DEEPER UNDERGROUND

Panama 2017 | TRANSPORT & MARITIME | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Roberto Roy, Minister of Canal Affairs and Metro, on the different phases of the project, encouraging the use of public transport, and the effect of the Tocumen Airport expansion.

Roberto Roy
BIOGRAPHY
Roberto Roy holds a degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has a degree in civil engineering from the Universidad Santa María la Antigua. He was President and founder of Ingeniería R-M and Affiliates, established in 1975 and one of the largest construction groups in Panama. As a member of the Blue Ribbon Engineering Committee (BREC), he recommended improvements to the waterway (1996-98) recommendations, which finally led to the Panama Canal Modernization Program.

How will the Metro reshape the infrastructure landscape of Panama and what is its importance for the country?

The long-term view for the Metro is a total of seven or eight lines, depending on certain factors. However, it will be a pretty robust network and we have done the planning for this through 2040. The first line was a USD2 billion investment that included an 8km tunnel and another 8km of elevated way. Line 2 is longer than the first, at 21km, and will have 16 stations and 21 more trains. We have been increasing ridership and are now at double the expected number of daily passengers. For Line 1, we originally calculated around 140,000 daily passengers, but have had days with nearly 300,000 and the average hovering around 275,000. We are buying 70 new cars for both Line 1 and to cover extra demand for feeding passengers from Line 2. We will change the fleet from trains of three to five cars each, thus increasing the capacity of each train considerably. In this way we can cope with the estimated demand: in terms of national polls, the metro is the number-one entity in public satisfaction. We are always above 80%, which gives us great satisfaction. We are proud to have done something that has really changed people's lives for the better in Panama.

How are you working to instill a metro-related culture and promote its use?

This is one of our strong points even though it had never been done before. We have a program called Metro Culture that has many different facets. There is free opera in the Metro on Saturdays, which people have really taken a liking to. We also have installed free libraries at the Metro where riders can pick up and drop off books. This was done in alliance with the Lions Club and 20-30 Club and has been successful. We also bring underprivileged children from other provinces who have never seen the metro to the capital, give them a free ride, and teach them about how we built it. There is also a strong teaching system for teaching the people how to use it.

What are some of the challenges and obstacles you face?

We should not forget that we are running one line right now and going for the second and third at the same time. We started Line 2 a year and a half ago, and Line 3 is even longer; it will go over the new Panama Canal and be the fourth bridge over the Canal. Line 3 is 27km long and will be a monorail instead of a normal train because there are many hills in its path. Our metro is the only one in Central America, and the monorail will be the only of its kind in all of Central or South America, bar São Paulo. This will be a robust monorail with the latest Japanese technology and the biggest model. We consider this project a case study; it is important for us with the help of the Japanese International Corporation Agency (JICA). We are going to do the award for the pre-qualified companies in the coming months and will then have a period of about six months for participants to submit their proposals. We hope to award the contract to the winning contractor at the end of 2017; construction would start in early 2018.

What are your main targets, ambitions, and goals for the coming year?

Our immediate goals are to finish Line 2 and the extension to the airport. The airport will go from 13 million passengers to approximately 18-20 million passengers once the new terminal is open; we must capitalize on this. Then we ideally want to have Line 3 completed by 2021 or 2022.