THE dream of a train from San José north to Heredia could be a reality as soon as next year, in part because of a donation of 667,000 euros ($788,000) from the European Union.
Construction on the 13-kilometer route is expected to begin in the first trimester of next year, and portions of the stretch could be up and running soon after, Miguel Carabaguíaz, executive president of the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (INCOFER), told the press this week.
The National Light and Power Company (CNFL) and INCOFER will contribute an additional $751,000 for the first phase, which involves repairing and reconstructing the preexisting route from Heredia to Universidad Latina, east of San José.
Work to clean the tracks will begin in January and includes clearing away sidewalks, walls, gardens and other private endeavors that have encroached on the tracks since they stopped being used more than a decade ago, Carabaguíaz said.
Agreements between the cooperating institutions regarding the first phase must still be finalized and approved by the Comptroller General’s Office.
The second phase involves making the train electric and will require an investment of 2.6 million euros ($3.1 million), some of which is expected to come from CNFL.
In addition, the Taiwanese government will finance the repair of a second “Apolo” train, in which the engine is part of the passenger cars. The Apolo has been out of use for nearly 10 years and is in need of repairs to its electric system, body and interior, according to INCOFER. Last month, the first Apolo train was added to the Costa Rican fleet. These trains are more comfortable for passengers and are designed for urban service, particularly short distances, requiring a smaller engine than conventional trains.
Although any estimates are preliminary, Carabaguíaz said the Heredia line could carry 1,500-2,100 people. It will operate only during rush hour, when many Heredia residents travel to San José for work. The trip by train will take approximately 35 minutes, while thousands of commuters often spend more than an hour in their cars to cover the same distance jammed with traffic, Minister of Public Works and Transport Randall Quirós said.
Before the current presidential administration ends in May, Quirós said he hopes to extend the train east to Cartago. Both Quirós and Carabaguíaz said they trust that any future administration will continue the revival of the train, which sat dormant for a decade before the resurrection in September of an initial route from Pavas, west of San José, to Universidad Latina.
The Heredia train route is one of seven projects selected as “demonstrative works” to show improved city planning as part of the Regional and Urban Planning for the Greater Metropolitan Area (PRUGAM) effort, sponsored by the European Union (TT, Aug. 12).
The Union will donate a total of 3.6 million euros ($4.3 million) to the projects, which also include a bus terminal for the municipality of Alajuela, northwest of San José; an aqueduct for Cartago, east of the capital; the cleanup of the María Aguilar river, which cuts through the metropolitan area; lighting for 20 metropolitan parks; and pedestrian boulevards in San José as part of the San José Possible plan to rejuvenate 53 blocks downtown (TT, Aug. 5).