By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Officers are investigating the cause of Saturday’s bonde (streetcar) derailment in Rio’s Santa Teresa neighborhood, which left five people dead and 54 wounded after the brakes failed on a downhill stretch of track. Preliminary findings suggest that parts of the brakes were being held together with wires instead of screws, and that there was evidence of recent soldering and substandard repair work to the brakes.
Both the ICCE (The Carlos Éboli Forensics Institute) and CREA (The Regional Counsel for Engineering and Architecture), who were called in to investigate the accident, have speculated that a combination of poor maintenance and overloading of the vehicle (the bonde was carrying 62 passengers when its maximum safe limit is 44), were to blame for the accident.
Pedro Ricardo de Oliveira Neto, finance director for the Sindicato dos Ferroviárias (or Railways Syndicate – a third investigative body), said, “The material used in the bondes is low quality. We are currently verifying, for example, the quality of a brake shoe that had been changed on the bonde just a few days earlier.”
He went on to say, “There is also the question of the replacement of the track. A section of it was replaced recently and it was found to be extremely worn out. In general, the bondes are in a bad state of repair, and when they do get sent for maintenance, mechanics don’t have the correct parts available to resolve the problems they find.”
Neto also sites a lack of trained mechanics with the specialist knowledge required to maintain the antiquated trams as a factor contributing to the vehicles state of disrepair. He highlighted the fact that in 2008, 849 bonde workers were dismissed and a further 120 were dismissed this year, leaving only a skeleton staff available to manage and maintain the tram network.
The Association of Friends and Residents of Santa Teresa (AMAST) are calling the tragedy “an accident waiting to happen,” blaming the overloading of the trams on the State Government’s decision to reduce the number of trams in circulation under the pretext of carrying out repairs on the aging fleet.
According to AMAST, most of the fourteen-strong fleet have been taken out of action in recent years, leaving only three trams to serve between 2,000 and 4,000 passengers each day, but the promised repairs have yet to come about.
Following the death of French tourist Charles Damien Pierson, who fell from the bonde as it crossed the Arcos da Lapa on June 24th, a public meeting was scheduled for September 15th by the Transport Commission of the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro (ALERJ) to discuss the issue of Santa Teresa’s bondes.
However, AMAST – who staged a sit down protest on the tracks on Sunday in honor of those who died – are saying the action is too little too late, and many people are calling for the resignation of the Rio’s Secretary for Transportation, Júlio Lopes.
The bodies of João Batista Soares, Nelson Correa da Silva and Ivone Da Silva have been released to their families for burial. The bodies of a tourist from Rio Grande do Sul and a twelve year old girl have yet to be released.
Amongst the 54 injured were three French nationals, two holiday makers from Portugal and the UK, and a three year old Brazilian boy who remains in intensive care.