miércoles, 24 de junio de 2015

PPP Light Rail betweeen La Serena and Coquimbo

The two neighbor cities of Coquimbo and La Serena conform one of the main metropolitan centers in Chile. They are both separated by 22km (14 miles) and they have a combined population of more than 400 thousands habitants.

Many people work in one city but live in the other, or in the many populated areas along those more than 20 kilometers, and they are connected by just 2 roads: a main road and the coastal road.
There are about 500.000 daily travels between both cities, what causes that the main road has a lot of congestion most of the day. In addition, the public transportation in both cities consists in small buses and “taxis colectivos” (they are like shared taxis, cars with a capacity of four people and fixed tours).

A few months ago was presented to the Ministry of Public Works, as an unsolicited proposal, a PPP project consisting in building a light rail between the two cities. This intends to improve the public transportation between these cities, by using modern and comfortable equipment, that is fast and doesn´t cause pollution. This project has been commented in TV, newspapers and other media, as you can see herehere or here, just to show just a few examples.

The project will use a strip of land that is already used by a cargo train, adding two rails to the existent one. By doing this, it won´t interfere with cars, won´t cause more congestion in the roads and actually will relieve it, because it will allow buses and “taxis colectivos” to work as feeders for this new system.

Another benefit of the project, a very relevant one, is that it will connect a neighborhood called “Las Companias”, located north of La Serena, with the rest of the city and the city of Coquimbo. Las Companias is a residential area, densely populated by low income population and that is separated from the rest of the city by the Elqui river (as can be seen in the next picture). It has a bridge that connects both sides of the river, but it is heavily congested during peak hours. Since a train bridge already exists (and is only used by a cargo train that crosses it only twice a day), this project will take advantage of that and will provide a faster and better connection using available resources.

This project is also interesting because it will be the first public transportation system built under the PPP mechanism in the country (you can see all the projects here) . Chile has a lot of experience in PPPs (despite being not being a developed country, is classified under this category in terms of their PPP by the World Bank, as can be seen in the Infrascope index  2014 and in the PPP Knowledge Bank website). The country has PPPs in urban roads, highways, ports, airports, public buildings and other infrastructure. It also has public transportation public operators, but this project (along with a cable car under study) will be the first one that will be composed by both operation and infrastructure.

The PPP project will provide a fast and reliable public transportation as its main service, but it also contemplates the building of car parking and intermodal station, as well as bicycle parking, so it can be easily accessed by people who want to combine this light train with other transportation alternatives.

Maybe you are wondering why this has to be handled by a private corporation, considering that similar alternatives, like trains and subways in different parts of the country are state owned and they work well.

As I mentioned before, this project was an unsolicited proposal, that is, the idea of making this train came from a private company, and not from the state. Additionally, under this mechanism all the feasibility studies will be developed by this company, so we can be sure that they will work hard in order to get the best possible project. It also needs to be taken under consideration that this will be the first light train in Chile, so we don’t have engineers and other specialist with significant experience in the field. The company that presented the idea has a lot of experience as well as experts that will make sure that this will be built with the best possible design, top quality equipment and this will result in an efficient project that will make people´s life better, and it will probably show to other cities of the country the benefits of this type of public transportation.