By Sam Green, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The long-planned high-speed rail link between Rio and São Paulo has run into fresh problems after the auction to build the crucial connection between Brazil’s two main cities failed to attract bidders. The R$33 billion project now looks unlikely to be ready in time for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, despite announcements made last year to the contrary.
Bernardo Figueiredo, the director of the National Agency of Terrestrial Transport (ANTT), said foreign companies had found it difficult to form a consortium with Brazilian firms, a condition of the bidding process.
Companies from Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, China and South Korea are understood to be interested in the project, known as TAV, while Brazil’s Odebrecht has confirmed its interest.
The bidding process, which has already been postponed twice, will now be split into two parts, with the first stage later this year to select the train operator and technology. The second stage next year will choose the company to build the infrastructure. Work could get under way late in 2012 or in 2013, but is unlikely to be completed by 2016.
The “bullet train” service between Campinas, São Paulo and Rio has been under consideration for more than thirty years, with increasing urgency as the country’s airports and roads have struggled to cope with growing volumes of traffic. It was originally hoped that sections of the rail service would be open for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Then, last year, Figueiredo and former President Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva said the aim was for TAV trains to be operating in time for the Olympics.
However, while the federal government had wanted the Rio-São Paulo rail link ready for 2014 and 2016, the project did not form part of Rio’s successful Olympic bid and was not a commitment made to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The organizing committee for the Rio Olympics, Rio 2016, does not view the rail link as fundamental to the Games and the plan has always been for visitors arriving at São Paulo’s international airport to connect with Rio on domestic flights.
Last month Rio 2016 was strongly praised by the IOC’s inspection committee, which said preparations for the games were “in a very good position.”
Economy-class tickets for the 500km, one-and-a-half-hour Rio to São Paulo train journey are set to cost just under R$200. Chris Tipping, an Englishman married to a Brazilian and living in São Paulo, is one frustrated potential customer. “I find it amazing that some sort of rail link between the two cities doesn’t already exist,” he said. “It would vastly improve the current transport links, so there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that, if priced correctly, it would prove extremely popular.”
For those choosing not to fly or drive between Rio and São Paulo, the only alternative currently available is a bus journey lasting about six hours.
The rail project has often been controversial, with some transport specialists and construction firms questioning its economic viability. It has been claimed that it will cost almost double the government’s prediction of R$33billion.
The rail link will be a priority for President Dilma Rousseff’s new transport minister, Paulo Sérgio Passos, who replaced Alfredo Nascimento earlier this month after Nascimento resigned amid allegations of corruption.