Borrowing for electric trains gets first approval by lawmakers

The national railway institute will be able to incur debt amounting to 40 percent of its worth under a bill passed on first reading Tuesday.

The bill, No. 18.252, is a step toward the construction of an electrified rail line in the Central Valley. The train locomotives now use diesel.

The central government said that the  Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles had a value of $1.02 billion. That number is based on an evaluation by the Universidad de Costa Rica that reported a figure about 15 times greater than book value, which is $69.4 million.

When the bill receives a second favorable vote and is signed by President Luis Guillermo Solís, the rail institute will be able to take on $408 million in debt. Casa Presidencial distributed a

worksheet showing the assets of the rail institute to justify the more than $1 billion figure.

The institute owns  1.2 million square meters of land and has rights to 12.9 million square meters of right-of-way, the worksheet said. The worksheet even listed a tunnel as an asset, as well as 125 bridges, buildings and vehicle. The university appears to have used a replacement-cost-new-less-depreciation method to assess value rather than market data. Bridges, after all, have little resale value except as scrap.

The bill also says that the central government cannot demand funds from the rail institute even if there is a surplus.

The rail institute also is encouraged to expand it service even to Guanacaste and Moín, according to a summary of the bill.

Government officials see an efficient electrical rail line as a way to reduce motor traffic and congestion.

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