BRAZIL: 'This is a favourable moment to change the transport metrics in Brazil', announced the Governor of São Paulo state José Serra, addressing the opening session of the UIC Highspeed 2008 congress. Emphasising the importance of high-quality infrastructure to support the country's rapidly-growing economy, he insisted that Brazil needed to focus investment on the transport and energy sectors over the next few years.

The virtual disappearance of inter-city passenger services and past failures to invest in the rail network to match economic growth meant that more than 60% of all freight and passenger movement was undertaken by road, he continued. As a result, he claimed, 'average transport costs in Brazil are 50% higher than in Europe'. Around the big cities the roads are saturated; the 20 million inhabitants in the São Paulo metropolitan area use 6 million cars and 2·2 million lorries.

Serra is a strong supporter of plans to develop a high speed line between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. This 520 km route could offer city-to-city journey times comparable with today's 2 h airline timings. By contrast, he says the best time achievable by road today is 6 h if there are no delays. With more than 6 million passengers a year travelling between the two cities, Serra believes the project could be profitable, and he has commissioned studies for a 90 km extension from São Paulo to Viracopos and Campinas.

According to the President of Brazil's high speed rail association Adtrem, Guilherme Quintella, the standard-gauge airport express line to be built between São Paulo and Guarulhos airport (RG 4.08 p212) is being designed to form part of a future high speed corridor, enabling trains from Rio to reach the city centre.

Local investment bank Bndes and the Inter-American Development Bank have commissioned Halcrow to prepare a feasibility study for the Rio - Sao Paulo route, covering both engineering design and a financing and concession structure. Brazilian transport minister Alfredo Nascimento confirmed last month that the government expects to call tenders for the project in the first quarter of 2009, with construction expected to take around five years. The line is likely to be developed as a public-private partnership concession.

According to the minister, construction would cost around R$11bn, of which the majority would be raised from the private sector. However, he warned that this is a preliminary figure, and 'we will only be able to discuss this in more detail following the conclusion of the studies at the end of April'. Serra suggested last month that the extension to Campinas could add around R$500m to the total cost.

Nascimento says trains would run at a minimum speed of 285 km/h, giving a journey time of 1 h 25 min between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and 25 min from São Paulo to Campinas. The government had been looking at existing high speed line projects in Germany, Italy and South Korea, but he insisted that the international call for tenders would be open for bidders to propose any suitable technology. 'The Lula government intends to endow the country with a new structure of transport', he concluded.

In the longer term, a third high speed corridor could also emerge, running south from São Paulo to Curitiba, the principal city in Paraná state. Samuel Gomes, the President of state-owned railway Ferroeste, says a team of consultants has started work on an analysis of alternatives for a 410 km high speed line linking the two cities. He believes that this could also be a profitable venture, given that the corridor is currently used by around 8 million people a year, with typical road journey times of 7 to 10 h, compared to a potential 2 h 30 min by train.

Gomes adds that the busy BR116 between the two cities is the second most dangerous road in the country, with more than 1 000 people a year killed or seriously injured. Quite apart from the annual death toll of 50 000, accidents on Brazilian roads cost the country around US$13bn a year, he estimates.