All aboard trainless railway?

2014-06-12 08:47

Cape Town - After weeks of feverish work outside Cuiaba's airport, the state governor showed up Wednesday to show off a gleaming new silver railway station two days before the remote Brazilian city hosts its first World Cup soccer match.

There was no train in sight, however, and the tracks ended abruptly in concrete barriers. Fans arriving by plane from Chile wondered about the building. "Maybe a bus station?" mused one.

Silval Barbosa, the governor of Mato Grosso state, told Reuters the 23 kilometers (15 miles) of light rail were never meant to be ready for the World Cup.

But for many in this steamy agricultural city and more broadly in Brazil, the rail project worth 1.4 billion reais ($630 million) has become a symbol of the country's struggle to prepare for the month-long soccer tournament.

Delays in building stadiums, airports and other infrastructure, along with a price tag of $11.3 billion have fueled anger and protests among Brazilians before the World Cup. But in Cuiaba the mood is more one of resignation.

"We really wanted light rail and the World Cup allowed us to think this dream would come true," said Silas Augusto, who is coordinating a "fun zone" for arriving fans at the airport.

The rail project was not requested by FIFA, the world soccer governing body. And many World Cup visitors would probably not have used it to get around or go to the three matches at the brand new Pantanal arena.

"The line is 1.8 kilometers from the stadium," said Eduardo Gomez, a local magazine editor. "It is not a World Cup project."

Besides, Gomez said, construction delays are part of putting on a World Cup. Indeed, Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã stadium, built for the 1950 World Cup, was not fully finished until 1965.

Nevertheless, local crews worked into the night in the last few days to finish the airport rail station, lay down sod and make the place look decent, even if it wasn't functional.

"It is a very complex project that in any other country might take six or eight years," said Governor Barbosa. "We are going to do ours in four. It is not finished, but it is not paralyzed."

While many in Brazil might consider this western city a backwater, it is certainly not poor. Cuiaba is the capital of the top grain-growing state, a hub of Brazil's soybean boom.

Barbosa boasts that his state "helps feed the world" and light rail, even if it is still unfinished, projects an image of development to arriving visitors.

Asked when the light rail project might be ready to roll, with 40 train cars imported from Spain, Barbosa responded with a smile "next time you come."

And while many in Cuiaba talk about a completion date of 2017, Barbosa promised: "Next year, you will be able to use a good portion of it."

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