San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Spanish Trains Coming ’Round the Bend

The stretch of train tracks between San José and Heredia to the north is lined with broken beer bottles and empty plastic bags. For the more than a decade, the corridor has been used more as a pedestrian shortcut than an efficient travel route.

But in a few short weeks, commuters might have the opportunity to ride the rails again. “That’s lovely,” said Karina Zamora, from San José, when she heard the news. “Too many years have passed since that train was last in service.”

Zamora, 32, has fond memories of riding the train to Heredia when it was last in service 14 years ago.

“It was great for the country,” she said. “I don’t know why it has been so long.” Eight white cars with yellow and blue stripes that will make up the Heredia-San José train line are en route by cargo ship from Spain.

The rails for the train are under repair, and Miguel Carabaguíaz, executive director of the Costa Rican Railroad Institute (INCOFER), said they should be ready when the train cars arrive. Carabaguíaz expects the arrival of the cars in early April but couldn’t give a specific date.

“We are almost done with the work on the lines,” Carabaguíaz said. “I don’t know the date, but service should start in mid-April.”

Because only one continuous rail exists, INCOFER is laying several short tracks in various locations next to the current equipment in order to create a two-way rail.

These short rails will serve as a “double pass” and will allow enough room for a train leaving San José to pull over and let the entering train pass, and vice versa.

One ride on the long-awaited Heredia train will cost ¢360 ($0.64), Carabaguíaz said, and will take approximately 30 minutes during rush hour and 20 minutes if the train runs without making stops.

There will be seven stops between Heredia and San José.

The Heredia metropolitan train quit running in 1995 because of damaged tracks and outdated equipment, according to Carabaguíaz. The general plan to restore the train system in the metropolitan area began in 2005, according to Carabaguíaz, when the government announced the first of the passenger trains with service between Pavas in Western San José and the Universidad Latina on the other side of the capital.

The government delayed the decision to overhaul the train system because of financial problems, Carabaguíaz said. Although some think that the government had forgotten about project, Carabaguíaz said the rehabilitation has always been a priority.

“It’s always been important,” he said. “In the last several years there hasn’t been a political decision to rehabilitate the train, but now we have the resources.”

The Heredia-San José line is a government initiative that began in 2008.

The Heredia-San José project will cost around $3.8 million. This money includes the funds to rehabilitate the rails that already exist between San José and Heredia and install the double pass.

The most recent development is the anticipated arrival of the Heredia train, but Carabaguíaz said the planning won’t stop there.

In addition to the $3.8 million for the Heredia-San Jose train, INCOFER has hired Engevix Egenharia, a Brazilian consulting firm that specializes in railways.

The firm will conduct a study to determine the feasibility and costs of installing an electric train between Heredia and San José since the Spanish trains will operate on diesel power.

INCOFER is also working with a Spanish company, Iberinsa Ineco, to determine the potential of developing a cargo train that would carry freight into San José from the coasts. Carabaguíaz said this study will also establish whether or not these rails could carry passengers as well.

This particular study started Feb. 1 and will last until August. The company will present the first phase of the study in mid-April that assess conditions and necessities of the tracks between Cartago, east of San José and Caldera, south of Puntarenas.

Although it is too soon to know whether the electric train is a real possibility, many Costa Rican citizens feel the environmentally friendly method it is the right way to go.

“It would be much better than what we have now,” said Kattia Zúñiga who takes the bus to work everyday. “The buses pollute too much, and it makes the city dirty.”


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