Commuter rail, less tapones, in Puerto Rico
- 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
BY MATTHEW HAY BROWN
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
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.).
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