With the opening of two metro lines, Panama City is leading Central America in urban transportation as it continues to expand mobility options for residents.
Panama City has long held a unique position in Central America for its trans-oceanic canal, booming financial sector, and countless skyscrapers. Now it is gaining recognition for its rapidly expanding metro network, which is reducing traffic congestion while improving residents’ quality of life by providing environmentally friendly transportation alternatives.
In April 2019, the city inaugurated its second metro line and is now pursuing plans to begin construction on a third in the coming years. The first two lines were built by a consortium comprising Brazil’s Odebrecht Infrastructure and Spain’s Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) and equipped by Alstom, CIM, Sofratesa, Thales, and TSO. “We are honored and grateful to be providing an integrated system that both improves the operation of the metro line and reduces the environmental impact,” said Ludovic d’Hauthuille, the Latin America managing director for Alstom. “As the commercial service starts, these technologies will allow the residents of Panama to have a reliable, comfortable, and environmentally friendly means of transportation in the city.”
The development of the second metro line is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Central America and represents ongoing efforts to modernize Panama City, solidifying its place as a growing global urban center and business hub. As international companies continue to open headquarters in the Panamanian capital, demands for new transportation alternatives have incentivized city officials to develop a clean and fast metro system that continues to expand, with the plans for the third line to cross the Panama Canal, connecting the Albrook station to Arraijan in West Panama.
Construction on the 21-km Panama Metro Line 2 began in October 2015 with a total budget of USD2.13 billion. The line was designed to carry 40,000 passengers per hour in the initial phase of operation, which connects commuters to the city’s Metro Line 1 and takes them through 16 stations through San Antonia, Hospital del Este, and Nuevo Tocumen.
Construction on Line 1 began in 2009 and was inaugurated in April 2014. The first metro was completed with a budget of USD1.45 billion and in the first year of operations, the system carried an average 200,00 people per day, 25% more than city officials had predicted, providing hard proof of the high demand for public transportation alternatives. The Panama City Metro system is part of the government’s long-term National Master Plan to improve transportation and quality of life both in urban centers and throughout rural areas. Urban planners aim to extend the Panama Metro to 10 lines, with a line connecting the city center to Tocumen airport by 2035.
Bidders are already submitting proposals to begin work on the third metro line, a project that will build the first monorail transportation system in Central America. In August 2018, government officials signed a MoU with Hitachi, Ansaldo STS, and Mitsubishi to deliver the third line, which will run for 26.7 km between 14 stations. Hitachi will provide 28 six-car trains while Ansaldo STS will oversee the signaling telecommunications and power systems, and Mitsubishi will be tasked with commercial affairs in developing the line. While no opening date has been set, the Japan International Cooperation Agency signed a loan agreement with the Panamanian government in 2016 to provide a development assistance loan of up to USD266.2 million to facilitate the construction of the new metro line.
The development of efficient and environmentally friendly transportation alternatives comes as the Panama City government is undertaking a pilot project to test electric buses to service urban commuter routes. In effort to reduce congestion and air pollution, such initiatives are key to increasing quality of life and attracting international business to the growing financial hub. “Introducing electric mobility is key for countries to comply with climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, but it will also help us to clean the air, reduce deaths caused by air pollution and create sound cities for millions of people,” Leo Heileman, the United Nations’ environment regional director in Latin America and the Caribbean, said.
In line with reducing carbon emissions, trains being used on Panama’s metro lines make use of recovery and transfer technology, which allows trains to produce electricity from their braking mechanisms. Through a network of reversible substations, electricity created while braking is fed into the electrical network and powers the metro’s escalators, lights, and ventilation systems.