Explosions and debts: the failure of the modernization of the Caracas metro | International

Travelers in the Caracas metro last February.Matias Delacroix (AP)

Smoke began to enter the air-conditioned car, packed as usual by mid-afternoon. The train was almost at the station, screaming against the tracks and producing sparks. It looked like an explosion and it looked like a tragedy. The alarm buttons to request the opening of the doors were pressed desperately by the drowned passengers. Some cried in panic, while others knocked on the windows and doors of the train to get out. Between broken glass, a new stampede began in the Caracas metro. This is the account collected by social networks of one of the recurring breakdowns of the transport system that occurred at Los Dos Caminos station on October 14, similar to the 14 others that were recorded this year; the last one a week ago.

The Caracas metro works like a pile-up. Ten years ago, the Venezuelan government contracted with a consortium of Spanish companies for a costly rehabilitation, which this year appealed to the Spanish Export Credit Insurance Company (CESCE) to claim a compensation for the breach of a contract for the modernization of line 1 of Caracas. Metro, the longest in the city. From now on, Spain will demand a debt of 138 million euros from Venezuela, as the Secretary of State for the Economy and Business Support, Gonzalo García Andrés, pointed out this week before Congress.

“This is the result of an old operation of underwriting cover by the CESCE. The accident had already occurred in 2009, but did not ask for compensation while waiting if the work could finally be carried out. Now the situation has changed because the compensation claim has already been filed, ”the official explained. The CESCE is an instrument for the protection and coverage of Spanish companies within the framework of contracts with third countries.

In 2008, the government of Hugo Chávez – with Diosdado Cabello as Minister of Infrastructure – signed a 1,500 million euro contract with the Unión Temporal de Empresas (UTE) Consorcio Sistemas para Metro, made up of CAF, Dimetronic, Cobra and Constructora Hispánica. The complex work was awarded without a tender, based on an emergency decree issued by the government, with a lack of transparency that years later revealed traces of corruption in the context of the scandal of the Banca Privada d’Andorra. Former Venezuelan civil servant Carlos Luis Aguilera is under investigation for suspected money laundering by charging 4.8% commission on this contract deposited in accounts in that country, MRT revealed in 2018.

The rehabilitation included the change of the electrical substations and the rehabilitation of 22 kilometers of railway line for the operation of 48 new trains which were acquired. This modernization involved migrating from the French analogue technology of Alstom trains that the Caracas metro had for 30 years – much of which was a model for the region – to Spanish digital technology.

But soon disagreements started over this contract which opened a hole in the public heritage and today takes the people of Caracas through episodes of desperation underground and adds new debt to the Venezuelan state. The year following the signing, Chávez demanded that the contract be reviewed and that the technology transfer that had never been foreseen be included, as well as the provision of the first spare parts for maintenance. Payment arrears have also started. The rehabilitation should have been completed in 2012, but according to official documents at that time, only 43% of the money had been executed and 49% of the works had been completed. Almost 10 years later, the opacity still covers this contract, so it is not known how much of what was agreed was paid, what works were paid and remained on hold, and how much are the debts. towards the Spanish suppliers, who are not the only ones that the metro has from Caracas.

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“From the start, there was no good management of the project and the change in technology, because political and non-technical decisions were made”, explains Ricardo Sansone, responsible for operations between 1991 and 2003 – assigned to the line 1 rehabilitated by the Spaniards – and co-founder of the Metro Family Association, which brings together working people and retirees who control the management of this service. “Night work schedules, for example, were not respected and thus the duration of the work was extended by several months. It also strained relations with the Spaniards ”.

The explosions which generate the alarm among the passengers are, for Sansone, a problem which would have an easy solution and which is attributable to the lack of maintenance of the system. The specialist explains that the train’s brake shoes are worn and that spare parts were not included in the billion dollar rental. “The shoes have a compound of graphite and metal fibers which improves the electrical conductivity between the train and the rail, this compound will wear out, like a heel. Now it rubs the metal against the metal, which produces overheating which generates the explosions that people describe.

In addition to the spare parts, the communication system between the trains and the railroad was also left halfway, although this is a key aspect. Modern railcars are driven manually rather than being automatically steered, limiting driving speed to avoid collisions, at the cost of the huge delays experienced by users on the platforms.

The metro is now experiencing one of its worst times with incessant breakdowns, derailments, deterioration of wagons that have not yet been used for ten years, dirt in stations, platforms and trains, and insecurity. The rehabilitated line is the one with the highest demand which, until before the pandemic, could accommodate more than a million passengers per day. With a subsidized fare – almost free – it’s the option of Caracas’ poorest who can’t afford the roughly 25 cents on the dollar that a trip on the now scarce buses in Caracas can cost.

The Caracas metro has lost trained personnel as part of the migration that has left the humanitarian crisis protracted in the oil country. In these emergency situations, the driver may find himself alone with the crowd when managing the evacuation of the train, as there are not enough staff, which has also forced the closure of areas of the stations. Today, Familia Metro counts former Metro employees among employees of the transport systems in Medellín, Santo Domingo, Lima, Quebec and Chile, where they have hired more than 50 Venezuelans in recent years, according to Sansone.

The Venezuelan government has yet to respond to Spain’s claim of failed metro modernization that more than improvements have resulted in constant blackouts, endless delays and more debt in a country on the brink of bankruptcy . The question will surely be one that will enter the diplomatic realm, which again caught fire after Madrid declared that the recent regional elections were not “democratic enough” and, in response, Caracas accused him of being “bent to the interests of Washington”.

This year, Nicolás Maduro has offered 15 million euros to reactivate the works of metro extensions to peripheral cities, paralyzed for years after the corruption scandal of the Brazilian Odebrecht. And in early December, the Chavist leader who, in his youth, was a trade unionist in the Caracas metro, ordered the resumption of the entire underground transport system in the capital. “We’re going to make a plan: Metro in and Metro out,” he said on television, trying to make a two-way joke.

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Disclaimer: This article is generated from the feed and not edited by our team.

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