Rail travel

Hot time in the city

SuperVia Trens Urbanos, Rio de Janeiro’s 22-year-old rapid transit and commuter rail company, has a message for its estimated 600,000 daily passengers: help is on the way.

SuperVia, whose network links more than 100 stations in Rio de Janeiro and 11 surrounding cities, says it is adding 120 new air-conditioned trains and increasing the frequency of service. The rail company also promises to add new routes.

When fully operational, the enlarged fleet of 200 trains will provide more than 2 million seats per day, up from 1.5 million in 2012. The region, with its 17.2 million inhabitants, can expect its relatively new rail system to offer a comfortable alternative to congested roadways and chronically delayed buses, according to SuperVia.

All of that should be good news to the rail company’s passengers. There is one problem, though: many of them don’t believe it, at least not yet.

Passengers point to packed, standing-room-only carriages lacking air conditioning. They also complain of a rising incidence of crime – including theft and sexual molestation – that thrives in overcrowded conditions.

Women’s groups complain of chronic harassment of female passengers. The train company designates certain carriages for women only during rush hours, but does not enforce the rule. Men hop right on to the women’s wagons, and some of them proceed to take advantage of the crowding to touch women inappropriately.

‘’We always have to be alert,” says 23-year-old passenger Thays Rodrigues. “To be a woman on the train is to risk being harassed and robbed. And many people don't care.”

Poor conditions plague passengers at all times of day, says Mariana Marques, who uses the system to travel about 20 km each way to her job in a neighbouring city. ‘’I leave home every morning at 5 am to get to work at 8 am. There is not a day when the wagon is not full,” she reports. “There are days when the air conditioning is off and we almost die in the 38 degree heat. Worst of all is the lack of security. When the train is full, you don't know who stole from you. And when the train is emptier, usually at night, there are many mass robberies and thefts.''

Complaining to the police doesn't solve much, she adds. Yet this is exactly what the train company tells affected passengers to do. According to SuperVia, public safety is the responsibility of the state government, since the train company itself has no policing powers. The most it can do is to instruct its employees to call the police if they become aware of a crime committed on the rails, the company says.

That should help. So should following through on the promises the company is making to add capacity and reduce the pressures that make the daily commute a misery for so many of its customers.

Thuany Rodrigues is a journalist in Brazil.


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