Blacktip Island’s commuters have a new transit option after the Department of Transportation launched its Sail-n-Rail network along the Caribbean island’s west coast Friday.
Dubbed the ‘Manta Rail’ by island residents, the system relies on ultra-light rail coupled with small sailing vessels to bypass the island’s crowded roadway.
“It’s this population boom that’s made it necessary,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “We have over 100 people living here now, and every one of them has a car or a scooter or a bicycle.
“Our infrastructure’s just not built for that,” Cobia said. “There’s complete gridlock during the high travel periods.”
“That road’s a parking lot during morning and afternoon rush hours,” Department of Transportation director Dusty Rhodes said. “And every night after the bars close.
“Our solution was to run a Hobie on bamboo rails down to West Sound, where the boat pops loose and sails across the lagoon to a railhead on the other side,” Rhodes said. “It’s simple, locally sourced and energy efficient.”
Local reaction to the system has been positive.
“With gas as expensive as it is, this is a great way to lessen our carbon footprint,” divemaster Marina DeLow said. “It’s nice not to have to dig my scooter out of the bushes every Saturday morning after Karaoke Friday, too.”
Island emergency responders praised the new line’s public safety benefits.
“We don’t have the manpower to fish all these single-car wrecks out of the booby pond each morning,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “And I can only write up so many DUIs. I’m running out of forms.”
The Department of Transportation’s Rhodes said late-night service was incorporated early in the planning stages.
“We can lay five, maybe six drunks side-by-side, depending on how big they are, and deliver them across the sound slick as snot. These boats damn-near sail themselves.”
The government is offsetting the system’s cost by incorporating snorkeling tours into the sailing portion of the route.
“We rigged the boats with lines off their sterns for snorkelers to hang onto,” Rhodes said. “They look at fish as they drift past, and we charge them for snorkeling.
“The trick’s getting folks to let go before the rail car clamps onto the hulls on the other side,” Rhodes said. “We had a couple of bad draggings, but we’re working out the kinks.”