Puerto Rico – Rich in Culture, Rich in History

Tren Urbano (Urban Train)


From Wikipedia

Tren Urbano

Tren Urbano

Tramway in front of City Hall in Plaza de Armas, Old  San Juan  (circa 1902)

In the late 19th cen­tury while the island was under Span­ish rule, regional rail sys­tems were begun in Puerto Rico. The rail­road con­tin­ued to be in use under US rule for most of the first half of the 20th cen­tury and played a key role in the trans­porta­tion of peo­ple and goods through­out the island. The rail­road sys­tems of the period also played a vital role in the sug­ar­cane industry.

From 1901 to 1946 San Juan had a street Tramway  net­work known as “Trolly” de San Juan  oper­ated by the Porto Rico Rail­way, Light and Power Com­pany  with more than 20 miles (32 km) of tracks and ran between San Juan and San­turce. Dur­ing its hey­day, it was the most mod­ern elec­tric street­car sys­tem in Puerto Rico, rival­ing New York and Toronto and trans­ported nearly 10 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. Today there are plans to bring back the tram to the heart of San Juan to com­ple­ment the Tren Urbano.

Dur­ing the 1950s, an indus­trial boom, due in part to devel­op­ment pro­grams such as Oper­a­tion Boot­strap, led to the down­fall of agri­cul­ture as the prin­ci­pal indus­try on the island. Dur­ing this decade auto­mo­biles became more widely avail­able. Newer, and more effi­cient roads and high­ways along with the clo­sure of sug­ar­cane mills dis­placed the need for rail trans­porta­tion. It was not long that it was real­ized that an alter­na­tive means of mass trans­porta­tion  was needed in addi­tion to the pub­lic bus sys­tem to alle­vi­ate the severe traf­fic sit­u­a­tion that was being cre­ated, espe­cially in the San Juan  met­ro­pol­i­tan area.

Return of rail transit


In 1967, pro­pos­als were made for the con­struc­tion of a rapid rail tran­sit sys­tem to serve the city of San Juan. It was not until 1989 that Puerto Rico’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works (Depar­ta­mento de Trans­portación y Obras Públi­cas or DTOP in Span­ish) offi­cially pro­posed the con­struc­tion of a new rail sys­tem. The train sys­tem was dubbed the “Tren Urbano”, Span­ish for “Urban Train” or “City Train”. In 1993, the Fed­eral Tran­sit Admin­is­tra­tion  (FTA) selected the Tren Urbano as one of the Turnkey Demon­stra­tion Projects under the Inter­modal  Sur­face Trans­porta­tion Effi­ciency Act of 1991. Dur­ing 1996 and 1997, seven design-build con­tracts were awarded for dif­fer­ent seg­ments of the Tren Urbano Phase 1 system.

A num­ber of com­pa­nies  shared the tasks for build­ing the Tren Urbano includ­ing Siemens AG which was granted a con­ces­sion to design and build the line and its rolling stock, and to oper­ate it for the first five years. The com­pany won a con­tract which was a “first” for North Amer­ica in the scope of the work which it involved, and which was awarded in July 1996.


The con­struc­tion project was plagued by delays, con­trac­tual dis­putes between the gov­ern­ment and com­pa­nies involved in the under­tak­ing, as well as inves­ti­ga­tions into pos­si­ble mis­man­age­ment of funds. The project cost was US $2.28 billion.

Free Ser­vice

The rail sys­tem was offi­cially inau­gu­rated on Decem­ber 19, 2004. After this date, free ser­vice was offered on week­ends until April, 2005 when week­days were added to the free ser­vice. Pop­u­lar­ity grew quickly and by the end of the free period 40,000 peo­ple were using the train on a daily basis. By late 2005, how­ever, rid­er­ship had fallen to 24,000, less than one-third of the 80,000 pro­jec­tion (and well below the pro­jec­tion of 110,000 for 2010).

Paid Ser­vice

Paid fare ser­vice started on June 6, 2005.   In 2006, aver­age week­day board­ings stood at 28,179 and in 2007, rid­er­ship decreased to 27,567.   Iron­i­cally, the Tren Urbano goes mostly through sub­ur­ban areas. Nonethe­less, by the third quar­ter of 2008 aver­age week­day rid­er­ship had increased to 36,500.   Though it was announced that effec­tive the month of March or April 2010, the fares would be reduced 50%.  Fare was reduced from $1.50 to cur­rent $0.75.

Issues and Concerns

There is no ser­vice to  Old San Juan, San­tu­race, the Luis Munoz Marin Inter­na­tional Air­port  (and many other parts of Guayn­abo, Bayamón, and San Juan), and the Tren Urbano doesn’t serve impor­tant sub­urbs like Cataño, Toa Baja, Toa Alta, Car­olina, Tru­jillo Alto, Canó­vanas and oth­ers, which helps to explain low rid­er­ship. Some ques­tion the via­bil­ity of this sys­tem for addi­tional rea­sons, such as the lack of an island-wide public-transportation sys­tem. The inner-city, pub­lic bus trans­porta­tion system—the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Bus Author­ity (AMA) — that oper­ates in the Greater San Juan Metro Area is con­sid­ered unre­li­able by most peo­ple, and it does not have a reg­u­lar sched­ule. Inte­gra­tion with pub­lic mass tran­sit sys­tems, such as the AMA and the  Acua­ex­preso.  The use of bicy­cles as an urban mode of trans­port is grow­ing in Puerto Rico, despite the lack of proper, wide­spread bicy­cling infra­struc­ture that P.R. Law 22, Ch. XI calls for, and that is the DTOP’s respon­si­bil­ity to build. The Tren Urbano allows bicy­clists to bring their bicy­cles into the train with them as part of its ‘bici-tren’ pro­gram, but crit­ics point out that the pro­gram is not widely adver­tised to the pub­lic and requires a photo per­mit that expires one year after issuance.

Cus­tomer ser­vice cen­ters are located only at the Sagrado Corazón and Deportivo sta­tions. These are also the only two centers/stations that issue the bici-tren permit.

Rolling stock

Tren Urbano’s fleet con­sists of 74  Siemens, stain­less steel-bodied cars, each 75 feet (23 m) long. Each vehi­cle car­ries 72 seated and 108 stand­ing pas­sen­gers. Trains have a max­i­mum speed of 62 miles per hour (100 km/h), and aver­age 20.6 miles per hour (33.2 km/h) includ­ing stops. All cars oper­ate as mar­ried pairs and up to three pairs will run together at any time. Tren Urbano cur­rently oper­ates 15 trains dur­ing rush hours, while the remain­ing cars stand at the yards or serve as backup should a train expe­ri­ence problems.

Power is pro­vided by AC trac­tion motors,  cho­sen over DC as they con­tain fewer mov­ing parts and require less main­te­nance. The trains share many char­ac­ter­is­tics with the stock built by Siemens for Boston MBTA’s Blue Line route.

Air-conditioning sys­tems, have been spe­cially designed to cope with the hot, muggy con­di­tions which are the norm in San Juan.


Tren Urbano’s updated fare­card design

A sin­gle trip costs $0.75 ($0.75 if you trans­fer from an AMA Bus) includ­ing a 2 hour bus trans­fer period. If you exit the sta­tion and wish to get back on the train the full fare must be re-paid; there is no train to train trans­fer period. Stu­dents and Seniors (60–74 years old) pay 35 cents per trip. Senior cit­i­zens older than 75 and chil­dren under 6 ride for free.  Sev­eral unlim­ited passes are also available.

A stored-value multi-use fare­card may be used for travel on buses as well as on trains. The value on the card is auto­mat­i­cally deducted each time it is used. It is a sys­tem sim­i­lar to the Metro­card  sys­tem used in New York City.


All Tren Urbano sta­tions are pro­tected by spe­cial­ized secu­rity units, such as pri­vate police com­pa­nies and the Tren Urbano Police of the Puerto Rico Police Depart­ment. 72 law enforce­ment offi­cers com­pose the police force of the Tren Urbano Police.   In August 2009, the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works of Puerto Rico indi­cated that he will make a Strike Force Unit spe­cial­ized in ter­ror­ist attempts and sus­pi­cious activity.

Expan­sion Plans

Car­olina Tun­nel (1 of 2) at the Río Piedras sub­way station.

The Tren Urbano poten­tial­ity with its six–car train set and a min­i­mum head­way of 90 sec­onds, would give a max­i­mum capac­ity of 40,000 pas­sen­gers per hour per direc­tion, and com­pared to the actual peak hour 8 minute head­way of 3,000 pas­sen­gers per hour per direc­tion (actual daily rid­er­ship is roughly 40,000 com­muters), the train is work­ing at 13.33 per cent capac­ity, which is well under the 110,000 rail pas­sen­gers it planned by 2010.

In addi­tion, with a fleet of 74 rail vehi­cles in the local yard to cover at least, “dou­ble” the 10.7 miles (17.2 km) sys­tem length, and with all the basic facil­i­ties and cap­i­tal equip­ment needed for the func­tion­ing in place, it is indis­pens­able that the train be extended as it was orig­i­nally intended to include higher-density areas of the cen­tral dis­trict for it to be oper­a­tionally suc­cess­ful and sustainable.

The Puerto Rico’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and Pub­lic Works (DTPW) plans include:

Phase 1A

  • Phase 1A of the project includes the exten­sion of the orig­i­nal line west­ward from the cur­rent ter­mi­nal at Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) through a medium to high den­sity cor­ri­dor in two sta­tions: San Mateo to a new ter­mi­nal at Minil­las at the heart of San­turce, a dis­tance of 1,500 meters, with a pos­si­ble trans­fer from Minil­las to a future tram line from the his­toric dis­trict of Old San Juan to the Luis Muñoz Marín Inter­na­tional Air­port. Phase 1A was approved by the United States Envi­ro­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.
  • By the end of fis­cal 2008, the leg­is­la­ture iden­ti­fied fed­eral funds for the expan­sion of the train in its sec­ond phase. It was expected that dur­ing fis­cal year 2009 the leg­is­la­ture would begin to issue bonds for this purpose.

Phase 2

  • Upon open­ing of the Tren Urbano, there were fur­ther pro­pos­als to extend the rail sys­tem to other munic­i­pal­i­ties such as Car­olina. A two-way tun­nel, 136 ft (42 meters) in length, south of the Río Piedras Sta­tion is already built for a future expan­sion along heav­ily tran­sited 65th Infantry Avenue.
  • On 2012, the gov­ern­ment informed they had no plans to expand the Tren Urbano in the future, and that they were mov­ing to other alter­na­tives to help alle­vi­ate traffic.

Medium capac­ity tran­sit system

  • In addi­tion, the DTPW plans to build TU Conex­ión, a medium capac­ity tran­sit sys­tem that will go into ser­vice along Roo­sevelt Avenue by 2002, link­ing the De Diego, Domenech, and Hato Rey Cen­tro sta­tions of Tren Urbano with the Plaza Las Améri­cas shop­ping mall.

Other projects

There are sev­eral projects to improve pub­lic trans­port connectivity:

  • Also being con­sid­ered (2008) is a tramway from Sagrado Corazón sta­tion to colo­nial Old San Juan in Puerta de Tierra where many of Puerto Rico’s state gov­ern­ment build­ings are located. It will run par­tially on an exist­ing right-of-way on Fer­nán­dez Jun­cos Ave.  Con­struc­tion was orig­i­nally pro­jected to start in 2009, but the For­tuño admin­is­tra­tion is explor­ing other financ­ing options, such as the Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act of 2009.  The first line of the tramway will be built by the Munic­i­pal­ity of San Juan (MSJ) and will be known as the Sis­tema de Asis­ten­cia, Trans­portación y Orga­ni­zación Urbana (Sys­tem of Assis­tance, Trans­porta­tion and Urban Orga­ni­za­tion) (SATOUR).
  • The pro­posal to build a sec­ond tram line to Car­olina, pos­si­bly with a sta­tion at the Luis Muñoz Marín Inter­na­tional Airport.
  • The exten­sion of a line to Caguas by the exist­ing Urban Train from the Cen­tro Médico o Cupey stations,
  • or a sec­ond plan for the devel­op­ment of a line to Caguas with a new “light rail” net­work sys­tem with future exten­sions through­out the island.