Thousands of people flocked to the La Rinconada area, south of Caracas, on October 15, to hear socialist President Hugo Chavez inaugurate the new "Ezequiel Zamora" train line from Caracas to Cua, in the Valles del Tuy — the first new above-ground train line constructed in Venezuela for more than 70 years.
To rousing cheers, Chavez launched the new train service, declaring "today is a historic day, because it marks the arrival in a real way of the new, national railway network". The opening of new rail lines is immensely popular, because travel in this country currently depends largely on private buses, which are often overcrowded, break down, and are held up by the huge traffic jams, which are regular occurrences on Venezuela's roads and highways.
Chavez said that the new development of infrastructure of Venezuela was possible because of the government's recovery of ownership and control of the national economy. "[Previously], the presidents couldn't manage anything, not a metro, nor a bicycle, nor a house", the October 17 Los Papeles de Mandinga reported.
The government has declared that travel on the new line between Cua and Caracas will be free till the end of the year. In response, thousands of people queued up at both the Cua and Libertador Simon Bolivar stations at either ends of the line, to try out the new train on October 16, its first day of public operation.
The president of the Autonomous Institute of State Railways (IAFE), Angel Ontiveros, commented, "People say that these projects will lead to failure, that the countries of the Third World cannot maintain a railway network ..."
"In Venezuela, this idea [that railways will fail] was pushed by the big North American transnationals, who in order to sell their cars, managed to push the governments of [the previous] epoch [of the Fourth Republic] to invest in highways and abandon the idea of trains", Ontiveros told the October 15 El Diario de Caracas. "The world is looking at Venezuela, because it is the only country that is investing in railways, constructing new railway lines, and renovating existing ones."
During the inauguration, Chavez raised the possibility of the creation of a "Railway of the South" to allow the integration of the Latin American nations belonging to Mercosur. "We are working on this project, from here in the Caribbean to Patagonia, certainly", he said, according to the October 16 Ultimas Noticias.