Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Valparaíso Rises to a Challenge

According to the online Santiago Times (subscription only), the World Heritage port of Valparaíso will soon repair and restore five municipal ascensores (funiculars) that still operate in the city. Along with ten privately operated funiculars, they carry three million passengers per annum, with 10,000 regular users, between Valparaíso's commercial/financial sector and the hills neighborhoods.

All the funiculars date from the late 19th or early 20th century. At one time, more than 30 of them carried up to 13 million passengers per annum. Today, most of those are only inconspicuous, weed-covered wrecks, but the surviving ones are also tourist attractions similar to San Francisco's cable cars. Upgrading them will not be cheap: The 40-meter Ascensor Reina Victoria (pictured here, with its 57-degree gradient) will have a budget of US$160,042, with work to be finished in 165 days. The city is encouraging the private owners of the other ten to reinvest some of their earnings in the interests of safety and tourist appeal, but so far only Ascensor Concepción - in a prime tourist neighborhood - has plans to do so. For what it's worth, I've never heard of an accident on any of them.

There is one potential pitfall. It would be a shame if, in the process of preservation, the ascensores became nothing more than mobile museum pieces - like their San Francisco counterparts.

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