In a tragic event late Monday afternoon, an almost 100 foot section of concrete from a monorail building project fell, killing one young Brazilian worker and injuring two others just days before the FIFA World Cup is set to kickoff in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The monorail collapse happened above one of the city’s busiest intersections of Rua Vieira de Morais and Washington Avenue and slowed traffic even further than the already glacial pace.
The monorail was a much-advertised building project for the upcoming World Cup. It would connect the Congonhas Airport to the city center and three other metro lines. It is going to be a distance of over 11 miles and ease travel for incoming tourists and residents alike if it can be completed. It is now one of several promised infrastructure projects that have fallen behind the proposed timetable. Once construction is completed the driverless trains are predicted to transport 100,000 to 250,000 passengers a day. Now though, the monorail is a track with no end as the section that fell was one piece away from the completing the connection.
It is still unknown what exactly caused the collapse of the monorail, but construction workers have been given just two days to clean up the entire mess and find a likely cause. The deadline is Wednesday at 5:00 pm, a full 24 hours before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil.
There have been other tragic events leading up to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil besides this monorail accident. Eight workers have now died in accidents during the building of stadiums and infrastructure leading up to the tournament. Transit strikes have also been occurring in two of Brazil’s largest cities, Sao Paulo, where the monorail accident took place, and Rio de Janeiro. After five full days of refusing of protests, the transit workers in Sao Paulo have said they will continue working, but only until Thursday when the tournament actually begins.
The union of transit works is demanding a 12 percent increase in pay, but apparently would be willing to receive reduced salary in exchange for better benefits. The city of Sao Paulo has been strong on opposing such a high increase in wages and feels that 8.7 percent is more than adequate. A labor court has deemed the protests to be illegal and therefore is fining the group $175,000 for the initial few days of the strike and then $220,000 for each subsequent day after.
Authorities are deeply concerned over the strike’s potential to disrupt transportation for fans that will be attending the FIFA World Cup’s first match. The stadium is about 12 miles east of downtown Sao Paulo, where most travellers will be staying for the tournament.
The union’s president has said that nearly all of the 8,000 members are involved in the strike. Unfortunately 60 of the employees have been fired and now it is more of a priority for the union to have those 60 rehired than to meet the initial salary demands. In Rio de Janeiro workers are also threatening to protest over what is alleged to be the lowest salaries for metro workers in the Brazil.
Brazil has already failed to pass several of FIFA’s assessments, the final one being December 31, 2013 when all venues should have been officially done with construction and handed over to FIFA. In the worst case, the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba is scheduled for a June 16 kick-off, but is currently “weeks away from being ready” according to reports. It is clear that FIFA and Brazil are equally accountable for the incomplete arrangements of the World Cup.
Authorities hope there will be no more tragedies similar to the monorail accident, but in the rush to complete the work before the FIFA World Cup begins, it seems inevitable that more accidents will occur. And unfortunately, with tensions high and workers promising to protest in large numbers, it is unlikely that more clashes involving the police and Brazilians will not come to a head.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash