Puerto Rico – Rich in Culture, Rich in History

Tren Urbano (Urban Train)

His­tory

From Wikipedia

Tren Urbano

Tren Urbano

Tramway in front of City Hall in Plaza de Armas, Old  San Juan  (circa 1902)

In the late 19th cen­tury while the island was under Span­ish rule, regional rail sys­tems were begun in Puerto Rico. The rail­road con­tin­ued to be in use under US rule for most of the first half of the 20th cen­tury and played a key role in the trans­porta­tion of peo­ple and goods through­out the island. The rail­road sys­tems of the period also played a vital role in the sug­ar­cane industry.

From 1901 to 1946 San Juan had a street Tramway  net­work known as “Trolly” de San Juan  oper­ated by the Porto Rico Rail­way, Light and Power Com­pany  with more than 20 miles (32 km) of tracks and ran between San Juan and San­turce. Dur­ing its hey­day, it was the most mod­ern elec­tric street­car sys­tem in Puerto Rico, rival­ing New York and Toronto and trans­ported nearly 10 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. Today there are plans to bring back the tram to the heart of San Juan to com­ple­ment the Tren Urbano.

Dur­ing the 1950s, an indus­trial boom, due in part to devel­op­ment pro­grams such as Oper­a­tion Boot­strap, led to the down­fall of agri­cul­ture as the prin­ci­pal indus­try on the island. Dur­ing this decade auto­mo­biles became more widely avail­able. Newer, and more effi­cient roads and high­ways along with the clo­sure of sug­ar­cane mills dis­placed the need for rail trans­porta­tion. It was not long that it was real­ized that an alter­na­tive means of mass trans­porta­tion  was needed in addi­tion to the pub­lic bus sys­tem to alle­vi­ate the severe traf­fic sit­u­a­tion that was being cre­ated, espe­cially in the San Juan  met­ro­pol­i­tan area.

Return of rail transit

Pro­pos­als

In 1967, pro­pos­als were made for the con­struc­tion of a rapid rail tran­sit sys­tem to serve the city of San Juan. It was not until 1989 that Puerto Rico’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works (Depar­ta­mento de Trans­portación y Obras Públi­cas or DTOP in Span­ish) offi­cially pro­posed the con­struc­tion of a new rail sys­tem. The train sys­tem was dubbed the “Tren Urbano”, Span­ish for “Urban Train” or “City Train”. In 1993, the Fed­eral Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tion  (FTA) selected the Tren Urbano as one of the Turnkey Demon­stra­tion Projects under the Inter­modal  Sur­face Trans­porta­tion Effi­ciency Act of 1991. Dur­ing 1996 and 1997, seven design-build con­tracts were awarded for dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the Tren Urbano Phase 1 system.

A num­ber of com­pa­nies  shared the tasks for build­ing the Tren Urbano includ­ing Siemens AG which was granted a con­ces­sion to design and build the line and its rolling stock, and to oper­ate it for the first five years. The com­pany won a con­tract which was a “first” for North Amer­ica in the scope of the work which it involved, and which was awarded in July 1996.

Con­struc­tion

The con­struc­tion project was plagued by delays, con­trac­tual dis­putes between the gov­ern­ment and com­pa­nies involved in the under­tak­ing, as well as inves­ti­ga­tions into pos­si­ble mis­man­age­ment of funds. The project cost was US $2.28 billion.

Free Ser­vice

The rail sys­tem was offi­cially inau­gu­rated on Decem­ber 19, 2004. After this date, free ser­vice was offered on week­ends until April, 2005 when week­days were added to the free ser­vice. Pop­u­lar­ity grew quickly and by the end of the free period 40,000 peo­ple were using the train on a daily basis. By late 2005, how­ever, rid­er­ship had fallen to 24,000, less than one-third of the 80,000 pro­jec­tion (and well below the pro­jec­tion of 110,000 for 2010).

Paid Ser­vice

Paid fare ser­vice started on June 6, 2005.   In 2006, aver­age week­day board­ings stood at 28,179 and in 2007, rid­er­ship decreased to 27,567.   Iron­i­cally, the Tren Urbano goes mostly through sub­ur­ban areas. Nonethe­less, by the third quar­ter of 2008 aver­age week­day rid­er­ship had increased to 36,500.   Though it was announced that effec­tive the month of March or April 2010, the fares would be reduced 50%.  Fare was reduced from $1.50 to cur­rent $0.75.

Issues and Concerns

There is no ser­vice to  Old San Juan, San­tu­race, the Luis Munoz Marin Inter­na­tional Air­port  (and many other parts of Guayn­abo, Bayamón, and San Juan), and the Tren Urbano doesn’t serve impor­tant sub­urbs like Cataño, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Car­olina, Tru­jillo Alto, Canó­vanas and oth­ers, which helps to explain low rid­er­ship. Some ques­tion the via­bil­ity of this sys­tem for addi­tional rea­sons, such as the lack of an island-wide public-transportation sys­tem. The inner-city, pub­lic bus trans­porta­tion system—the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Bus Author­ity (AMA) — that oper­ates in the Greater San Juan Metro Area is con­sid­ered unre­li­able by most peo­ple, and it does not have a reg­u­lar sched­ule. Inte­gra­tion with pub­lic mass tran­sit sys­tems, such as the AMA and the  Acua­ex­preso.  The use of bicy­cles as an urban mode of trans­port is grow­ing in Puerto Rico, despite the lack of proper, wide­spread bicy­cling infra­struc­ture that P.R. Law 22, Ch. XI calls for, and that is the DTOP’s respon­si­bil­ity to build. The Tren Urbano allows bicy­clists to bring their bicy­cles into the train with them as part of its ‘bici-tren’ pro­gram, but crit­ics point out that the pro­gram is not widely adver­tised to the pub­lic and requires a photo per­mit that expires one year after issuance.

Cus­tomer ser­vice cen­ters are located only at the Sagrado Corazón and Deportivo sta­tions. These are also the only two centers/stations that issue the bici-tren permit.

Rolling stock

Tren Urbano’s fleet con­sists of 74  Siemens, stain­less steel-bodied cars, each 75 feet (23 m) long. Each vehi­cle car­ries 72 seated and 108 stand­ing pas­sen­gers. Trains have a max­i­mum speed of 62 miles per hour (100 km/h), and aver­age 20.6 miles per hour (33.2 km/h) includ­ing stops. All cars oper­ate as mar­ried pairs and up to three pairs will run together at any time. Tren Urbano cur­rently oper­ates 15 trains dur­ing rush hours, while the remain­ing cars stand at the yards or serve as backup should a train expe­ri­ence problems.

Power is pro­vided by AC trac­tion motors,  cho­sen over DC as they con­tain fewer mov­ing parts and require less main­te­nance. The trains share many char­ac­ter­is­tics with the stock built by Siemens for Boston MBTA’s Blue Line route.

Air-conditioning sys­tems, have been spe­cially designed to cope with the hot, muggy con­di­tions which are the norm in San Juan.

Fares

Tren Urbano’s updated fare­card design

A sin­gle trip costs $0.75 ($0.75 if you trans­fer from an AMA Bus) includ­ing a 2 hour bus trans­fer period. If you exit the sta­tion and wish to get back on the train the full fare must be re-paid; there is no train to train trans­fer period. Stu­dents and Seniors (60–74 years old) pay 35 cents per trip. Senior cit­i­zens older than 75 and chil­dren under 6 ride for free.  Sev­eral unlim­ited passes are also available.

A stored-value multi-use fare­card may be used for travel on buses as well as on trains. The value on the card is auto­mat­i­cally deducted each time it is used. It is a sys­tem sim­i­lar to the Metro­card  sys­tem used in New York City.

Secu­rity

All Tren Urbano sta­tions are pro­tected by spe­cial­ized secu­rity units, such as pri­vate police com­pa­nies and the Tren Urbano Police of the Puerto Rico Police Depart­ment. 72 law enforce­ment offi­cers com­pose the police force of the Tren Urbano Police.   In August 2009, the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works of Puerto Rico indi­cated that he will make a Strike Force Unit spe­cial­ized in ter­ror­ist attempts and sus­pi­cious activity.

Expan­sion Plans

Car­olina Tun­nel (1 of 2) at the Río Piedras sub­way station.

The Tren Urbano poten­tial­ity with its six–car train set and a min­i­mum head­way of 90 sec­onds, would give a max­i­mum capac­ity of 40,000 pas­sen­gers per hour per direc­tion, and com­pared to the actual peak hour 8 minute head­way of 3,000 pas­sen­gers per hour per direc­tion (actual daily rid­er­ship is roughly 40,000 com­muters), the train is work­ing at 13.33 per cent capac­ity, which is well under the 110,000 rail pas­sen­gers it planned by 2010.

In addi­tion, with a fleet of 74 rail vehi­cles in the local yard to cover at least, “dou­ble” the 10.7 miles (17.2 km) sys­tem length, and with all the basic facil­i­ties and cap­i­tal equip­ment needed for the func­tion­ing in place, it is indis­pens­able that the train be extended as it was orig­i­nally intended to include higher-density areas of the cen­tral dis­trict for it to be oper­a­tionally suc­cess­ful and sustainable.

The Puerto Rico’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works (DTPW) plans include:

Phase 1A

  • Phase 1A of the project includes the exten­sion of the orig­i­nal line west­ward from the cur­rent ter­mi­nal at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) through a medium to high den­sity cor­ri­dor in two sta­tions: San Mateo to a new ter­mi­nal at Minil­las at the heart of San­turce, a dis­tance of 1,500 meters, with a pos­si­ble trans­fer from Minil­las to a future tram line from the his­toric dis­trict of Old San Juan to the Luis Muñoz Marín Inter­na­tional Air­port. Phase 1A was approved by the United States Envi­ro­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.
  • By the end of fis­cal 2008, the leg­is­la­ture iden­ti­fied fed­eral funds for the expan­sion of the train in its sec­ond phase. It was expected that dur­ing fis­cal year 2009 the leg­is­la­ture would begin to issue bonds for this purpose.

Phase 2

  • Upon open­ing of the Tren Urbano, there were fur­ther pro­pos­als to extend the rail sys­tem to other munic­i­pal­i­ties such as Car­olina. A two-way tun­nel, 136 ft (42 meters) in length, south of the Río Piedras Sta­tion is already built for a future expan­sion along heav­ily tran­sited 65th Infantry Avenue.
  • On 2012, the gov­ern­ment informed they had no plans to expand the Tren Urbano in the future, and that they were mov­ing to other alter­na­tives to help alle­vi­ate traffic.

Medium capac­ity tran­sit system

  • In addi­tion, the DTPW plans to build TU Conex­ión, a medium capac­ity tran­sit sys­tem that will go into ser­vice along Roo­sevelt Avenue by 2002, link­ing the De Diego, Domenech, and Hato Rey Cen­tro sta­tions of Tren Urbano with the Plaza Las Améri­cas shop­ping mall.

Other projects

There are sev­eral projects to improve pub­lic trans­port connectivity:

  • Also being con­sid­ered (2008) is a tramway from Sagrado Corazón sta­tion to colo­nial Old San Juan in Puerta de Tierra where many of Puerto Rico’s state gov­ern­ment build­ings are located. It will run par­tially on an exist­ing right-of-way on Fer­nán­dez Jun­cos Ave.  Con­struc­tion was orig­i­nally pro­jected to start in 2009, but the For­tuño admin­is­tra­tion is explor­ing other financ­ing options, such as the Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act of 2009.  The first line of the tramway will be built by the Munic­i­pal­ity of San Juan (MSJ) and will be known as the Sis­tema de Asis­ten­cia, Trans­portación y Orga­ni­zación Urbana (Sys­tem of Assis­tance, Trans­porta­tion and Urban Orga­ni­za­tion) (SATOUR).
  • The pro­posal to build a sec­ond tram line to Car­olina, pos­si­bly with a sta­tion at the Luis Muñoz Marín Inter­na­tional Airport.
  • The exten­sion of a line to Caguas by the exist­ing Urban Train from the Cen­tro Médico o Cupey stations,
  • or a sec­ond plan for the devel­op­ment of a line to Caguas with a new “light rail” net­work sys­tem with future exten­sions through­out the island.