Project planning and regulation
SECTRA plans and evaluates major investment initiatives for transportation at the national, regional, and local levels. Rail transit projects are included in urban transportation plans developed by SECTRA as part of a multimodal approach to transportation within regions. The planning process also involves federal ministries, the regional governments, municipal leadership, and others.
While the authority lies with the national government, most of the planning work for Santiago Metro happens at the agency. When Santiago Metro develops plans for their system, they confer with SECTRA, which often includes them in their regional and national plans that get official approval and funding.
The Environmental Law (Law 19.300) sets the main environmental framework, requiring all heavy rail projects to undergo an environmental impact assessment (EIA) similarly to other countries. The project sponsor, either Santiago Metro or EFE, prepares an EIA after the project is approved by SECTRA. According to interviewees, the current process is streamlined in part due to the agency’s experience in preparing these assessments, which take about two years to complete.
Community engagement, participation, and feedback in Chile are limited. While the planning process does involve elected municipal leadership, SECTRA does not specifically list community engagement as part of its planning methodology. Santiago Metro does host community meetings, and while they are infrequent, lawsuits over projects do happen (and interviewees noted they are increasing).
Interviews with stakeholders confirmed that planning is highly centralized, and even engagement with the municipal governments is not very extensive. But part of the reason for little public resistance is that the projects have widespread political appeal. In Chile, presidential terms are four years and incumbents may not seek reelection. That means a typical tunneled project, which usually takes 10 years from inception to opening, must continue through three of four presidential terms. The fact that so many lines in Santiago have been completed in the past 20 years, coupled with the fact that presidential administrations frequently alternate between socialist and conservative parties, speaks to the consistent and strong political support for building subways.
Tunnels in Valparaiso Metro and Santiago Metro are often single bore and do not have physical separation between moving trains, indicating that the country does not follow NFPA 130 fire safety standards. Since almost all Chilean transit projects are completed by Santiago Metro, the agency sets its own standards for fire safety and earthquakes. The system has historically been safe, with no fatal crashes, fires, or incidents caused by operations on urban heavy rail systems in the past two decades. The massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in 2010, with an epicenter only about 200 miles from Santiago, shut the system down for just three days before it fully reopened.