Catch a Tram in El Yunque
As of 31 July 2013, the pilot phase of the tram service in El Yunque National Forest is over. Tram service in the forest has been suspended while the Forest Service reviews data collected during the pilot phase. There is no word on when the tram service will be resumed.
If you’ve ever visited El Yunque National Forest on a busy weekend in July, at the height of tourist season, or on Easter weekend, you know how crazy crowded the forest can get. With limited legal parking spaces, finding a spot after 10am can be next to impossible. Especially near the popular trails in the forest.
Back in July 2010, the Forest Service began traffic control operations during the busy summer weekends, which serves to limit the number of vehicles in the Forest. That helped with congestion, but you still had a problem if the only parking spot you could find was by Big Tree Trail, but you wanted to hike on the trails that start near Palo Colorado.
Starting 03 July 2013, the Forest Service will introduce the pilot program of the El Yunque Tram System to transport visitors between popular areas along the upper part of Road 191. This is a partnership between the Forest Service and the Municipality of Rio Grande, whose employees will operate and maintain the trams.
Purpose of the Trams in El Yunque
The main purpose of the trams is to move visitors between the primary Forest recreation areas during times of peak visitation.
It is not intended to eliminate other vehicles in the forest, nor to provide transportation from El Portal Visitor Center to the upper parts of the forest. While the trams are operating, other (private) vehicles will be able to operate in the Forest.
The idea is that the trams will play a role in El Yunque Traffic Control by making it possible for people to enjoy different parts of the Forest without moving their car. Once parked in a legal parking spot, people can get onto the tram to travel to the part of Forest that they want to visit.
Details about the tram pilot phase
The pilot phase happened in July 2013 and ran for approximately 6 weeks. During this pilot phase, the trams operated continuously Wednesday through Sunday, from 10am until about 6pm.
The tram fleet is 2 trams comprised of 3 cars each, operating concurrently. The total capacity of each tram is 66 passengers. The trams will operate at an average speed of 8 to 10 miles per hour. They have a spare "powered unit" in case one of the other ones needs repairs.
Based on the inaugural ride on Road 191 that we participated in yesterday, my guess would be that it will take about 30 minutes for the tram to travel one way between Yokahu Tower and the Mt. Britton parking areas. That estimate does not take into consideration the time involved with loading and unloading at each of the tram stops.
Now that the pilot phase is over, the Forest Service folks, together with the engineering firm that designed the tram system, will review the data collected during the pilot and decide how best tweak the system and move forward.
There is some talk of running the trams during the December to April time frame, and also of extending the route traveled by the trams. But the Forest Service has not committing to any of these at this point.
Tram Route and Tram Stops
The trams will circulate between Yokahu Tower and Mt Britton, stopping at designated points along the way. The designated stops are the parking areas of
- Yokahu Tower
- Big Tree Trail
- Sierra Palm Tree
- Palo Colorado
- Mt. Britton Trail
The trams will only pickup/discharge passengers at one of the designated stops. You cannot flag them down on the road and have them stop for you. If you’re not parked in one of the tram-pickup areas, you will have to walk to the nearest area to catch the tram. You can look for the tram signs when you’re choosing a place to park.
I had the opportunity to talk to some of the people who are working on the planning and implementation of the tram system. They stressed the fact that this is a very much pilot phase, and that adjustments would be made to the system over the coming weeks.
They say that the trams will run continuously until the trams last pick-ups at 5pm. But it’s unclear what they mean by continuously … will the tram drivers stop for rest breaks? will the trams run through lunch, or will they stop from noon until 1pm?
It’s unclear what items will be allowed on, or prohibited from, the trams. There is some storage space in a couple rows for oversized items, but they don’t know for sure if they will allow coolers, bags of food, etc. onto the trams.
We’re not sure how you will easily tell if the tram is heading up the mountain or down the mountain (well, other than seeing which direction it was headed when it pulled into the parking lot). In all cases, the trams travelling in both directions will stop at the same place in each parking area, not on the side of the road.
At this point, the tram drivers are not bilingual. So don’t expect a lot of help from them if you don’t speak Spanish.
Use this map to locate places mentioned in this article. You can click on a placemark to view the GPS coordinates for that place.
- El Yunque National Forest (El Portal): (18.339091, -65.761671)
- El Yunque, Big Tree Trail: (18.308582, -65.775177)
- El Yunque, Mt. Britton Trail: (18.298620, -65.791140)
- El Yunque, Palo Colorado Visitor Center: (18.300919, -65.785362)
- El Yunque, Sierra Palm Tree, parking: (18.303781, -65.782924)
- El Yunque, Yocahu Tower: (18.312930, -65.770643)
PuertoRicoDayTrips.com assumes no responsibility regarding your safety when participating in the activities described in this article. Please use common sense! If your mother or that little voice in your head tells you that you are about to do something stupid … then don't do it!