ON APRIL 22 President Menem of Argentina signed Decree 393/99, giving legal force to the contract renegotiated with Metrovías, concessionaire for the Subte metro and Urquiza commuter line in Buenos Aires. Confirming an extension to 2017 and an investment programme worth a total of 1·4bn pesos (RG 2.99 p65), it had emerged unscathed from a public meeting convened by the government for March 15 after a successful legal challenge (RG 4.99 p189).

The meeting in Moreno was also to consider new contracts agreed with Trenes de Buenos Aires for the Mitre and Sarmiento networks, and with Ferrovías for the Belgrano Norte. Alas, political point-scoring took precedence over meaningful debate, leaving managers from Metrovías and TBA unimpressed.

With no concrete counter-proposals on the table, Decree 210/99 issued on March 16 confirmed the new contract with TBA, but this was blocked by a further legal challenge. On May 13 a judge ruled that by extending the 10-year concession term by 20 years to 2025, the government had gone beyond the terms of a simple contract renegotiation.

This has apparently prompted Metropolitano to seek a 20 rather than 30-year extension to its Roca, San Martín and Belgrano Sur concessions, where it has agreed to implement a 1·2bn pesos investment package including electrification and new diesel rolling stock for the Belgrano Sur. The Metropolitano contracts could also face a public meeting and will have to go before the parliamentary privatisation committee; with general elections due in October, time may be in rather short supply. This could be why construction company Ormas is reported to be trying to sell its 33% holding in Metropolitano to a British operator.

Prospects are hardly better for the freight concessions. Ferroexpreso Pampeano, Ferrosur Roca and Buenos Aires al Pacífico have all agreed new contracts with the government, but the privatisation committee is unhappy that the concessionaires have been allowed to put their original investment programmes to one side. Instead, they have agreed to spend 15% of their annual income where they think it most appropriate.