THE ARGENTINIAN province of Neuquén is seeking legislation that will allow it to raise up to US$48·9m in loans to fund construction of the first section of a new rail crossing of the Andes from Zapala to Lonquimay in Chile.

The initial Zapala - Las Lajas section would cost between US$41m and US$48m to build, with the least expensive option involving the use of track materials recovered from other locations rather than new rail on concrete sleepers.

’If there is support from the legislature, in a few months we will be launching the first 58 km phase between Zapala and Las Lajas’, said Neuquén Governor Jorge Sobisch at the end of April. He added that Odebrecht of Brazil was undertaking feasibility studies for the remaining 170 km from Las Lajas.

Costings for the first phase have been prepared by civil engineering contractor Mota-Engil with the support of Portuguese trade development agency ICEP. Banco Espírito Santo has been involved in developing funding options for the project.