Tren Urbano’s Ghost Trains

Image by Julian Fuentes

Puerto Rico’s public transportation train renews operations after seven months of the first executive order issued by the island’s governor.

It’s been 3 months since the train in Puerto Rico received its second shutdown, due to Covid-19 restrictions, this week for the few it has finally been renewed. On March 16th in the wake of a new pandemic the Puerto Rican Governor Wanda Vázquez issued an executive order with restrictions that included curfews and only essential services remain open. These services did not include gyms, public transportation or even public spaces like parks and beaches. Among the thousands of complaints of those who relied on these services were the the people who used the train, known locally as Tren Urbano, to get to their essential jobs and the elderly to get to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment. These went highly ignored and the train remained closed, employees were fired and the elderly missed appointments, check-ups and treatments until a service was implemented in early May to take patients to the hospital for such services, but employees remained unattended. For the following 4 months the situation remained unchanged.

On the second week of July, Gov. Vázquez lifted some of the restrictions which included an extended curfew, the opening of gyms, beaches, retail stores and the renewal of public transportation services including the Tren Urbano due to the decreasing infection rate on the island. These opened up opportunities to those who couldn’t get around because of transportation issues, and offered a way for those employees on special leave or those who were recently unemployed to begin working again. In one week the infection rate skyrocketed in Puerto Rico due to the large gathering of people in beaches, malls and store lines which caused Gov. Vázquez to issue an emergency executive order that knuckled down on the lifted restrictions and reinstated the previous executive order issued on March. Closing once again gyms, public spaces and Public transportation and the reinstatement of a strict curfew.  

On the upcoming months of August and September restrictions would be lifted allowing gyms and restaurants to reopen, in-store allowance per square feet would slowly be increased as well. Public spaces would be reopened for the enjoyment of locals and tourists but public transportation remained closed for an additional 3 months since its second closure on July. It isn’t until this week on October 26th that public transportation was allowed to operate once again because of a change in the executive order where Gov. Vázquez reopens public transportation, including buses and the Tren Urbano, and in-store allowance for retail and restaurant was also increased.

It’s difficult to see the purpose of Tren Urbano’s current operation with continuing restrictions due to this worldwide pandemic. People don’t have much money to spend due to unemployment, most still don’t feel safe going out and few would risk going out to stand in line or to find their spot closed due to Covid-19, for these reasons people employed and unemployed without public transportation continue to stay in. There are also no restrictions inside the train to promote social distancing, there are no marks to which where to stand, no closed spaces to prevent breaking the 6 foot social distancing preventative space.  You will only be required to use a face mask and you find a bottle of hand sanitizer inside or outside each train station, not inside trains carts where people touch rails and seats. The use of this alcohol based germ killer is optional, you are not required to use hand sanitizer to enter these trains.

The combination of the rate of unemployment, closing businesses, in-store allowance, curfews, canceled public events and group restrictions due to 6 foot social distancing and the failure to implement safety procedures to minimize infection rate on the operation of a short distance train with no passengers up to a point is economically and socially irresponsible.

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