Thursday
July 31, 2014

Overcrowded carriages, prolific graffiti and rubbish are just some of the experiences had aboard

Monday, February 10, 2014

Harsh realities continue hindering GBA commute

By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

Twenty-two-year Nadia Tévez says she doesn’t feel safe riding the train to and from her home in Quilmes in Greater Buenos Aires. The social work student takes the Roca line on a daily basis and uses the Sarmiento service a few times a month to visit family and friends in the western districts. She insists that commuter experience on both lines is much the same.

“There’s definitely a feeling of a lack of safety. I see pick-pocketing every single day,” she said. “They’ve robbed me on occasion as well.”

Tévez told the Herald she’s seen prolific drug use onboard for some time now, with authorities having done nothing to tackle the trend.

“In the carriages you’ll find children, babies, old people and so on, and at the same time other people are doing cocaine, smoking crack. The most common drug is weed,” she claimed.

“It’s a question of respect toward other people, not to mention safety.”

Tévez gave specific details about her experiences riding the train on a daily basis, which the Herald was last week able to verify, to some extent, on both the Sarmiento and Roca lines.

Overcrowded carriages, drug use aboard, late or cancelled services, profusion of graffiti and rubbish, are just a few of the experiences facing commuter that seem common on both lines.

From the platform at Padua train station on the Sarmiento line, the Herald witnessed three young men smoking marijuana from an open carriage door as an overcrowded train moved in the direction of the Merlo district.

In both directions between the central Once station and Merlo, several carriage doors were jammed open, with commuters standing just feet from the rapidly passing train tracks below, and others seeming confident enough to stand with parts of their bodies outside the carriage space. Again, the carriages were full to capacity, while on just one occasion did an onboard train official force the jammed door to close, only for it to become locked open again a few stations later.

Safety and the presence of security officers at station was a recurrent issue among the commuters the Herald spoke to.

“There’s a lack of security. I don’t feel safe at all,” said 32-year-old doctor Andrea Wüst, heading to work in Quilmes from Temperley station on the Roca line. “I’d prefer to pay triple for a better service and better security.” Andrea confirmed that she had previously been robbed.

Security guards were present at the six stations the Herald visited in the morning, though their numbers varied and some guards were later nowhere to be seen.

Again at Padua station on the Sarmiento line, six security officers were present checking passes as commuters entered onto the platform. However, on passing again thirty minutes later, they had left the station and commuters were seen walking around the gate without paying.

On both lines, the only permanent monitoring of tickets seemed to be found at the central or transit stations. Smaller and less frequented stations were largely unstaffed and open entirely to the public.

But even when systems were in place for ticket monitoring, some commuters still did not pay. At Lanús station on the Roca line to Temperley some were seen queuing to purchase tickets, though the majority of commuters passed through the station to the platforms without paying.

One traveller the Herald spoke to claimed that commuters didn’t see the need to pay because rail staff weren’t going to check tickets at the Constitución terminal. Indeed, upon arrival to the terminal, security officers stood talking to each other as commuters exited the platform without showing proof of purchase.

Transport Ministry figures for 2013 show fewer and fewer passengers on the Sarmiento line are paying for the service, with 88.6 million commuters buying tickets in 2011, 39 million in 2012, and just 10.5 million in 2013. Instead, the train network nationwide relies on government subsidies, which in 2014 totalled close to four billion pesos.

Meanwhile, the national government is currently in the process of renovating both lines, with the first of a shipment of modern carriages on its way from China for the Sarmiento line, and plans to acquire 300 new units for the Roca network.

“In July we’re not only going to replace the 12 exiting carriage formations on the Sarmiento line, but we’ll also double its capacity with 25 new formations, which will be in Argentina around June or July,” Transport Minister Florencio Randazzo said last month, speaking at a goverment ceremony welcoming the arrival of new carriages for the Buenos Aires-Rosario and Buenos Aires-Mar del Plata train lines, which will total 220.

Mind the gap

Comparatively, the Roca line stood out for its newer, cleaner trains and faster services, which, unlike its Sarmiento counterpart, departed precisely on time. (The Sarmiento service left 20 minutes behind schedule.) Graffiti was also less evident inside the Roca carriages, though mounting rubbish was scattered along the tracks at most stations, and in particular the Constitución terminal.

What’s more, while platforms and trains along the Sarmiento line were consistently found in poor condition, there were huge variations in the quality of infrastructure on the Roca lines. Trains heading toward Temperley were newer and cleaner with automatic doors that did not jam, while those bound for Bosques were in much worse state with manual doors, some of which jammed and exposed commuters to risk of falling onto the tracks. Adding to the contrast on the Roca network, is the rapid service trains to La Plata with their reclining chairs and air-conditioning, which has been running four times per day since January 20.

However, as twenty-two-year-old childcare worker Tamara Sosa suggested, comparisons are futile; the realities facing Greater Buenos Aires commuters are ongoing and seem to be much the same on both lines.

“I use the Sarmiento lines three of four times a week, and the Roca line probably once a week,” she said at Once station, where a train crashed in 2012, killing 51 people. “There may have been a crash here, but the day-to-day train problems are the same, regardless of what line you’re on.”

 

@jaysonmcnamara

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