Uruguay’s Railroad Makes a Comeback
Uruguay is in a great moment. Record-setting numbers of tourists, soaring real estate investments… and now improving infrastructure. President-elect José Mujica has said that a main priority of his government is to revitalize the nation’s 3,000 kilometers of railroad track.
Until 1947 about 90% of the railroad system was British-owned. In 1949 the government nationalized the railways, along with the electric trams and the waterworks company. However, in 1985 the “National Transport Plan” suggested passenger trains were too costly to repair and maintain. Cargo trains would continue for loads more than 120 tons, but bus transportation became the “economic” alternative for travelers. The last passenger train rolled into Montevideo on the second of January 1988. Since 1993 there has been talk about how to revitalize the railroad.
In a visit to the Central Train Station in the Uruguayan city of Tacuarembó, Mujica told reporters his first priority was cargo but that reinstating passenger trains was also on the horizon. He insisted that the nation’s wood ties, or as they are called here, railway sleepers, would be replaced by more modern concrete ones.
Future ANCAP President Raúl Sendic, in an interview with El Pais, seconded the vision. ANCAP is the state-owned energy and concrete company. Sendic said the company will be an important player in the redevelopment of the railways. First of all, because they are frequent users of the trains. Secondly, because ANCAP has the resources to provide the national railroad administration (Administración de Ferrocarriles del Estado, AFE) with the concrete needed for the new railroad ties. While wood ties are predominate on North American railways, concrete sleepers are common in other parts of the world, including Uruguay. With large limestone deposits in the Treinta Tres zone of Uruguay, ANCAP has the primary materials needed to get the job done.
President Mujica’s visit was in support of the Proyecto de Renovación de Vías, or the Rail Rehabilitation Project. Since October 2009, workers have been laying new ties on the 422 km stretch of track between Pintado and Rivera in the North. The first phase of the project will last 16 months and will allow for freights of up to 18 tons at 40k per hour.
While in the North President Mujica also met with Sergio Urribarri, the governor of Entre Ríos, the Argentine province west of the Uruguay River. The two leaders spoke about Botnia, the controversial greenfield pulp mill in Fray Bentos (western Uruguay). In addition, Urribarri wanted to discuss the possibility of running trains between Concordia, Argentina and Salto, Uruguay.
To aide in the construction, renovation, and maintenance of railway infrastructure AFE joined forces in 2007 with the National Development Corporation (CND) and the Minister of Public Works and Transportation (MTOP) to form the Rail Corporation of Uruguay. The Corporation maintains a Spanish website where it lists calls for bids. Interested investors can contact the Corporation for more information about possible partnerships here: http://www.corporacionferroviaria.com.uy/llamados-a-ofertas (in Spanish)