Last update: 19-Dec-2013 2:40 am
Thursday, December 19, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Time for rapid rail is now
Government should introduce the long deferred rapid rail service in a bid to ease the daily massive traffic congestion along the East-West corridor and between San Fernando and Port-of-Spain. In the process productivity at the work place and in the classroom will be effectively increased as workers, supervisors and managers as well as schoolchildren and teachers will be better positioned to get to work and the classroom, not only early but without the stress triggered by being caught up in hours-long traffic jams.
Rapid rail trains with accommodation for 600 or more passengers will be able to travel, for example, from Arima and San Fernando for Port-of-Spain and points along the routes at regular intervals unhindered by the bother of lines of slow moving traffic. Passengers bound for industrial estates, offices, haberdashery stores and other work places as well as pupils for primary and secondary schools and students for tertiary institutions will be afforded the luxury of early arrivals.
In turn, adults, youths and schoolchildren will be able to reach home that much much earlier at the end of their work or school day. This will afford parents more time to supervise their children, including their studies. Meanwhile, there are two major pluses associated with any increase in productivity—T&T’s products will be more competitive in the domestic, regional and international market place, while better adjusted children will be positioned to optimise the educational opportunities afforded them.
In the meantime, the major physical difference between the old Trinidad Government Railways (TGR) and the proposed rapid rail, which had been under discussion for several years is that while TGR carriages were drawn by steam locomotives, electrification of a rapid rail system will be effected. What is clear is that a rapid rail service will have to be subsidised indefinitely.
But the issue of subsidised public transport is nothing new. Indeed, as early as September 4, 1961, Mr Learie Constantine (later Lord Constantine), then Minister of Communications and Works, would note in a debate in the Legislative Council on the Trinidad Government Railways and the appointment of two bus concessionaires that: “Government by its policy of exemptions had accepted the principle of subsidy”.
Despite this, however, when the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) came into being in May, 1965, the TGR which was made part of the PTSC was dismissed as the “deficit-ridden railway services”. The TGR was declared to be an anachronism and “plagued by a loss of revenue and continuing deficit it had to go.”
On December 28,1968, the last train, which was drawn by Engine 42, pulled out of the Port-of-Spain railway station on its final return journey to San Juan and back. A few persons on the railway platform danced to the tune of “Last train to San Fernando”, while others sang “Auld Lang Syne.”
Meanwhile, what is clear today, almost 45 years later, is that a rapid transit service will have to be subsidised. Nevertheless, the pluses of increased productivity in the workplace, generated by rapid rail’s assisting persons to get to work early and without stress, and thus lowering today’s production costs, will help, greatly, to offset the cost of rapid rail.
Several strategies were adopted to facilitate the travelling public, following on the closure of the rail service, including the laying down in 1978 of the Priority Bus Route on the old railway bed along the East-West corridor; the introduction of mini buses, referred to as maxi taxis, and the opening of the PBR to owner-driven private cars at specified times during the day. Unfortunately, they have not had the hoped-for impact.
Dr Eric Williams would point out in his 1979 budget speech, presented on December 1, 1978: “Thousands of persons move within the East-West corridor and on the Southern highway daily. In addition to private cars and route taxis, the burgeoning growth of the construction industry and the developments at Point Lisas and the Southern part of the country have led to a considerable increase in the number of trucks, truck-trailers and commercial vehicles which utilise the system.
“This escalation in traffic has given rise to serious problems of congestion throughout a road system which has become more inadequate to the demands which are currently being placed on it.” The situation is far worse today that it was when Dr Williams spoke of it almost 35 years ago, ten years after the phasing out of the rail service.
The time for the rapid rail service, which was being planned by the previous administration and which will see a 600-passenger train, for example, having the potential to lift as many persons as 150 four-passenger taxis and 25 24-seater maxi taxis, is now.
George F Alleyne
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