RIO DE JANEIRO – A light rail system that was meant to help soccer fans get around World Cup host city Cuiaba, in Brazil's remote Mato Grosso state, will not be ready in time for the tournament, a top state official says.
Mauricio Guimaraes, who heads World Cup projects in the far western state, said the 13 mile-long train lines won't be completed until December, more than five months after the end of the World Cup.
Mato Grosso's infrastructure projects have been plagued by delays, and news reports say 47 out of the state's 56 World Cup-related projects are delayed. Cuiaba's Arena Pantenal stadium, which is scheduled to hold four World Cup matches starting with Chile vs. Australia on June 13, was among six World Cup stadiums throughout Brazil that missed the Dec. 31 delivery deadline set by world soccer's governing body, FIFA.
Speaking Monday in an interview with TV Centro America, the Globo television network's local affiliate, Guimaraes blamed "various delays" for the setbacks, adding that "from now on, it will be fast."
"The projects are all in the conclusion phase," said Guimaraes. "The hardest part has already been concluded."
Still, he acknowledged that no track has yet been laid for the $621 million light rail system, which includes a link to the airport and was widely seen as the crowning jewel of the city's World Cup infrastructure projects.
"From now on it's quick. We will be laying down 200, 300, up to 400 meters of tracks each day," he said. "Therefore, the phase we are entering is quicker and with less interference in our execution of the work."
Guimaraes said he expected the other area projects would be completed in time for the World Cup, which is expected to bring some 500,000 foreign visitors to Brazil.
During a FIFA-organized visit last month, AP reporters witnessed the extent of the work that remains to be done in Cuiaba, a city of 540,000 near Brazil's border with Bolivia. Travelers to Cuiaba land at an airport bustling with construction, take a road that has been half ripped up for the eventual tramlines and arrive at a stadium where the roof and facades are not finished, which has no seats, and where the muddy pitch was seeded with grass.
At the time, Guimaraes told reporters the tram was the "biggest challenge" and added, "We do have plans B and C," including using buses, if necessary.
Brazil has repeatedly faced harsh criticism from FIFA over delays in delivering stadium and renovating airports. In an interview published earlier this week, FIFA President Sepp Blatter criticized Brazil's slow preparations, saying the South American nation is further behind than any other hosting the international event during his nearly four-decade-long tenure.
"Brazil has just realized what it means to organize a World Cup," Blatter said in an interview with Swiss newspaper 24 Heures. "They started a lot too late. It is the country which is the furthest behind since I've been at FIFA and moreover, it's the only one that had so much time — seven years — to prepare itself."