Railways in Brazil are in the ascendant as investment projects bear fruit on the back of the iron ore boom. Construction work on the revised Transnordestina scheme is due to start in August

CONSTRUCTION of a 166 km metre gauge railway parallel to the coast of Espírito Santo is due to commence shortly. Announced by the president of mining giant CVRD, Roger Agnelli, the Litorânea Sul project will be managed by Ferrovia Centro-Atlântica while CVRD will fund the R$684m cost.

The project illustrates the revival of Brazil's railway industry (RG 7.05 p385) which is now recovering from a long period when investment was almost non-existent. As rail demonstrates its ability to handle large tonnages of iron ore and agricultural produce, pressure is growing to move ahead with long-planned projects that will improve access to ports. In some cases the private sector is expected to become involved as public-private partnerships take shape.

In Espírito Santo the Litorânea Sul line (1) will run from Argolas to Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. Replacing the existing sinuous and steeply-graded inland route through Marechal Floriano and Vargem Alta which is no longer able to cope with demand, it will have a direct link at its northern end to CVRD's heavy haul Vitória a Minas Railway. The link will be formed by the 19·6 km Vila Velha bypass (2) which runs from the EFVM main line to Viana on the FCA route, ensuring that heavy freight traffic is kept clear of the Vitória urban area.

The Litorânea Sul will include a 15·6 km branch to the port of Ubu. Traffic will include iron and steel products, cement and minerals.

Transnordestina start planned

More significant in many ways is the huge Transnordestina scheme (3) which was completely revised in 2004 (RG 9.04 p536). After approval was given by the planning, development, transport and agriculture ministries in June last year, an important step was taken on November 25 when Brazilian President Luís In cio Lula da Silva presided at a ceremony in Fortaleza at which arrangements were agreed for the Transnordestina project to move forward.

This critical agreement was signed by the Ministry of Transport, the Brazilian National Development Bank, Banco do Nordeste, Companhia Ferrovi ria do Nordeste (CFN) and Transnordestina S/A. It envisages that construction will start in August this year.

In its current form the Transnordestina will require construction of 905 km of new alignment in the states of Pernambuco, Cear and Piauí. Another 955 km of CFN route are to be upgraded to take heavier traffic. With a total cost of R$4·6bn, work is expected take at least three years.

Most of the new construction will be required to develop a line running west from a CFN railhead near Salgueiro to Eliseu Martins. It will serve a region where rapid agricultural development is taking place, providing a fast and efficient route to the ports of Pecém near Fortaleza and Suape, just south of Recife. Traffic is likely to consist mainly of soya, maize and cotton, but a major source of gypsum has also been identified. Consultants expect traffic to reach 17 million tonnes a year by 2010, rising to 27 million tonnes by 2020.

Brazilian railways are planning many more enhancement schemes which they consider essential to plug operational gaps in the network (Table I). In many cases these are cut-offs or bypasses designed to keep freight trains out of urban areas. This has several advantages. Not only do the freight operators benefit from faster transits thanks to better alignments, but they also the avoid the delays that tend to afflict older routes through towns and cities where there are frequent level crossings. It also gets round the problem of squatters occupying railway property.

One example is the north São Paulo ring line that will relieve tracks through the city centre (14). In this case local passenger operator CPTM plans to take over the central alignments as it develops its suburban network.

Record spend

Outlay by Brazil's railway concessionaires exceeded the R$2bn threshold for the first time in 2004. Around R$2·1bn was spent last year, and this year will see the figure reach R$2·35bn.

Nearly half of this will be spent on track relaying and repairs, but the concessionaires are expected to acquire at least 200 locomotives and around 6700 wagons.

Brazilian Railway Industry Association Luis Ces rio Amaro da Silveira said at the end of last year that 'we are breaking records'. During 2005 Brazilian suppliers assembled 7500 wagons compared with 4600 the year before.

A major locomotive contract was also announced towards the end of last year, with MRS Logística ordering 50 new locomotives from General Electric. Previously Brazilian operators had tended to acquire reconditioned second-hand units, but the MRS locos will come straight from the factory with a price tag of around US$2m each. A firm order has been placed for an initial 20 units, and the first of these should be delivered later this year.

Table I. Costed railway enhancement projects in Brazil

Project Concessionaire Cost, R$m
1. Litorânea Sul (Argolas - Cachoeiro de Itapemirim) FCA 634
2. Vila Velha bypass FCA 40
3. Nova Transnordestina CFN 4588*
4. Serra do Tigre variant (Ibi - Sete Lagoas) FCA 1000
5. Realignment Curitiba - Paranagua ALL 150
6. Alto Araguaia - Rondonopolis (236 km) BRF (Ferronorte) 500
7. Santa Catarina coastal line and inland extension (842 km) FTC 2083
8. Camaçari - Aratu variant FCA 55
9. São Félix - Cachoeira bypass FCA 77
10. Realignment Guarapuava - Ipiranga ALL 450*
11. Curitiba bypass ALL 150
12. Bypass lines for Jaragu do Sul, Joinville and São Francisco do Sul ALL 150
13. Improvements at Criciúma FTC 18
14. São Paulo northern ring MRS 850*
15. Barra Mansa cross-city improvement MRS 32
16. Araraquara improvement BF-Ferroban 36
17. Santos port access BF-Ferroban 16
Total 10829

Picture caption: CFN plans to upgrade 955 km of its existing network as part of the Nova Transnordestina project which envisages 905 km of new construction