By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since the tragic accident in 2011, the iconic bonde tram in Rio’s hillside Santa Teresa has been sorely missed. While this year has finally seen parts of the rail system back in operation, the bonde will now return to the heart of the neighborhood, Largo dos Guimarães.
Government press reports that the 500 meters stretch between Largo da Carioca and Largo dos Guimarães has received new tracks and overhead power lines, and will begin to make the route with passengers starting Monday, December 28. With this, the bonde service will be complete from the Largo da Carioca path to the Largo dos Guimarães, stopping at Largo do Curvelo on the way.
Rio’s transportation secretary, Carlos Roberto Osorio said “The return of the Santa Teresa tram to Largo dos Guimaraes is an important milestone for the restoration of this traditional shuttle service. The Largo dos Guimarães is the heart of Santa Teresa and the return of trams not only comes for the residents, but also those who visit the neighborhood.”
Stefano (Tafo) Macchi, an Italian expatriate and co-owner of the Casalegre Art Vila, a guesthouse and bed & breakfast (or pousada as termed in Brazil) in Santa Teresa, told The Rio Times, “It is making a huge difference to have the bonde back in Santa!”
Explaining the anticipation, “For all the people that were used to taking the bonde as their main transportation in the neighborhood before the accident four years ago, [and] it really translates perfectly the spirit of Santa, no pollution, no noise, no rush, but smoothly goes and arrives in all the places you need to go.”
Tafo adds, “Obviously the former version was even better as you could jump on and off without even waiting for the bonde to stop. But I’m ok with the modifications and the new version. Hopefully there will be enough cars so that the demand of passengers will be satisfied.”
Since the 1800s, Rio’s iconic tram system 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 the bonde was taken out of operation following an accident on August 27, 2011 which left six people dead and 54 people injured, only two months after a French tourist fell to his death from a bonde crossing the Arcos da Lapa.
Since work began in 2013 to restore the rail system, progress has been marred 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 to be fully operational.
The delays have caused frustration for many in the area, like French expatriate in Rio, Jean Christophe Marois, who is co-founder of The Mansion Rio and the owner at Rio180º Boutique Hotel, both in Santa Teresa. He explained, “The bonde is key for Santa Teresa’s tourism image of, and for the inhabitants. My hotel is 200 meters from the rail and we can’t wait to see it completed and continue past Largo dos Guimaraes, [construction needs to] hurry up!”
The lack of a fully functioning bonde has not stopped Santa Teresa from being an essential destination to see in Rio though, as it serviced by a regular flow of buses and taxis. Venues like The Mansion are still flourishing, they hosted events for the 2014 World Cup, and are preparing to host a gala event for New Year’s Eve.