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Editorial & Column


Willie’s Trolley


April 8, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Come what may, Caguas shall have its train.

It appears all but certain that no matter who wins the elections in November, some sort of mass-transportation rail system will soon run between Caguas and San Juan.

That’s a lot to say in a place like Puerto Rico, where promises from politicians of either party normally cancel each other out and where succeeding administrations rarely build on what their predecessors left behind.

Caguas Mayor William Miranda Marin has unveiled plans for a $282 million light-rail system to connect his city with San Juan by 2007. The train, which could initially move between 25,000 and 30,000 passengers each way per day, would cut the rush-hour commute time from 90 minutes to 15.

Meanwhile, former governor & New Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello last week unveiled his own proposal to extend the soon-to-be-inaugurated Urban Train to Caguas. The first phase of the Urban Train, whose design and construction was started during Rossello’s first term in office, is limited to the metro areas, running from Bayamon to Santurce.

If Miranda Marin’s Popular Democratic Party wins the elections, chances are the central government will back his proposal. Not that he is banking on it.

In fact, Miranda Marin isn’t waiting for anyone. The reason he came up with his own project for a train connection between Caguas and the metro area is that he wasn’t willing to wait till 2020, the earliest the slow and unresponsive central government told him he could hope for the Urban Train to reach his municipality.

When Rossello was still in office, Miranda Marin sold him on the idea of extending the Urban Train to Caguas. Rossello asked his then-secretary of Transportation, Carlos Pesquera, to work on it.

But Pesquera’s foray into elective politics and his defeat at the polls changed all that. In 2002, when Miranda Marin was told by officials of the central government–now controlled by his own party–that the extension to Caguas would have to wait until 2020 per the Urban Train’s master plan, he set out to look for ways to make it happen sooner.

His solution is a light-rail system–different from the heavy-rail system used for the Urban Train–that would run connected to overhead cables along the Luis A. Ferre Expressway from Las Catalinas Mall in Caguas to a station to be built in Cupey. There, Caguas commuters would transfer to the Urban Train.

Rossello and Miranda Marin’s concepts of how best to connect Caguas commuters to San Juan by train are different in many respects. Experts can debate which is the best alternative given engineering, costs, and timetable considerations.

But in our opinion, the important thing is that there’s consensus on the importance of extending to Caguas a rail transportation alternative.

Frankly, it’s a no-brainer. Caguas is one of the most, if not the most, rapidly expanding municipalities in Puerto Rico. All of its environs, including Aguas Buenas, Cidra, Gurabo, and San Lorenzo, are quickly becoming an extension of the San Juan metro area. People who work in San Juan continue to move to those municipalities in droves in search of affordable housing, making Caguas a true metropolitan area in its own right. Already, morning and afternoon rush-hour traffic along the Luis A. Ferre Expressway–the only viable route along the Caguas-San Juan corridor–is very close to gridlock.

This is a problem that can’t wait till 2020 for a solution. Regardless of which concept of the train is implemented, it had better be soon. The good news for the people of both the San Juan and Caguas metro areas is that no matter who wins the elections, the mayor will see to it that Caguas has its train.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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