Aprovechaba para investigar viejos libros cuando me tope con un pasaje interesante que nos pinta una imagen sobre las condiciones de los ferrocarriles de la isla a finales del siglo 19. Muchas veces miramos al pasado con nostalgia y nos olvidamos de las realidades del momento. Basta darle una lectura a este pasaje para darnos cuenta de lo poco que han cambiado las cosas en nuestra bella isla desde el 1899.
Puerto Rico and its Resources, Apendice, página 247:
One of the greatest drawbacks in this really wonderful island has been the lack of adequate transportation facilities. All the roads except the main government road are of the most primitive sort quite impassable during the rainy seasons. The 'consumption tax' on liquors and petroleum has been ceded to the municipalities, the last few years, to be used in repairing the highways. According to the latest available reports, the total length of finished railroads is about 136 miles, with 170 miles under construction. Lines connect San Juan and Camuy, Aguadilla and Mayagiiez, Yauco and Ponce, and San Juan and Cataño. The New York Advertiser of August 13, 1898 gives a full account of the railroads written by a resident as follows:
“Mail, telegraph and railroad communications are of such a kind that should they disappear entirely the people could do just as well without them. It is only since the year 1878 that railroads have been known in Puerto Rico and since then the country has advanced very little. There are only three railroad lines in the whole island covering in all one hundred and thirty six miles. The first one was opened in 1878, the East Railroad Line from San Juan to Rio Piedras, a distance of six miles and a quarter covered in fifty five minutes making several stops of one or two minutes. The fare is thirty cents from San Juan to Rio Piedras or five cents per mile and between San Juan or Rio Piedras and the intermediate stations the rate is about the same This is the best managed line on the island and runs twelve trains daily with comfortable and quite elegant cars although it may be noticed that the speed is limited.
The West Railroad Line opened in 1881 from San Juan to Cataño, crosses the harbour by ferryboat and thence to Bayamon by a so-called train. This line is the worst thing imaginable and would furnish plenty of material for a book on railroad mismanagement. Trains are run every two and three hours and the trip from San Juan to Bayamon or vice versa, a distance of six miles is supposed to be made in an hour but this has never been done. It always takes an hour and a quarter at least even barring accidents, which are quite numerous, owing to the fact that there are only two engines and two boats all in a very poor condition.
This line issues tickets from San Juan to Bayamon connecting at that point with the Arecibo train; very often the West Railroad train is late, the passenger misses the Arecibo one, and as there is only a daily train, has to wait till next day at his own expense. Civil or criminal suits are never brought against any railroad as the plaintiff is quite sure to have judgment rendered against him. Both these lines are owned by private individuals so the Government is not to blame for their poor management except for allowing them to violate all rules.
The longest road in the island is the 'Circumvallation Railroad' and here the way things are done by the Spanish Government can be better judged. In almost every country railroad companies pay taxes, but in Puerto Rico things are quite different. This railroad is owned by a French Company to which the Government guarantees an eight per cent profit on the capital invested. Under this contract it is easy to imagine that the management is very poor; the company never makes the eight per cent stipulated, and the country has to pay for something that does not benefit the people as few can use the railroad owing to its high rates. This contract was made in Madrid, the interests of the Puerto Rico people not being considered at all. Although the construction of this railroad was begun in 1887 and the company agreed to complete it in ten years, up to the present time only one third of it is in operation and nobody can tell when the remainder will be finished....
The particular feature of this railroad is must be paid not in Puerto Rico provincial coin, but in Spanish currency with a premium that has been increasing for the last three years reaching thirty and thirty five per cent. On this account the passenger never knows how much the ticket will be till he reaches the station and reads on the slate the rate of exchange. That as a rule is as high as possible, for there is very little Spanish coin in the island, and the public has to pay what the company asks.”