Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Before the New York Times decided to charge e-readers, it ran an article dealing with a first for the U.S.—the High Speed Railway or HSR—which parallels in many respects a similar first in Brazil—the “Trem de Alta Velocidade” or TAV.
So far there are no such trains in either the U.S. or Brazil, but federal funding in both countries has, theoretically, enabled officials to begin work on a long, multi-spur HSR. Both countries were scheduled to begin construction in 2012 and finish in 2017. Guess what? It ain’t gonna happen.
The Brazilian TAV was to connect Campinas, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, urban centers now connected principally by air travel (fast and expensive) or bus (slow and cheap). In the U.S., there were two plans. One was to run a train connecting Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, urban centers now serviced principally by air travel (fast and expensive) or bus (slow and cheap) or automobile (slow and expensive).
In Brazil, it took the 2016 Olympic Games to focus people’s minds on the need for this type of transportation, and one of the things the politicians promised the IOC was that there would be TAV access to the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Sadly, just last week the federal government announced that the invitation to bid, which was originally supposed to have been published sometime in 2010, has been pushed back until at least July 2011. The Federal Government has at least ‘fessed up and admitted that the TAV will NOT be ready in time for the Olympic Games. Why is no one surprised?
In Brazil, we know who the villains responsible for delay are. First, the various potential bidders, who doubt the TAV will make money. Second, the lobbyists and their captive Congressional cohorts, who doubt they will personally make money. Third, the possible mid-point stops along the route, which have put half dozen cities at odds with each other.
The only obligatory stop on the route between Rio and São Paulo is Aparecida, a town with nothing going for it other than its basilica, which draws mostly weekend tourist visitors. In the meantime, industrial cities like São José dos Campos and Volta Redonda may not become stops, because they are vying with other nearby towns, such as Jacareí, Taubaté, Resende and Barra Mansa. Each of these towns is desperately lining up political allies to become a stop.
In California, rather than starting in Sacramento or San Diego or even Los Angeles or San Francisco, the planning genii are planning on having the HSR run from Bakersfield (hands up if you know where that is, and care to know) to (quite literally) a ghost town called Borden lost in the San Joaquim valley amid billions of eggplants and artichokes.
The Curmudgeon is reminded of the main character in the film “Million Dollar Baby”: when asked where she was from, she said from a small town “between Nowhere and Goodbye”. The Curmudgeon suspects both those places will become stops on the HSR and the TAV.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)