By George Utley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Casa Civil in Rio has avoided setting a new deadline for Santa Teresa’s iconic tram system to reopen, after being out of action since 2011 following a fatal accident. The bonde was scheduled to open in March of this year, however, now sub-secretary of state Rodrigo Vieira will not give an exact date for the completion of the works, stating “we will reintroduce the bonde at some point.”
The Prefeitura has relocated the temporary office of the Empresa do Bonde (Tram Company) until November 2014, indicating that the works will not be finished in time for the World Cup.
The Association of Residents of Santa Teresa (AMAST) has long campaigned for a swift re-installation of the bonde, taking to the streets last month to voice the frustrations of the local people.
Protesters lamented poor communication, missed deadlines and the inconvenience of having yet more works beginning before any of those already in progress have been completed. Two arrests were made during the demonstration in Largo do Guiramães, during which residents were accused by police officers of attempting to sabotage the renovation. The allegations of sabotage are vehemently denied by AMAST.
The bonde is the pride and joy of the historic neighborhood, its main transport artery, and has never been out of service for so long since its inception in 1856. The nostalgia can be felt and read all over the hillside district, where graffiti depicting a tram carriage crying a single tear is commonplace.
Tourism in the area has suffered especially, with many hostels in Santa Teresa failing to reach capacity even during this year’s Carnival. Although the city as a whole appeared to have a slower season than usual in terms of tourism business last year.
Since the closure of the tram, the community in Santa Teresa has been using a free transit van service which takes residents from Lapa to Largo de Curvelo. “The van is no replacement for the tram,” says resident Jason Robelo.
“It is often overcrowded, has no fixed timetable, and always gets stuck in traffic. With half the road dug up it scarcely fits on the one open lane, and has to squeeze between the trench on one side and parked cars on the other.”
The van accommodates sixteen people; the tram used to hold 44. Once reopened, the bonde will operate every ten minutes at peak times, running from Carioca station over the Arcos de Lapa to Largo do Guimarães.
Crime is another major concern in the neighborhood. Local resident Alicia Knight attributes a worrying rise in muggings and burglaries to the suspension of the bonde service. “Santa Teresa feels abandoned compared to how it used to be when the bonde ran.”
“The streets are deserted at night, and even taxi drivers won’t take us up the hill because it’s too dangerous for them,” she said. The steps at the bottom of Rua Joaquin Murtinho have become a particularly notorious hot-spot for street robberies in recent months.
In August 2011 the bonde derailed in a fatal accident leaving five people dead and 54 wounded after the brakes failed on a downhill stretch of track. The investigation suggested the cause was that parts of the brakes were being held together with wires instead of screws.