By Georgia Grimond, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio’s much-loved bonde, or tram system, is to begin a fourth phase of testing tomorrow, October 21st, as part of its long-awaited revival. A stretch of track linking the hill-top neighborhood of Santa Teresa with the Lapa area in Centro has been re-opened for test-runs having been disabled in 1966, announced the State Department of Transportation (SETRANS).
The tests will be conducted for thirty days, from 9AM to 11AM, without passengers and under the supervision of SETRANS technicians. Residents and visitors are asked to be alert to signs and parking bans during this period and on Friday, a communication campaign will begin in Santa Teresa with the hanging of banners and distribution of flyers.
“The tram project is moving forward and it is with satisfaction that we resume the circulation on the line connecting Santa Teresa with Lapa, two iconic regions of Rio, that was deactivated for nearly fifty years. Next we will proceed with work on the Praça Odilo, by means of installation of the permanent way, and access to the workshop on Rua Carlos Brandt,” said Carlos Roberto Osorio, the State Transportation Secretary.
Since the 1800s, Rio’s tram system, with its distinctive yellow and blue vehicles, ran along the roads in Santa Teresa and Centro and across the Lapa aqueduct. The network provided both essential transport for residents and a tourist attraction for visitors. However, a serious accident in 2011, in which brakes failed and a bonde derailed, killing six people and injuring over fifty others, led to the closure of the system.
Since work began in 2013 to restore the network, progress has been dogged by delays with the construction consortium being handed a series of penalties for missing deadlines. Originally it was thought the tram would be back in action in time for the 2014 World Cup, then the 2016 Olympic Games. It is now looking like the beginning of 2017.
Residents of Santa Teresa who are relatively isolated living at the top of tightly bending steep cobbled streets have said that the business in the neighborhood has suffered without the bonde running. Recent building works have led to new problems as roads have been dug up causing delays, creating traffic jams and limiting access to housing and businesses.
In July, Marco Aurelio Cardoso, owner of Marco restaurant, spoke to BBC Brasil explaining that his sales have fallen by at least forty percent and everyone is having “huge losses”.
“Until the tram returns to circulate throughout the neighborhood, we will continue cautiously. We know that work causes disorder, but there comes a time that it ends. Not here. There is no end,” he complained.
When completed the bonde will run along 10.5km of track and will cost less than the city buses. All passengers will be required to sit down during journeys, unlike before when many leaned out of the open-sided trolleys.
“The new bonde has two objectives: maintaining characteristics of the original, which is the ‘face’ of Santa Teresa, and adding technology, especially in the question of safety,” says Osorio.