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.
Thousands of customers on Wednesday flocked 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, manager of GyM Ferrovias, which operates the network.
Unlike other major regional cities such as 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 magnitude 9.0 earthquake.
The 22km trip from the working-class neighborhood of Villa El Salvador to downtown takes about 30 minutes, including stops along the way. The same trip in a vehicle usually takes two hours because of the city’s heavy traffic.
The project, which cost more than US$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 began in 1986 with a US$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 former Peruvian president Alan Garcia. Over the years, the project has been paralyzed because of a flurry of corruption charges — never confirmed — and shifting government priorities.
In the meantime, Lima’s population has ballooned from about 5 million to nearly 9 million today, and Peru’s population has risen to more than 29 million.
To solve the pressing public transportation problem, the government of former Peruvian 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.
This month, 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 they have been upgraded.
Ticketed rides begin next month and by next year the operators expect to have more trains to increase the frequency to every six minutes, he said.
Last year, French energy and transport company Alstom won a US$193 million contract to provide 19 metro trains for the transit network. The new cars are scheduled for delivery later this year.
The network’s US$600 million second stage includes a 12km stretch linking Lima’s heavily populated northern working-class districts to the downtown area.