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T&T needs commuter railway system

Rowley’s response to Howai’s $61b budget…
Monday, September 16, 2013
Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley sits after delivering his budget response in Parliament on Friday. Also in picture, left, partly hidden, Chief Whip Marlene Mc Donald, Laventille East/Morvant, and MP Donna Cox. PHOTO: MARCUS GONZALES

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley on Friday responded to Finance Minister Larry Howai’s $61.3 billion budget, which was presented last Monday. Today, we conclude the reproduction of extracts from his speaking notes, which were released by the Office of the Opposition Leader. We have absolutely no doubt that the next Government of Trinidad and Tobago will be a PNM Government and we do not seek office and then proceed to practise on stage when the lights go on. We come ready!…and we ready now!!!!



It is with this confidence that we can now begin to outline some of our policies and commitments to filled the people of Trinidad and Tobago with real hope. Despite the misguided attitude and indifference of those on the other side, many transport studies over the years have identified the need for the introduction of a commuter railway system in Trinidad, going as far back as the 1967 National Transportation Plan for Trinidad and Tobago.



More recently, 16 years ago, in 1996, a study by international consultants, Cansult, justified the need for a rapid rail system. Specialist consultants from India came to the same conclusion some years later. 


In studying traffic along our main east-west and north-south corridors, Cansult found that the number of people travelling along the East-West Corridor alone was 21,000 per hour in each direction and predicted an increase to 28,000 by 2015. However, an update by Cansult found that the traffic had increased to 30,000 people per hour by 2007. In other words, the traffic on our main roads had increased at many times the rate predicted earlier. 


Although hundreds of thousands of our citizens face the daily grind and maddening frustration of traffic log jams, every day, and face hours  in cars to and from work and school, the other side appears unaware that the international benchmark for the introduction of a mass transit system is 10,000 persons per hour.


 Further, once traffic reaches 20,000 persons per hour, it is well established that a railway is the only effective mass transit solution because buses simply can’t handle these traffic volumes, nor do roadways exist in Trinidad to accommodate the thousands of buses that would be required to move people quickly and efficiently. 


Traffic congestion is negatively affecting the country’s productivity and Trinidad and Tobago has the highest level of traffic in the region. It is a clear indication of the inability of our country’s infrastructure to meet new and growing transportation demands. Fifteen years ago, we crossed the traffic threshold for the introduction of a railway, and five years ago we had gone past this threshold by 50 per cent.


It is even worse now, and it is reasonable to conclude that in 2013 that we have more than twice the volume of traffic at which any sensible country would seek to implement a mass transit system. Somebody on the other side must tell the parents and children who wake up at weird hours all over the country to face, twice daily, the certain traffic jams in an ever tightening gridlock on virtually every route, the day  or year when this problem will come to an end. 


In June 2008, a contract was awarded to the Trinitrain Consortium for the first phase of a project to design and construct a rail system for Trinidad. Phase 1 involved planning, identification of feasible alternatives, conceptual design and preliminary engineering of the preferred solution. Phase 2 of the project involved detailed design and construction and the final phase involved commissioning and operation of the system.


The cost of Phase 1, the engineering phase, was approximately TT$500 million, with the final cost of the railway project, when fully implemented, estimated at approximately TT$10 billion. To put these costs into perspective, the cost for planning and engineering of our critically needed railway project was five per cent of the cost of construction, well within the international benchmark of ten per cent for similar projects. 


Compare this to the cost of consultancy fees and other non-construction costs for the billion-dollar Couva Hospital, now being implemented by the present Government, which, at almost $500 million, are estimated at almost 50 per cent of the construction cost of that project, or ten times the percentage for engineering work on the proposed railway project. Similar outrageous non-construction costs are expected for the dubious Penal Hospital project, earmarked to be given on a platter without tender to the infamous SNC-Lavalin company, which has been banned by the World Bank, among other scandalous contract awards by this discredited regime. 


Compare the $10 billion cost for a nationwide mass transit rail system with the $ 7.0 billion Highway which may not reach Pt Fortin from Debe. 



By May 2010, most of Phase 1 of the railway project had been completed.



The route alignment for both the east-west line from Diego Martin to Sangre Grande and the north-south line from Port of Spain to San Fernando had been selected and designed; the station locations had been identified, the preliminary design of the railway stations and depots completed; the land acquisition requirements had been established; the legal framework for the new railway authority had been prepared; the required rolling stock had been identified; the staffing and organizational structure of the railway had been  formulated; contract documentation was well advanced; the maintenance requirements for the railway had been determined, and so on.


What did the UNC Government do?  Bad mouth it and throw it out. What did they replace it with? A sneaky attempt at inviting proposals for a rail system from Port-of- Spain to Arima to give one of their friends a contract . When caught and exposed, they abandoned the idea.  What has the country achieved to solve the traffic problem so far ..zilch, nada, absolutely nothing as the problem gets worse every day.


The original project was split into segments, to allow easy implementation and to spread the cost over several  years. All this hapless Government had to do was to properly invite tenders for the detailed design and construction of the initial railway segments, and to move full speed ahead. If they had done so, by now, the initial east-west line from Port of Spain to St Augustine and the initial north-south line to Chaguanas would have been completed by now, and thousands of commuters would be travelling to work and school in comfort on a modern rapid railway, getting to work in minutes rather than hours.


This project would have truly brought Trinidad and Tobago into the 21st century and created the stimulus for economic growth and diversification, with new commercial and industrial developments and new employment opportunities springing up to serve the new transit system. That would have been real welcomed economic growth rather than having to cheat with random numbers.


But like everything else it was a PNM initiative it had to be bad-mouthed, lied about and discarded in the same way they did with the OPVs, Sautt, and the Wallerfield Industrial Park. They almost wrecked UTT. They abandoned the railway project and wasted all of the important pre-construction and planning work that had been done. They wasted 3 years blaming the PNM for every evil under the sun, whilst twiddling their thumbs. They have proposed no viable alternative solution to our traffic and transportation woes. 


After all, if the present Government could spend billions of dollars in the Prime Minister’s constituency and elsewhere on every manner of grandiose and unnecessary mega project, designed primarily to benefit friends and family, we can certainly do better by implementing a much-needed infrastructure project that will benefit every single person in Trinidad. 


Up on our return to office we will immediately approach the IDB for a review of the current situation; all existing data and engineering work done to date. Once the word is a go, then the PNM commits to giving the highest priority to building a mass transportation rail system to feature service on a backbone from Diego Martin to Sangre Grande with a southern component to La Romaine. 


We will seek to obtain IDB long-term concesionary funding to finance this project which will positively change the face and circumstances of Trinidad and Tobago for the next century. The PNM, the party of development of this country, will once again shoulder the responsibility for developing this country and its people. 



We eagerly look forward also to the many economic benefits of the high local input into the building of the route ways over a period of several years and the phased reduction of the intractable billion dollar fuel subsidy  on completion. 


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