URUGUAY: Passenger services in the Montevideo area and freight services from the capital to the north are to be suspended for at least two years from June 15, following the official launch in May of the Ferrocarril Central project to modernise the 273 km Montevideo – Paso de los Toros line.

The project is being undertaken through an 18-year design, finance, build and maintain PPP contract signed early this year by the Ministry of Transport & Public Works and the Vía Central consortium of local companies Saceem and Berkes, Sacyr of Spain and NGE from France.

The scope includes track renewals, grade separation, track doubling on 26 km of the route, the provision of passing loops and the construction of sections of new alignment, including a bypass at Sarandí Grande and a diversion between Margat and the south side of the 25 de Agosto bridge to avoid an area liable to flooding. The existing tracks will be retained for passenger services. Branches will be built to serve Montevideo docks and a planned UPM pulp mill on the south bank of the Rio Negro.

The line’s axle load will be raised to 22·5 tonnes and the maximum speed for freight trains to 80 km/h, and there will be passive provision for future electrification.

The overall value of the project is US$880m, with a further US$90m to be spent on related projects. This will be partly financed with a U$500m loan from the Inter-American Development Bank. The work is expected to generate more than 2 000 jobs.

The route is scheduled to reopen in March 2022. Freight traffic is expected to reach 2 million tonnes/year. There would be nine daily passenger trains each way between Montevideo and Progreso, of which two would continue to 25 de Agosto, 64 km from the capital. The double-tracking would provide the possibility of operating a more frequent service to Progreso.

Speaking at the project launch ceremony in Paso de los Toros on May 23, Transport Minister Victor Rossi said future customers would be able to depend on the upgraded railway, knowing that trains would arrive on time and without derailments.

President of the Vía Central consortium Alejandro Ruibal emphasised that it is a national project, rather than one owned by a particular political party.

Intendente of the Tacuarembó department Eber Da Rosa said the upgrade would help the development of a neglected region of the country, while Durazno department’s Carmelo Vidalín said modernising of the railway and opening the UPM pulp mill would be important steps towards generating employment in the centre of the country and encouraging people to live there.

  • The project was described in detail in the November 2018 issue of Railway Gazette International magazine, which subscribers can access in the digital archive.