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Urban Train Start-Up Date Up In The Air, Again

Operator keeping busy with training personnel and running empty trains


January 15, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

It’s business as usual at the Urban Train office, sort of.

Despite the latest controversies surrounding the mass-transit project, Director Gabriel Alcaraz said there has been no halt in the work. "We must continue working as if nothing has happened," he said.

Alcaraz said he is optimistic that service could begin as early as May, or soon after. Under a six-year, $300 million-plus federal grant for the Urban Train, the local government has until June to complete the project or risk losing the final $70 million allocation.

A spokesman for the train’s operator, Alternate Concepts Inc., said the company is ready to take the reins once the main contractor in charge of building the rail system, Siemens, delivers it to the government.

"Everything is ready for us to start operations," said General Manager Rodolfo Gonzalez. In preparation, trains are going out daily for practice runs from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and training of employees continues, including station personnel, maintenance people, and administration.

The long-awaited Urban Train is a 17-Km (10.5 miles), 16-station mass-transit rail system that will run from Bayamon to Santurce. It was originally scheduled to start operating in 2001 at a cost of $2.1 billion. The cost is now up to $2.6 billion, or $26,000 for each of the 100,000 people estimated to use the service, originally conceived to reduce car traffic.

The latest dark cloud over the project appeared when Siemens missed a Dec. 29 deadline to deliver a partially operational train system. At the same time, the company filed a $50 million suit against the Highway & Transportation Authority, in charge of the Urban Train. In it, Siemens faulted other contractors for delays that caused it to miss its December deadline. The government, in turn, threatened to rescind the Siemens contract because of its failure to meet the terms of a contract signed in February 2003 giving the company additional time to complete the work and an extra $60 million.

Despite its threat, the government wants to resolve its differences with Siemens. The two sides are holding discussions to iron out their problems, according to Alcaraz. "We can’t cancel the contract until all administrative remedies have been exhausted," he said. Alcaraz added, however, that in reviewing its options, the government had analyzed canceling the contract and found it feasible.

According to the government, the Urban Train is 97% complete. "All the hard stuff at the level of construction is done," said Alcaraz. What remain are details and issues related to the system. He noted, for example, that an elevator in one of the stations is missing a chimney. Also, Siemens is late in delivering documents required to complete the process of safety certification, in the hands of an independent, external committee.

Gonzalez said that as with any new system, the Urban Train still has glitches, such as signs that don’t work or problems with the train wheels. He insisted, however, that this is normal and that the problems are being corrected. "Each time we have fewer failures," he said.

The new mass-transit system features 14 trains that will operate an estimated 18 hours a day, with a frequency of four to five minutes between trains at peak times and of 12 minutes off-peak. Gonzalez estimated a need of between 100 and 200 security guards.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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