Bus Stop Classics: Vintage Electric Trolleybuses of Chile and Innsbruck

O-Bus Chile US

(first posted 2/3/2014)    Visiting the CC Cohort is like stepping into a transportation book store: so many enticing titles and covers vying for one’s attention. The problem is which one to pick up, and risk getting lost in. When I ran across these shots of trolleybuses in Chile shot by Eric Clem, it brought back a flood of memories, riding the red “O-Bus” (Oberleitungsbus; or overhead trolley bus, in German) in Innsbruck as a kid. So of course I had to do a bit of googling, and found some great shots of those too; hence the trans-hemispheric title of today’s post.

Initially, I wrote that I wasn’t going to even try to identify the actual manufacturers of these two Chilean trolleybuses, other than to say that the top one looks decidedly American, while the one below looks quite European. But then I popped over to wikipedia, to brush up on trolleybuses, and they have a diagram of a 1947 Pullman Standard that is still running in Valparaiso, Chile. The windows look a bit different, but otherwise, it looks just like that top one. So we’ll call it that, until someone proves otherwise, anyway.

O Bus Chile Euro

This one? As I said, it looks European, but that’s as far as I can tell. Trolleybuses tend to have very long life spans, as their humming electric motors are a lot more durable than diesel engines and transmissions. Which is of course one of their big draws, along with the lack of noisy, stinky and smoky diesel engines.

O Bus First_Trolleybuss_of_Siemens_in_Berlin_1882

For that matter, the trolleybus predates the diesel bus by a considerable margin. The first was this “Elecromote”, built in 1882 near Berlin by Dr. Ernst Werner von Siemens, founder of that eponymous firm. The little wheeled “Kontaktwagen” that ran on the overhead wires and transmitted the 550V DC current to the converted wagon is the origin of the English word “trolley” in “trolleybus”. Modern systems did away with that, and use spring-loaded trolley poles with two grooved contact shoes.

O-Bus Innsbrucj Graf und Stiftimage courtesy stone-berlin.de

Innsbruck had three O-Bus lines when I lived there as a kid in the fifties, in addition to several street car lines and diesel bus routes. Of course, riding on the antique #1 Line street car was always my favorite (I’ll have to do a street car post one of these days), but the O-Bus was a fascinating “hybrid” of the two technologies. I distinctly remember the bus driver having to get out and reposition the trolley poles when they popped out occasionally at the somewhat tricky overhead line intersections. This one is a Graf und Stift, an Austrian brand, and this picture dates from 1975, shortly before Innsbruck eliminated its trolleybus lines, a disappointment when I came back to visit in 1980.

O-Bus Innsbruck Meraner Platz 1975image courtesy stone-berlin.de

This is actually a diesel bus sitting under the trolley lines at the Meraner Platz, also in 1975. But it gives a good indication of the typical streetscape car–wise too, although Land Rovers were not exactly a very common sight. Actually, British cars became rather common in Austria after 1960, as a result of it joining the European Free Trade Association, as an alternative to the then-EEC, the precursor to the EU, which Austria didn’t join until the 1990s. That made British cars relatively cheaper than German cars, and in addition to the LR, there’s also a UK Ford Anglia parked on the left. There were a surprising number of SD-1 Rovers in Innsbruck when I was there in 1980, although almost all were sixes.

O Bus Innsbruck Hottinger brucke 1975image courtesy stone-berlin.de

Here’s another O-Bus heading across the Inn River. “Innbruck” means “bridge on the Inn”, and the first one was built in the 12th century—along with a marketplace—which is what gave the actual city its start. Although the area has very ancient origins and Roman ruins, 900 year-old Innsbruck is relatively young in this part of the world.

O Bus Innsbruck Hottinger gasse 1975image courtesy stone-berlin.de

Here’s that same O-bus heading up one of the old narrow streets on the north side of the river, pressed right up against the mountains. Right behind it are two of the most stereotypical cars of the era, a W114 Mercedes and a Beetle. I’m pretty sure the Mercedes is a taxi.


After dropping its original O-bus lines in 1971-1976, Innsbruck built two new trolley lines in 1986, but they were only in use for until 2007, as they were planned to be converted to actual street cars. Here’s a shot of Maria Theresea Strasse, Innsbruck’s “main street”, with both street cars and buses visible, probably from the 80s.


When I was last there a couple of years ago, that same street was totally torn up, in the process of being converted into a pedestrian zone. Today it looks like this. I somewhat miss the familiar street cars and buses, but these pedestrian zones in the hearts of older European cities have been successful, and create a lively atmosphere, probably not totally unlike before the street cars and buses came along in the first place. Of course, there were probably cows on the streets back then too; speaking of, I actually remember herds of cows being driven right through the heart of Innsbruck as a kid, from the pastures on the higher alms up on those mountains and back to their winter quarters on the other side of town. Just wait for that to be brought back too. Cows? Did I just digress there, or what?



Here a picture of a more recent articulated O-Bus in Innsbruck, from 1994. This one was also built by Graf & Stift; not exactly a household word. The Vienesse firm was taken over by MAN back in 1971, but continued to make trolley buses under its name until 2001.

O bus Trolleybus_Cristalis_ligne_4

Needless to say, trolleybuses are still favored in many cities, especially in Europe and in other cities, often where electricity is generated via hydro making it particularly low-cost and abundant, like Vancouver, Seattle, and San Francisco (and Innsbruck). The long-time disadvantages that trolley buses have had such as temporary re-routings due to accidents or such are increasingly easy to overcome with additional battery packs and/or small accessory power units (gen-set). Some are even true hybrids, able to operate both from the overhead lines and without them, by diesel engine. After 122 years, the trolley bus still has a future.