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Peru's capital gets electric train after 25 years

05 january 2012, 18:03
The electric train arrives at a station in Lima. ©REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
The electric train arrives at a station in Lima. ©REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
After a 25 year delay, Lima -- home to nearly a third of Peru's population -- is getting its first long-distance, low-cost mass public transportation system, AFP reports.

Thousands of customers flocked Wednesday to the southernmost terminal of Lima's new electric train for a free ride downtown.

The train system began "pre-operational tests" this week, said Fernando Deustua, the manager of GyM Ferrovias, which operates the network.

Unlike other major regional cities like Santiago and Buenos Aires, Lima -- one of the five most populous South American cities -- does not have a subway. Instead the electric train is designed to operate above ground, much of it on an elevated track strong enough to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

The 22-kilometer (14-mile) trip from the working-class neighborhood of Villa El Salvador to downtown takes 30 minutes, including stops along the way. The same trip in a vehicle usually takes two hours due to the city's heavy traffic.

The project, which cost more than $900 million, was built with a 45 percent investment from Brazil's Odebrecht and Peru's Grana y Montero corporations. The Peruvian state invested the rest. The project was kicked off in 1986 with a $226 million investment co-financed by Italy.

The train began operations on Tuesday, surprising city residents who for years have driven under sections of the unused elevated track.

Construction began in 1986 during the first administration of president Alan Garcia. Over the years the project was paralyzed due to a flurry of corruption charges -- never confirmed -- and shifting government priorities.

In the meantime, Lima's population ballooned from some five million to nearly nine million today, and Peru's population rose to more than 29 million.

To solve the pressing public transportation problem, the government of president Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s allowed a free system of public transportation which resulted in swarms of privately owned minivans known locally as "combis" that can carry up to 15 passengers.

The result was massive traffic gridlock and pollution woes.

For January, the system's six-car trains will operate on a limited schedule offering free rides, Deustua said. The Italian-made trains currently being used were purchased in the 1980s, but have been upgraded.

Ticketed rides begin in February, and by next year operators expect to have more trains and increase the frequency to every six minutes, he said.

In 2011 French energy and transport company Alstom won a $193 million (130 million euro) contract to provide 19 metro trains for the transit network. The new cars are scheduled for delivery in late 2012.

The network's $600 million second stage includes a 12-kilometer stretch linking Lima's heavily populated northern working-class districts to the downtown area.

Long-term plans are for the train network to have seven lines.

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