Work began Wednesday to clear the rail right-of-way from Curridabat to Cartago so that passenger service can resume.
The rail line is overgrown with weeds, trees, dirt and the occasional structure. Once cleared, workers for the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles will rip up the old rails and cross ties and install everything new. The institute has had plenty of experience trying to make do with the old line. The initial runs by trains from San José to Heredia were on tracks patched together. That is why a train carrying then-president Óscar Arias Sánchez derailed.
So the institute replaced all the wooden cross ties with concrete, installed new rails and mountains of gravel. There have been no derailments since.
The valley line now runs from Belén, where the institute will be installing a second station, to Curridabat. The 23.5 kilometers (about 14.5 miles) is being rehabilitated with the help of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes. The work will be in four phases, and the first stage will be from Freses to Cipreses de Curridabat.
Then the way will be repaired from Cipreses to Tres Ríos and then from there to Ochomogo. The last sections will be between Ochomogo and Vicesa and from there to Cartago. The whole project is a $6 million job, said the institute.
Workers have to install drainage systems and culverts to protect the rail line and replace about 35,000 cross ties. They also have to install the ballast stones and repair bridges.
Cartago has not had train service for 15 years, but last Costa Rican independence day President Laura Chinchilla promised residents there that the train would run again.
Officials hope to have the right-of-way prepared by September, but because there are private structures intruding on the public property, there is a chance that lengthy eviction proceedings might take place.
Train service will be a boon for commuters. Many now take cars or buses from as far away as Turrialba each day to work in the metro area. Officials hope that train service will reduce air pollution, too. Eventually they hope to electrify the entire line, but there is no money to do that now. Diesel engines pull the cars now.
The institute also has plans to bring rail service to Alajuela.
The rails now connect Caldera on the Pacific coast with the metro area, but passenger service is limited to some weekend tourism trips. Eventually rail planners want to push further east to Turrialba and beyond to join with an existing line in the province of Limón. That will give coast-to-coast coverage for cargo shipments and perhaps passengers.