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.

Brazil hopes to emulate the success of Japan's 'bullet trains', photo by Anticipator/Wikimedia Creative Commons License.

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.

Brazil's new transport minister Paulo Sérgio Passos, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
Brazil's new transport minister Paulo Sérgio Passos, photo by Marcello Casal Jr./ABr.

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.


  1. I think it’s a great idea. Transportation between the two cities is going to suck if left to just buses and planes. With so many people traveling, we’re going to need more than 2 options!!

  2. The high speed rail system would be a boost to travel in Brazil. Detailed planning on the part of the Transportation Ministry and a pro-active approach could launch a fast-tracking plan for construction. The planned route needs to be analyzed and the most difficult portions constructed first and connected as the whole system evolves. The construction consortium can be a team member and develop the cost for the phases that will be contracted. There is not enough time to wait to put the entire plan and development on hold until a consortium commits to the entire program. If the transportation ministry takes the lead, the others will follow.

  3. I am coming from a far-off country. The idea that my options would be limited to two is unsettling. There is only a small window of time for such a train to be implemented by June 2014.
    If that is the case, get a move on.
    For there to be only two options, there needs to be a broadening of choices. Train or plane is too limited for such a vast area. Get moving Brazil!!!!!!!!!!


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