By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – After several years of construction, road closures and detours in the city’s downtown area, this Sunday, May 22nd, Rio de Janeiro unveils its new light rail system, the VLT (Vehicle on Light Tracks). The new rail system will begin to operate partially between Praça Mauá and Santos Dumont Airport and will be free for the first forty days.
For its inaugural journey on Sunday, two VLT trains, each with a capacity of 420 passengers, will begin running at noon until 3PM in half-hour intervals. The two trains will travel a route of seven stops between Santos Dumont Airport and Praça Mauá.
The VLT light rail project was one of several urban revitalization works in Rio in preparation for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. Following the demolition of Rio’s Elevado da Perimetral in 2013, Praça Mauá, was, itself, a pivotal piece of the revitalization of Porto Maravilha.
The 25,000-square-meter public plaza on the Guanabara Bay waterfront, now includes the new Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow), the Museu de Arte do Rio, as well as bike lanes and walkways.
In its first week, the VLT will continue with two trains running from noon to 3PM, on weekdays only. But, in its second and third weeks of operation, the schedule will expand to 11AM to 3PM. In its fourth week, the schedule will expand further, running until 5PM, and also on weekends.
The schedule, as well as the number of trains in circulation, will continue to increase weekly culminating with the Olympics in the first week of August. By then, eight VLT trains will be running in fifteen minute intervals from 6AM to midnight, including weekends.
Making the final preparations for Sunday’s unveiling, The Municipal Secretary of Transportation, Rafael Picciani told a government agency that the city’s biggest concern is the safety of pedestrians.
“It’s huge news for people to have this new mode of transport. Our warning is that everyone be very attentive, follow the developments and get used to the presence of this new gift to the Rio.”
The Secretary added, “We are already doing an educational campaign, traveling with patrolmen, which will be intensified in the downtown area in the coming days, with respect to all intersections and crossings to maintain pedestrian safety and respect of the VLT’s operation.”
For the VLT’s first five weeks, until the end of June, passengers will be able to ride for free. On July 1st, the VLT fare will cost R$3.80, the same amount of municipal buses.
One of the unique aspects of the VLT is the absence of any turnstiles or collectors at the stations or on the train. At each VLT station, there will be machines to purchase the Bilhete Único Carioca, the Bilhete Único Intermunicipal, or a special VLT card.
Within the VLT trains, passengers will have to validate the card on machines installed on the train, similar to those on city buses. Though there are no fare collectors, municipal police will be on hand to monitor station activity.
Following the Olympics, the city will further expand the VLT route to include three more lines and up to thirty trains. By 2017, the VLT is expected to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, carrying around 300,000 people daily along the 28 kilometers of track.
The estimated cost of the VLT light rail project, which began in 2013, is R$1.2 billion.