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Commuter rail, less tapones, in Puerto Rico

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  • Todd Edelman
    Interesting pull-quote: A new system doesn t reduce traffic, but it should decrease the rate of growth, said the University of Puerto Rico engineering
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2005
      Interesting pull-quote: "A new system doesn't reduce
      traffic, but it should decrease the rate of growth,"
      said the University of Puerto Rico engineering
      professor Jack Allison...

      Posted on Mon, Jun. 06, 2005

      Long-awaited commuter rail service arrives in Puerto



      The Orlando Sentinel

      SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - (KRT) - Waiting at the
      gleaming new station for her ride to work on Monday,
      Mildred Gonzalez said she didn't miss the traffic.

      "There are no tapones," said the radiology technician,
      using the local word for traffic jam as she relaxed at
      the elevated terminal near the Universidad del Sagrado
      Corazpn. "There are no lights. This is much faster,
      much more reliable ... I love it."

      Puerto Rico's train has arrived. Three and a half
      years late and nearly $900 million over budget
      projections, the Tren Urbano began regular service
      Monday, carrying paying passengers along 10 miles of
      track connecting the western suburbs of Bayamon and
      Guaynabo with the Santurce section of San Juan.

      Decades in the planning and years in the building, the
      elevated Urban Train is intended to cut pollution and
      slow the growth of traffic in San Juan, one of the
      most densely traveled cities in the world. It also is
      meant to spur new residential, business and government
      development around each of 16 new stations.

      "This is a very important day for Puerto Rico," said
      Gabriel Alcaraz, secretary of transportation and
      public works in this Caribbean U.S. territory. By the
      end of 2008, he is planning to have "a pathway full of
      projects that will basically redefine the way we
      develop San Juan."

      Talked about since the 1970s, the Tren Urbano becomes
      the first rail system in Puerto Rico since the last
      run in 1953 of the storied coastal train that once
      connected San Juan with the southern city of Ponce. It
      is the first metropolitan rail transit system in San
      Juan since the trolleys of the early 20th century.

      The Bayamon-to-San Juan line is Phase I of a system
      planned to grow tentacles over the next 10 to 15 years
      to Old San Juan, Luis Munoz Marin International
      Airport, the eastern suburb of Carolina and the
      central city of Caguas. The Tren Urbano is planned as
      the rail component of an integrated transit system
      that will coordinate train, bus and ferry routes.

      With 2.5 million vehicles for 3.9 million people - the
      economist Francisco Catala has said that everyone here
      could go for a ride all at once, and no one would have
      to sit in the back - Puerto Rico ranks among world
      leaders in ratios of cars per individual, per square
      mile and per road mile.

      In the San Juan metropolitan area, home to 1.5
      million, traffic can slow to a full stop during the
      morning and evening rush hours, and the flow remains
      thick during the weekend.

      The Tren Urbano is not projected to take cars off the
      road, but to slow the pace at which new ones are

      "A new system doesn't reduce traffic, but it should
      decrease the rate of growth," said the University of
      Puerto Rico engineering professor Jack Allison, who
      was director of the Puerto Rico Highway and
      Transportation Authority here from 2001 until last
      month. "And you'll see less need of parking."

      To acquaint islanders with the service and give
      operators experience, the train has been offering free
      rides on weekends since December and weekdays since
      April. Daily ridership had grown to 40,000 by the end
      of May, with the total number of passenger trips
      surpassing 3.5 million.

      The number of riders dipped by 45 percent on Monday
      when, for the first time, passengers were charged
      $1.50 each way. Alcaraz said that officials had
      expected a temporary decline and that the target of
      80,000 weekday riders by the end of the first year of
      service remained within reach.

      "People like it," he said. "What we have to do now,
      the message has to be, `You tried it, you liked it, it
      was very good to you.' That message will allow us to
      sell it."

      Daily ridership is projected at 115,000 after five
      years. The train is to operate on a $100-million
      annual budget, with up to $25 million coming from

      The Tren Urbano had been plagued with delays and cost
      increases since construction began in 1996. Originally
      projected to open in November 2001 at a cost of $1.38
      billion, it began service Monday after an investment
      of $2.25 billion.

      The federal government contributed $750 million. In an
      audit issued last year, the inspector general of the
      U.S. Department of Transportation called management of
      the project "unsatisfactory" and said the Puerto Rico
      Highway and Transportation Authority should be
      considered a "high-risk grantee."

      Nonetheless, Congress subsequently approved federal
      participation in Phase II of the project, the
      extension to Carolina. And on Monday, as passengers
      sped along in air-conditioned train cars high above
      the city traffic, the setbacks appeared to be

      Alba Rodriguez parked her car Monday morning at the
      Jesus T. Pinero station and rode to Sagrado Corazon.

      "I like it," she said. "I'm not down there in traffic,
      worrying about parking. I wish it would expand to more


      © 2005, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).

      Visit the Sentinel on the World Wide Web at

      Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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