Legislature approves up to $440 million in debt for rail institute

The legislature Tuesday gave final approval to a plan to let the nation’s rail institute borrow up to 40 percent of its gross worth.

The positive vote for bill No. 18.252, will allow the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles to borrow up to $440 million to install an electrified transit system in the Central Valley.

The rail line now goes from Alajuela to Cartago but the motor power is diesel.

Some 46 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill. The value of the company is based on an estimate of its assets, which include rail lines, bridges and tunnels.

The measure also provides for a public-private partnership to launch the electrified service. Lawmakers favor electricity to avoid carbon dioxide emissions.

Lawmakers were told that the rail line currently moves 4 million passengers a year. The Heredia-San José alone moves 6,000 passengers a month. Based on that figure the gross income of the rail service would be just 7.4 percent of the amount borrowed.

The measure survived a constitutional review in a decision reported Friday by the Sala IV constitutional court.

The measure also calls upon the rail institute to reactivate the lines that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific coast with cargo service. This is the long-sought dry canal that could move cargo from one port to another, presumably at a substantial savings from tolls levied by the Panamá Canal or a proposed canal in Nicaragua.

The improved rail service also is seen as a way to combat the gridlock that is the daily traffic situation in the capital. Rail passengers are hoping that the institute will buy some new cars quickly. The current cars on the Heredia line are filled to more than capacity at rush hours, and the institute has promised to add more trips, although there is a shortage of engines and cars now.

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