Brazilian railway to Pacific makes progress

Farmers may skip partying for Carnival, but they’ll dance when line is completed.

If you caught any coverage of Brazil’s Carnival, you probably didn’t see a lot of farmers in the crowds dancing in the streets. Things are just too busy in the fields for farmers to take a lot of time off right now— a responsible outlook that doesn’t combine terribly well with four days of decided frivolity and letting it all hang out before Lent.

So maybe it’s no surprise that progress on China’s planned 3,000-mile Transoceanic railroad from Rio de Janeiro to Lima isn’t tops in the news right now. But progress has been made.

And while it’s true nearly none of the costumed folks who have spent the last four days dancing have likely thought much about it, those stay-at-home Brazilian farmers likely have followed closely as three more Brazilian governors signed Memoranda of Understanding with Chinese capitalists to clear the way for the railroad whose tracks would be surrounded by bean fields for much of that extent.

The backhaul

Oh, and when the line gets into Peru, it will pass by the Bayovar phosphate mines, making the backhaul viable for many of those hopper cars.

I don’t mean to be a buzz-kill by talking about such pedestrian things during a party, but it’s a fact lower transportation costs in the U.S. have been the U.S.’ only real advantage in terms of selling our agricultural products to China. It’s enough to make you pull off your Carnival headdress and think.

A local report puts the price tag for the railway at somewhere around $8 billion—less costly than you might think because some of the rail line is already out there and merely needs to be connected. It’s still expensive because of the engineering and environmental challenges likely associated with a railway that runs partly through the Amazon before crossing the Andes.

The numbers

It is reported that China imported some $5 billion in goods from Brazil’s Mato Grosso state in 2014. Now, if you know Mato Grosso, you know that all $5 billion of that was from the soybean complex. They just don’t make that many iPhones in Mato Grosso. That’s a whole lot of beans, and at least one report says the railway could save the Chinese up to $30 per tonne on shipped Brazilian beans arriving in China.

Is it starting to make sense?

The Chinese have been pushing rail projects around the world for years now, and they’re good at it. And while South American infrastructure projects have tended to unfold at the leisurely pace of a fat Dickens novel, this East-West Railroad project seems to keep plodding along like the little engine that could—while the rest of the world remains distracted.

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