular direct route to the airport.

I love the bus system here – they are cheap and come about every two minutes, and can take you to any part of the city you need.  The problem with buses is that they are subject to traffic.  If there is an accident, or if it is rush hour, you can spend three hours on the bus trying to get home, which is what I did on Tuesday.  Even on bus-only lanes, there are so many buses that the buses themselves make the lanes congested, and don’t go particularly quickly.

From time to time, the government of Lima has tried to fix these projects by trying to implement a new improvement in transportation.  There actually used to be a train system connecting at least some of Lima to itself, which I believe was a relic from the days where downtown Lima used to be the whole city of Lima, and the district of Callao (where the airport is) used to be the port city of Callao, and Miraflores and Barranco used to be places where the rich would have summer homes.  In those days, trains would connect Barranco and Callao to Lima.  However, the train system was dismantled in 1965.

Remains of the Train

At one point, the city of Lima tried to build a subway system.  Only one branch of it was ever completed, which stretched about 9 km connecting nothing in particular in the very south of Lima, from Villa El Salvador to San Juan de Miraflores, if anyone feels like looking it up.  To the best of my knowledge it isn’t actually in use, mostly because as there are only 9 km of it, it is not very useful.

In the late 80s, when Alan Garcia was president for the first time, he promised he would fix transportation in Lima by building an electric train, that would be elevated and go above the street traffic.  He announced that he would build this system and got straight to work on them, approximately one year before he was up for re-election.  He wasn’t reelected, which might have something to do with not completing this electric train project.  By the time his presidency was over, the only thing that was actually built were the posts that would hold up the train platform, and even that never was finished, leaving it an electrical train to nowhere.

Electric Train to Nowhere

The whole time I’ve been here they’ve been constructing… something.  In the middle of the highway near my house, between the directions of traffic, there used to be some grass, but they have been pouring concrete and building structures.  I haven’t been sure at all what they were building, other than it was supposed to be some sort of rapid transit system, although I wasn’t sure if it was going to be railed, electric, gas, or just another lane of traffic.

Construction in Via Expresa

A while ago I read an article that said that 80% of Limenos do not believe that it will ever get completed (partially because the president is the same one who never finished the electric train, Alan Garcia).  However, I read recently in the news two relevant announcements that prompted me to write this article.  The first is an announcement that said that this new rapid transit system, which they are calling El Metropolitano, should be operational by April, which is only a month from now.  That’s quite surprising for me, but since they just announced it it must be more or less true.  Apparently what it should look like is something like this (excuse the funny music):

The second article that I read announced that the government was restarting work on the electric train, yes, the one that is two decades old.  They say that it will be completed in 18 months and will connect the section already (mostly) built with downtown.  I actually doubt that this will happen because guess what?  Elections are next year.


  1. hey Ali,

    Love your website! That electric train in Villa El Salvador that runs to SJM actually operates. It only travels a short distance but I have seen in operation from time to time.

  2. Of all the cities in the world I have ever travelled, Lima has the worst traffic. There are no rules. Lines mean nothing. Signals mean nothing. Stop signs mean nothing. Waving your hand out the window means something, however — “I’m coming. Move over.”

    I’m shocked (and yet pleased) that an urban planner wannabe would suggest more roads. The urban planners in Calgary are always trying to close them. According to them, roads are bad. They bring cars. Cars are bad. They bring pollution and parking lots. Busses are good, even though they run empty most of the time. Public transit like rails are good even though it costs billions to build when building more roads is way cheaper.

  3. Hi, I have an update for you… the “Train to Nowhere” was finally constructed and is now operating from Villa el Salvador to the Grau Avenue.


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