THE FEDERAL congress has begun considering a government bill to create two new public bodies, in order to 'definitively restructure the railway industry in Argentina' in the words of Planning Minister Julio De Vido.

An infrastructure authority known as AIF would be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the existing network, as well as the construction of new lines, while its sister organisation ORF would operate passenger and freight services, either directly or 'in partnership' with third parties.

Announcing that President N??stor Kirchner had given his approval to the bill on May 31, De Vido said that the aim was to strengthen the railway sector in order to offer a better service to passengers and shippers, adopting a model similar to those currently in place in Spain and in France. With road transport put under increasing strain by the 50-point increase in Argentina's gross domestic product over the past four years, he stressed that the freight railways had to play a much more signifcant role in the national transport system.

Through the two new bodies, local government at provicial and municipal level would be invited to participate in the management of their local rail services. 'It is not nationalisation', said De Vido. The existing operating concessions would continue in force, and would only be revoked if the private sector failed to meet its obligations as in the case of Metropolitano (RG 6.07 p335). However an additional layer would be created above them to plan and execute the investment required for national railway development.