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Hill Helps Deliver Rio’s New Light Rail System Just in Time for Olympics

During the two weeks of the 2016 Olympics, one leg of Rio de Janeiro’s long-awaited tramway line, the LRT – Light Rail Transit – Carioca, has transported thousands of visitors to and from downtown Olympic Game events. But, experts say, the line will deliver benefits to the city long after the Games are done.

Unveiled in early June, the LRT line connects Rio’s busy Santos Dumont Airport with the Bus Station passing through city’s museums and the Praça Mauá, a public plaza in its bustling downtown.

“The opening of the LRT is a milestone in the history of the city of Rio de Janeiro,” Rio State Secretary of Transportation Rodrigo Vieira said upon its opening. “It will be a model integrator, allowing the population to connect to the subway at the station Carioca, the ferry boat to Niteroi at Praca XV, and suburban trains. In addition, it will provide access to the domestic airport and the port area, that connects Rio to the city of Niteroi, across Guanabara Bay.

After the Olympics, the city plans to extend the line and add more trains, with the goal to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week along its 17.4 miles, by 2017.  When completed, the entire line will include 32 stops throughout the city, and transport an estimated 300,000 passengers per day.

“Initially, the LRT facilitates access to Santos Dumont Airport, connecting it to the Rio Metro and the city center and all of its cultural and historical facilities,” said Sérgio Aguiar, Hill International Contracts Manager.  “It will also connect trains and ferries. The commuters can enjoy a nice connection between the modes of transportation—metro, bus and plane—and avoid traffic. Rio aims to become one of the world’s leading tourist centers, and the LRT is the beginning of the modernization of its public transport system.”

Hill International, with offices in Rio and São Paulo, is providing construction consulting services for the LRT project. This work has been part of a wider technical assistance agreement with PUC (The Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro).

Testing of the LRT began long before the line was opened, giving the commuters and the line itself a period of adjustment before the world’s attention turned to the city and the Olympics in mid-August.

“The tests started in the beginning of June, on June 6, and the commercial operation of the first phase started on July 25. The first phase connects the Bus Station to Santos Dumont Airport and runs every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight,” Aguiar said.

The LRT is one of several projects in Rio that were planned to support the influx of Olympic athletes and visitors, and which will remain in use long after they return home. Rio de Janeiro is one of a growing number of cities throughout the world that is pinning hopes of redevelopment on light rail and tramway lines and the transportation links they provide.

Trams—or streetcars as they’re called in the United States—were a transportation staple in hundreds of cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the U.S., they were largely abandoned by the 1950s, as car and bus travel became more popular. Europe never completely set aside its penchant for tramways but, like the United States, has planned, launched, or is building several lines or extensions to meet growing demand.

Landmark cultural shifts are occurring in major cities throughout the world, and Rio de Janeiro is no exception. Many cities are seeing surges in their populations, as residents seeking convenience and easy commuting begin moving back to urban areas from the suburbs.  They’ve found that the plusses of living in a suburban setting are outweighed by increasingly longer and more expensive commutes, and are looking for homes where nearly every convenience is within walking distance.

Trams are viewed as a ‘greener’ alternative to cars and busses. While tramways aren’t expected to completely replace buses and other faster, more widespread modes of transportation, they’re a perfect alternative for moving people efficiently in distinct areas of a city—whether those people are commuting, shopping or sightseeing.

Projects have recently opened or are underway in England, Scotland, Germany, Norway, Spain, Italy, Hungary and Turkey. The Zaragoza Tram line in Zaragoza, Spain, last year completed the last leg of a tram line that was resurrected after more than 30 years. And Sheffield, in the northern U.K., recently unveiled a highly innovative “tram train,” which operates as both a tram on the industrial city’s streets and a commuter lines that runs on existing light rail tracks.

Emerging countries like Brazil also have jumped on the tram platform, using these relatively inexpensive rail lines to move increasing numbers of city commuters efficiently.  Tram lines are under construction in Latin America, in Ecuador and Colombia, and in Suzhou and Nanjing, China.  India also is planning new or expanded tram lines as part of a sweeping plan for economic growth there.

In the Middle East, governments already see the value of getting commuters out of their cars.  Qatar and Dubai both are building tram and light rail lines, and more countries are expected to begin their own lines in the new few years, as unprecedented development lures more and more people to live and work there.

“The transportation market is one of the fastest-growing markets throughout the world,” said Samer Tamimi, P.E., P.M.P., a Hill Vice President.  “Transportation creates both jobs and opportunities for economic growth, and we expect this upward trend to continue as more cities, countries and regions realize the benefits of tramways, light rail, high-speed rail and other modes of public transportation.”

by Tricia M. McCunney