Tag Archives: infrastructure

China plans huge Brazil-Peru rail link

Interoceanic Highway

The new road climbing out of the Amazon into the Andes

Story here.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang is to push controversial plans for a railway through the Amazon rainforest during a visit to South America next week, despite concerns about the possible impact on the environment and on indigenous tribes.

Currently just a line on a map, the proposed 5,300km route in Brazil and Peru would reduce the transport costs for oil, iron ore, soya beans and other commodities, but cut through some of the world’s most biodiverse forest.

The six-year plan is the latest in a series of ambitious Chinese infrastructure projects in Latin America, which also include a canal through Nicaragua and a railway across Colombia. The trans-Amazonian railway has high-level backing. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with his counterparts in Brazil and Peru. Next week, during his four-nation tour of the region starting on Sunday, Li will, according to state-run Chinese media, suggest a feasibility study.


The criticisms are similar to those that met the Interoceanic Highway project along the same general route a decade ago. When I traveled that road in 2011, when it was mostly paved but still missing a couple final links, I found that the most of the predictions of doom had failed to come true, while there were some clear benefits from the road construction. However, the bad news may have been bubbling away, and I haven’t been back to see if things stayed so positive once the road was fully open.

Time to go back!

Infrastructure notes: Bolivia soars, Venezuela, well, hmm

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 11.08.43 AMThanks to a series of tweets last night by Omar I learned that La Paz, Bolivia has opened the world’s longest teleferico, part of a new 10-km, three-line system of “metrocables” to connect the higher parts of the city with the lower. La Paz joins Medellín, Rio de Janeiro and Caracas in using metrocables to connect the hills, which in all four cities are poorer areas, with the job-rich center. Urban thinkers love metrocables*. They are like helicopters for poor people, leaping the staircases, highways and gang wars that once cut hill-dwellers off from the crystal palaces of downtown. They’re fun to ride and are relatively cheap, compared to subways or helicopters.

Did I say relatively cheap? Yes, that’s one of the selling points. The urban part of Medellín’s system cost something like $71 million for 4.7 km. (The documents on this are eluding me after hours of searching Colombian government web sites, which is a bit suspicious, but this online rant has the highest numbers I’ve seen, so let’s go with it.) That’s $15,106 per meter. According to these technical specifications, La Paz is building its 10,377-meter system for $235 million, or $22,615 per meter. Caracas built its 1.8-km San Agustín system for $257 million, or $142,777 per meter. That was 55 times more than the 10 billion old bolivars ($4.6 million) originally planned. The Caracas system overruns were in part because of gold-plating — check out the oversized, marble-floored stations — and quite likely in part because of corruption, though no, I don’t have the goods on that. Congratulations Country X.

That’s not to say that Venezuela can’t do anything fast and cheap. When I was there in December, I was surprised to see the national government building a new bridge over the Güaire river to connect the congested La Mercedes neighborhood with the freeway on the other side of the river. It was a very odd project, as the bridge was being built with minimal foundations at each end and was just a series of cheap trusses with a bit of asphalt on top — military campaign bridges pressed into service for heavy urban use. The turning radiuses to get on the bridge seemed horribly tight and it all looked like a recipe for yet more congestion in Las Mercedes, but who am I to complain — Caracas certainly needs more connectivity.

Well, turns out that my concerns about congestion and turning radii were off base. The bridge opened in early December. Yesterday, this happened. So it goes.

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