The proposed light rail tram car (conceptual) photo found in forums on


San Juan Gets Light Rail (and SMARTT Was a Part of It)

by Raymond G. Potter

In 2006, SMARTT  was contacted by Banco Popular in Puerto Rico to create a model train display as part of their “On Tracks” exhibit. This exhibit was developed to promote their vision in helping to create an interest and a demand for an urban light-rail transit system for downtown Old San Juan.

The proposed light rail tram car (conceptual) photo found in forums on

The proposed light rail tram car (conceptual)
photo found in forums on

If you’ve ever been to Old San Juan, the reason was simple enough. Traffic is always jammed up, adding to high levels of both air and noise pollution, not to mention countless hours lost and needlessly high stress levels. What better way to ease this burden than a clean, modern and convenient mass transit system!

The “On Tracks” model display was financed by Banco Popular and would be housed in their flagship head office building in Old San Juan itself. In just under 10 months, SMARTT  delivered a highly detailed model of the historic old town, complete with strikingly intricate replicas of local landmarks, including the capitol building, the Sheraton Hotel, and Banco’s signature office tower.

Threading through these familiar structures is a double-track HO scale tram line running along the city’s main thoroughfares. Several trams follow one another, continuously circumnavigating their urban route, bypassing traffic jams (with real honking horns) and depositing passengers at numerous stops along the way. The paired track arrangement embedded in the city streets enables bi-directional operation of the trams, doubling the excitement and the convenience for riders going to and fro.

SMARTT ‘s Banco Popular layout captures
the charm of Old San Juan

Fast forward to 2011. San Juan’s Urban Train has already outpaced other heavy rail systems across America in terms of its 22 percent ridership growth in the first half of 2011. Even so, the urban heavy rail system from the suburban towns is losing money because it doesn’t connect with anything useful on the San Juan end of the line.  Integration with light rail is the next logical development. SATOUR, aka the San Juan Automated Urban Transportation System is the backbone of a $3 billion project being spearheaded by San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini with $350 million slated for light rail alone. According to Santini, “With SATOUR, you can still come from these areas and continue through all of Santurce, Miramar, Puerta de Tierra and into Old San Juan, round trip. This will increase the ridership of the Urban Train in a gigantic way, adding thousands more riders every day.”

Another view of the SMARTT – Banco Popular layout

The ultimate goal of the project is to revitalize San Juan with integrated transportation that eliminates the traffic crunch of 77,000 vehicles a day and makes San Juan into a “Walkable City,” while preserving the charm of “the oldest city under the U.S. flag. “  Long-term, the hoped-for result is a vibrant sector with new hotels, attractions, theaters, and other tourist destinations. Light-rail will make all this possible by connecting everything together in a system that can still share city streets and reduce congestion.

With this popular urban renewal project underway, Banco Popular is slated to move the On Tracks model layout to a new home at the municipality’s future facility in Santurce. This means that many more visitors, possible ferried by the new light rail system, will be able to enjoy this remarkable replica.


from the November, 2011 SMARTT Newsletter

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