Panama’s New Metro- They Said it Couldn’t be Done

Here is the new Metro as it started its maiden voyage. Image thanks to La Estrella

Here is the new Metro as it started its maiden voyage. Image thanks to La Estrella

Panama’s newly inaugurated Metro made its maiden run last Thursday, November 14, 2013. Line 1 (Linea Uno) made its first run starting from Plaza Cinco de Mayo in the heart of Panama City’s Calidonia District and ended in the Los Andes District in San Miguelito. With Panama’s President, Ricardo Martinelli, beaming a large grin sitting in the conductor’s cockpit, the well attended event had a jubilant and festive air. The President wasn’t alone by any means as his VIP entourage knew they were part of Panama’s history in the making.

Jubilation ran high as the train’s first alert whistle sounded the closing of the doors and the beginning of the journey. The President’s ministers and a few legislators sat down with small Panamanian flags in their hands awaiting anxiuosly for their train to depart.

Riding the three cars to make this initial voyage were the president and his specially invited guests. In the first car rode expresident Mireya Moscoso, the PRD Director, Tomás “Fito” Duque, José Domingo Arias, the official candidate for the CD Party, Esteban Rodríguez, an independent presidential candidate and Roberto Roy, the secretary of El Metro. Also included in the first car passenger list were Roxana Méndez, Panama City’s mayor, and official cabinet members and deputies. The second car contained selected members of the Press both local and official and in the third and last car were seated other guests.

The train ride lasted 23 minutes and it was hosted by the President himself who announced every one of the 13 stations along the way. We are approaching the Lottery Station, “Estamos llegando a la estación de la Lotería”, said the President using the speaker system on board, while his guest passengers applauded every announcement.

The most exciting moment for the passengers, however, was when Martinelli communicated to them the moment in which they would enter the elevated part of the run, “el tramo aéreo.” The cel phones and cameras were immediately brought ou to focus on the passing scenery through the brand new windows of the train car. It was a new and unforgettable experience for any Panamanian and it had to be captured in image.

The Cost

If there is one recurring issue that President Martinelli’s administration has been criticised for is the cost of this and the other bold and daring mega projects which have highlighted it. The Metro of Panama was once projected at a cost of US$1,400 million, but actually it has climbed to closer to $US$2,000 million, including cost overruns; this translates to US$130 million per kilometer.

Countries like Brazil and the Republic of Taiwan offered Panama loans to fully carry out this enormous project. The entire project was backed by the International Development Bank (BID) and the CAD (Corporación Andina de Fomento).

Having been a passenger on many subway and metro lines all over the world, including Japan, Mexico, New York City and San Francisco, California, I must say that it was good to hear that Panama has finally entered into the modern world of mass transit. I tip my hat to Mr. Martinelli’s administration.

My concern, however, as it is the concern of most Panamanian people who will be the ultimate users of this rail system, is, “How much will it cost us, the passengers?” The cost to the users has been shrouded in uncertainty and speculation. Some say it will be US$2.50 per ride and others, especially the President’s political detractors, say it will be much more. Then, there is the entire issue of the subsidizing of the fare by the government and for how long. In any event, it will be interesting to see if the upkeep, maintenance, security and continuing upgrading of the Metro, once it is completely put into operation, will be carried out as has been planned.

Anchor article used in the article was taken from: http://www.laestrella.com.pa/online/noticias/2013/11/14/ultima-prueba-del-metro-recorrido-183244.asp

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