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Passenger Train Whistles Back into San José

October 14, 2005

A blast from the past came whistling through San José Oct. 7, picking up Costa Ricans, foreigners, and even President Abel Pacheco for a ride down memory lane – or memory tracks, as the case may be.After ten years of retirement, the diesel train as a form of public transportation is back, at least between eastern and western San José. Its first run was last Friday morning, free for all who wished to climb aboard. Among the passengers was the President, who rode from Universidad Latina in San Pedro, just east of the capital, to the Pacific Station in southern San José. The train’s route ends in Pavas, in western San José.Before the train’s arrival, Pacheco encouraged Costa Ricans to take advantage of the locomotive in an inaugural act alongside the train tracks at Universidad Latina.“Today is a truly good day for all Costa Ricans,” Pacheco said. “I invite all Costa Ricans to use the train. It is a nice experience, an economical experience and an experience that favors the environment.”PACHECO added that the current route is only the beginning.“We would have wanted to do it all at once, from coast to coast, from port to port, as it used to be… and we will get there, but we have to start slowly because of our economic situation, because there is no tax plan and there is no money to do all of this,” Pacheco said, referring to the stalled tax reform bill that he has been pushing for the last three years.In the short term, he said, the train could be extended into Heredia, Alajuela and Cartago – north, northwest and east of the capital, respectively. It once carried passengers from coast to coast, but a 1991 earthquake destroyed 80 kilometers of track, ending the linkage between coasts; in 1995, then-President José María Figueres closed the tracks to everything except limited grain transport (TT, Aug. 19).As the diesel locomotive pulled up to the Universidad Latina, passengers who had boarded at earlier stops cheered and banged on the windows at the sight of the President, who was then cajoled into the passenger car adjoining his where he greeted and shook hands with overjoyed citizens.AS the train rolled through San José, the sound brought curious onlookers, some still in their bathrobes, out of their homes or to a stop in their morning routines, to watch as it went by.At Pacific Station, where Pacheco got off, second- and third-graders from Escuela Omar Dengo in San José stood in school uniform in straight lines leading from the doorway into the station lobby. As Pacheco entered the gauntlet of children, they sang “Ciudadanos de Mañana” (“Citizens of Tomorrow”), accompanied by a teacher playing guitar.The train will run on a limited schedule (right) until the end of the month; when final repairs and construction projects are completed, the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (INCOFER) expects to begin more frequent runs. See future editions of The Tico Times or our online Daily Page at ticotimes.net for updates on the schedule.

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