Opinion – On track

Yesterday was the day. For the first time, the long, long-awaited light rail system started operating. Its history is interwoven with the history of the SAR. It begins as early as 2003.

The economy was going through a bad spell. The improbably denominated SARS epidemic (severe acute respiratory syndrome) threatened the regional economies. Legally, the gambling monopoly had ended; in practice, not yet. Public investment was at a low, following a decade of works designed with the handover in mind.

In that context, the idea of a metro system popped up. Those with long memories will remember that Siemens, then seen as a leading contender for the project, would open a showroom downtown. Mired with corruption accusations and a costly process in the US, it would close it down discreetly.

Those with even longer memories will remember the idea was already touted in the ’80s, with a very different rationale, and anticipating even a connection to the southern side of Coloane. In the early years of the century, the project was finally taking off.

After delays, the project phase started in earnest in 2007. The line would include over 23 stations, in both Taipa and the Macau peninsula. Its operational deadline was set for 2011. And might even not be expensive for the benefits it would bring, we were assured.

For those willing to understand the magnitude of mismanagement of the project, the reading of the various Audit Commission reports on the project will be illuminating. Matters of legality aside, just the recommendations on the issue of budgeting are worth the reading.

Opening only the Taipa does not address obviously one of the main declared aims: to allow many of the visitors arriving at Gong Bei and destined to Cotai (plus the workers in the casino industry) to bypass the center of town. Other reservations could be declared, but we will leave those aside here.

Half of it; eight years late; and many, many millions above the initially estimated cost, it is there. On its first day, ominously, it had to stop due to a yet to be specified malfunction.

It aimed at solving or, at least, giving a strong push to solve Macau congestion problems, existing or anticipated. Its operation will likely be another drag on the public purse. That real test has just started. Let’s hope all will turn out for the better, Providence allowing.