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Introduce Rapid Rail

GEORGE ALLEYNE Wednesday, November 7 2012

Government should seriously consider the introduction of the long delayed rapid transit system in a bid to get workers to and from their places of employment on time, as well as position schoolchildren to reach their schools and, ipso facto, their classrooms early.

In the process, the rapid transit system, operating along the route of the old railway bed between Port-of-Spain and Arima and Curepe and San Fernando, would effectively reduce, if not eliminate, traffic congestion on the nationís roads. Rail cars, each seating either 600 or 800 persons should be used. This would mean that a 600-passenger train, for example, would be able to accommodate as many persons as 120 five-seater cars, the principal difference being that the rail car passengers would be riding in relatively greater comfort without the humbug of traffic congestion or, all too often, exposed to a build up of exhaust fumes.

Meanwhile, in a bid to market rapid transit to as many owners of private cars as possible, Government, through the relevant ministry, would need to lay out lots with ample parking space at strategic points, including at the start of and alongside the East-West corridor train route and the San Fernando to Curepe/Port-of-Spain lines so that private car owners/operators would be able to park their vehicles, for a nominal fee and ride the trains.

What is of critical import is that the rapid transit operation would provide a needed comfortable and practical alternative to both private cars and conventional taxis operating parallel to either of the rapid transit routes. As an added plus, rapid transit would offer a far greater degree of safety to many school girls and young women today, some of whom have fallen prey to a handful of PH drivers or persons posing as PH drivers.

For the proposed rapid transit system to be a success, it will have to operate reliable schedules. Although rapid rail will be operated by the State, or to be more precise by a State enterprise, it should and must be run as though by private enterprise.

There should be the minimum of ministerial, or to be blunt, political interference. Frequency of service and locating of route stops should be free of political input.

Government, even prior to implementing rapid transit, should revisit a relatively recent policy decision, which allows for the import of foreign second hand cars up to the age of six years, in a bid to reduce the nationís vehicle population. The maximum age for entry of these foreign second-hand cars should revert to four years.

The landed six-year-old foreign used cars, whether employed as private cars or taxis, by adding to vehicle density, take up valuable road space and confer on Trinidad and Tobago the dubious distinction of being one of the countries in the Americas with the highest ratio of cars to people. This apart from their adding to traffic congestion and consuming countless gallons of premium and regular gasolene.

A great difference between the introduction of rapid transit and the old railway service, which was abandoned on December 28, 1968, is that while the rapid transit system will be for passengers only, the former rail system was begun for the transporting of sugar cane and later, in 1874, was employed to embrace passengers.

While, because of the huge cost which would be involved should Government decide on introducing rapid transit, the fares would, undoubtedly, be higher than todayís current bus fares charged by the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) for comparable distances.

Despite this the service will need to be subsidised. Nevertheless, in spite of this, the return on any rapid transit investment by Government will be higher than that of any other State investment in a public utility.

The benefits will be increased productivity, as noted earlier, both in the work place and in the classroom. And although it will be difficult to quantify classroom benefits, nonetheless they will be represented in better examination results, as students arriving at classes early and home at a reasonable time after school is dismissed will be better positioned to absorb what their teachers have to offer as well as to commit themselves to studies at home.

Worker productivity, also noted earlier, will rise as employees arrive on the job well on time and without stress. Not only will their employers gain through increased profits as a result of the men and women being able to give a full dayís work, but Corporation taxes will be greater. Additionally, because of the above there will be an on time, better equipped, better trained workforce, which along with Trinidad and Tobagoís geographic position, will be more likely to secure new and expanded investment.

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