After decades of delays, Brazil’s ambitious railroad project to revitalize the infrastructure of its booming northeast region is on track. The 1,728-kilometer Transnordestina rail line, linking city of Eliseu Martins in the region’s interior to the ports of Pecém and Suape, is slated to begin operations late next year.
The $3.21 billion route is being built by Brazilian steelmaker Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional, which holds a 30-year concession that gives it a 75% stake in the line. CSN has financed through regional development agency Fundo de Investimentos do Nordeste and Brazil's national development bank. CSN is providing almost a quarter of the funds itself.
The existing rail line in the region has an annual transport capacity of 2 million tonnes.
When the Transnordestina project reaches its full capacity in 2019 that is expected to reach 30 million tonnes of grains, iron ore and minerals, such as gypsum, from the interior of the region each year.
The work involves replacing a meter-gauge network with a dual-gauge network, as well as building a completely new alignment to the railroad in many sections. It will cross 85 cities in the three north eastern states of Ceará, Pernambuco and Piauí.
The initiative was first launched 21 years ago, but stalled in 1992 due to lack of funds. Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva revived the project in 2006 with the start of work on a 100-km portion between Salgueiro and Missão Velha. In 2009, the main portions of the work were contracted out for construction.
Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht is handling 1,100 km of the project, including almost all of the stretch connecting Eliseu Martins and the port of Suape. The remaining portions are being built by Brazilian firms Andrade Gutierrez and Galvo.
To handle the vast operation in the limited work schedule, Odebrecht divided the project into two phases; the first handling the earth embankment and works related to the construction of bridges, viaducts and culverts, the second phase includes the installation of the railroad itself.
The project requires excavating more than 90 million cubic meters of material, the installation of 1.5 million cubic meters of concrete and more than 3 million concrete beams—sleepers— to support the rails. Odebrecht officials say they expect to lay more than 2.4 km of track a day when operations hit their peak this year.
To support the operation, Odebrecht has built the world's largest factory for fabricating broad gauge sleepers in Salgueiro. It is capable of producing 4,800 sleepers a day. The $115 million facility includes one of the country’s largest crushing plants as well as an extensive rail wielding unit.
Cost: $11.3 billion
Construction Period: 2008-14
Lanzhou is a city of heavy industry and petrochemicals, located on the south bank of the Yellow River in northwest China. With a population of 2.2 million, it is the capital and largest city in Gansu Province. About 800 kilometers to the south, Chongqing, a manufacturing center on the Yangtze River in Sichuan Province, is one of the largest municipalities in China, with a population of 30 million. The Qinling Mountains sit between the two.
The Lanzhou-Chongqing Railway project will link these two economic hubs with an 832-km double-track rail line. The hilly route through the Gansu, Shaanxi and Sichuan provinces will require 285 bridges, totaling 104 km, or 13% of the route, and 178 tunnels, covering 506 km, or 63% of the route. Twelve of the tunnels will exceed 10 km in length, with the longest measuring 29 km.
Tunneling crews from two contractors are making steady progress on the 16.6-km-long West Qinling twin tunnels. China Railway Tunnel Group Co. Ltd.’s 18th Bureau is managing the Left Line Tunnel, while China Railway Construction Co. Ltd. is managing the Right Line Tunnel. The contractors did some of the initial tunneling by the drill-and-blast method. Both contractors are using 10.2-meter-dia tunnel-boring machines supplied by The Robbins Co., Solon, Ohio.
According to Robbins’ project manager, Andy Ju, "[The job] is very difficult, especially because major [TBM] components need to be transported to the jobsite through the area severely afflicted by the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The roads are very remote and prone to washouts in bad weather.” He pointed out that, despite the distance “from shop assembly to the jobsite [being] 800 kilometers, including 300 kilometers of mountain roads, it only took us 10 days for the major parts transportation.”
The project owner, the Lanzhou-Chongqing Railway Co., is a joint venture of the Ministry of Railways, the Gansu and Sichuan provincial governments, and the Chongqing municipal government. The line will have 31 stations and be designed for double-stacked container traffic.
By reducing the current rail route between Lanzhou and Chongqing to 820 km from 1,466 km, the project will cut travel time between the cities to 6.5 hours from 17.5 hours. The entire railway is planned to open to traffic in 2014.
Of the five Central Asian nations, Kazakhstan occupies an especially strategic position. Geographically, it lies between China to the east and Russia to the north and west; it also provides a north-south corridor between Europe and the Middle East and southern Asia. Politically, Kazakhstan has maintained good relations with its larger neighbors—Russia, China and Iran—which has involved a skillful balancing act.
The North South Transnational Corridor project aims to be the most direct link for freight shipments from Russia or Central Asia to the Persian Gulf. It will run from the rail junction of Usan in western Kazakhstan in a southerly direction, crossing the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan and linking up with an existing rail line in northern Iran. The line will run for 137 kilometers in Kazakhstan, 470 km in Turkmenistan and 70 km in Iran.
An agreement to build the line was signed by the presidents of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran in 2007. Turkmenistan began construction at Bereket station almost immediately. By July 2010, about 300 km of the line in Turkmenistan was completed; the work was performed by Iranian contractors. Turkmenistan’s effort was primarily financed by the Asian Development Bank. But Kazakhstan has delayed its start, citing financial reasons.
According to the Far News Agency in Iran, the Iranian minister of roads and urban development, Ali Nikzad, announced that the portion of the corridor within Turkmenistan that is being built by Iranian contractors will be completed by the end of 2011. The short link inside Iran, which is being built by the Iranian contractor Pars Enerzhi, will be completed by March 2012.
Once it is completed, the railway is expected to initially transport cotton from Turkmenistan, as well as agricultural products and oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, to ports in Iran’s Persian Gulf for export to world markets. The new line will cut 600 km from the current route for shipped cargo from the Central Asian nations to Persian Gulf nations, putting the markets of Iran and the Gulf Arab states within cost-effective reach of, for example, Kazakh food producers.
Ultimately, the railway could shorten by 1,000 km the distance for shipping Chinese cargo to Europe via the Trans-Siberian Railway by routing it over the new rail link and existing lines through Iran and Turkey.
China’s high-speed-rail building program is a bold commitment to increase passenger-carrying capacity on major routes while simultaneously freeing up other lines for additional freight service.
One of the routes that is nearing completion is the 904-kilometer line linking the major port of Dalian with Harbin, the commercial hub of northeast China.
The project was split into three separate construction contracts. China Railway Group Ltd. built the southernmost section, spanning 377 km from Dalian to Shenyang. China State Construction Engineering Corp. built the central section, from Shenyang to Siping, and China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. built the northern section, from Siping to Harbin. Track work was completed in December 2010. The China Railway Electrification Bureau Group installed the power supply system and signal transmission systems, completing its work in June 2011.
Service was expected to begin in early 2012, but test operations on the line have been postponed due to quality problems, including excessive roadbed settlement near Dalian City. Further, the quality problems are in part allegedly due to corruption. Du Houzhi, the railway’s general manager, was fired in June and is currently under investigation, according to a report by China News Service.
According to the Ministry of Railways, the line is expected to carry 37 million passengers a year by 2020 and 51 million a year by 2030.
Once the high-speed line goes into service, most passenger service will shift to the new line, relieving pressure on the existing Harbin-Dalian railway, the busiest in the region, which transports coal, oil, agricultural products and lumber. According to a report in Xinhua, the existing line will be able to transport an additional 50 million to 60 million tonnes of cargo once the new high-speed line is operating.
ENR has identified ten of the world’s most notable new railway construction projects based on geographic variety and cross-border economic impact.
Saudi Arabia, though late to adopt rail service, has embarked on an ambitious program that will feature both freight and passenger service.
Its North-South Railway, a 2,400-kilometer-long branching system, will link Saudi Arabia’s northern mineral belt with smelters and a port on the Persian Gulf, enabling the country to better reach export markets. Further, passenger service will connect Riyadh with cities in the north and extend to the Jordanian border.
The construction work has been divided into four phases. The Saudi Binladin Group, the nation’s largest contractor, won the phase-A contract for the 576-km segment linking the bauxite mines at Az Zabirah (recently renamed Al-Beitha) to an aluminum smelter and refining complex at Ras Azzawr (recently renamed Ras Al-Khair). This phase has been completed.
Phase B will be handled by a joint venture of China Railway 18th Bureau and Al Suwaiket Co., which will construct a 440-km section from Az Zabirah (Al-Beitha) junction to the middle of the Al Nafude desert. Construction is under way.
A consortium of Barclay Mowlem of Australia, Mitsui of Japan, and Al Rashed of Saudi Arabia is overseeing phase C, which entails building the northernmost 750-km section, from the middle of Al Nafude to the phosphate mines of Al Jalamid and Al Haditha station on the Jordanian border. This section is expected to be completed by the third quarter of 2012, according to Muhammad Al Mansour, director of marketing for Saudi Railways Organization.
The phase-D contract, for the southernmost segment between Riyadh and Al Qassim, has been awarded to a joint venture composed of China Civil Engineering Construction Corp., Al-Ayuni Trading and Constructing Co. and Al-Omaier Trading and Contracting Co., and is expected to be completed by the first quarter of 2013.
The overall construction will encompass 120 million cu meters of embankment fill and 60 million cu m of excavation.
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Rail Co., the government-owned company that is set to build an estimated $11-billion passenger and freight rail network across the United Arab Emirates (UAE), says it will award the project’s first construction contract before the end of the year.
The company is set to select an unspecified number of contractors from at least 10 local and international bidders, according to reported comments by Ehitad Rail CEO Richard Bowker.
He said the bidders were “invited,” the online report said. Contract values also were not disclosed.
The network will mostly be for cargo shipments among ports and industrial centers in the UAE and neighboring Arab nations.
The spokeswoman says the first section wil transport up to 22,000 tons daily of granulated sulphur that are a byproduct of sour gas extraction in the Shah and Habshan gas fields.
but it also will include a commuter line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, according to reports. Bowker has said that the participating UAE nations are expected to set up a “rail authority” to oversee the system’s projects and possibly others on connecting routes in other countries.
In April, Etihad, formerly Union Railway Co., selected a Parsons Corp.-AECOM joint venture as the project's program manager, according to sources from the U.S. firms who did not wish to be named and published reports in the Middle East.
The joint venture replaced a team of Parsons and Paris-based SYSTRA, whose PM contract was canceled in January, just two months after the railway announced its selection of the firms. Reasons for the termination were not disclosed publicly or to team members.
Etihad also canceled in January a contract for preliminary engineering services awarded last fall to Parsons Brinckerhoff, also with no public statement or explanation to the firm.
The projects include Angola’s Benguela Railway, China’s proposed line in Iran from Tehran west to Khosravi, China’s own Harbin-Dalian High-Speed Rail Line and China’s Lanzhou-Chongqing Rail Line.
Companies such as Skanska and Parsons Brinckerhoff are involved in these projects, which promise to transform much of the developing world.
The Indian Cabinet last month approved the restructuring and financing for the future $90-billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, opening the way for forward for the ambitious megaproject planned along a future 1,483-kilometer high-speed-rail freight corridor. India’s rail ministry expects to invite bids this year for $2.2 billion worth of civil engineering contracts for the rail corridor’s first phase. The first seven cities of the 24-city industrial corridor are set for completion in 2018.
The purpose of the equity restructuring, under which 51% of the combined shares of two infrastructure and financing companies will be transferred to government-owned financial firms, is to maintain transparency and avoid conflicts of interest between project participants at a later stage, say sources. As a result of the Sept. 16 government action, the Delhi-
Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corp. (DMICDC), with a 49% share in the industrial corridor project, will become a government company open to government audits.
Plans call for a 1,483-kilometer-long industrial corridor that will run through seven states. In total, there would be nine industrial megazones, each 200-250 sq km, and 24 new cities.
Each zone would be located along the future 1,500-km high-speed freight line that will connect landlocked Delhi—in the north-central section of the subcontinent—southwest to Mumbai on the Arabian Sea. The government has not released any time frame for completion of the overall development.
“The basic objective of the [industrial corridor] is to drive manufacturing. Only then can India hope to keep growing at 9% to 10%, year-on-year,” says Amitabh Kant, CEO and managing director of DMICDC.
Land acquisition will be one of many challenges, say sources. Connecting highways, railways and ports to the new cities will be another, says Kant.
The Challenge of Financing
However, the main challenge will be financing. Unlike China, India will look at public-private partnerships, with part of the funding coming from the private sector. “In this, the government has a major role [because] these new cities [will] cost money,” he says. “The first seven cities that we plan to develop will cost between $8 billion to $15 billion, which is what Dholera, the largest development plan, is likely to cost,” says Kant.
Libya's civil war has halted an ambitious plan to build an extensive $5.6-billion rail system designed to bolster both passenger and freight service.
The major east-west route would parallel the coast, ultimately stretching 2,300 kilometers from Ras Ejder on the border of Tunisia to Umm Sa’ad on the Egyptian border.
The regime awarded separate contracts to Russian and Chinese contractors to complete certain segments. In 2008, crews from RZD, the Russian state railway, began building the 554-km Surt-to-Benghazi segment, which had been set to include four major stations and 24 minor ones. The owner expected the project to take four years at a cost of $3 billion.
As part of the project, RZD built a rail-welding plant in Ras Lanuf, with a capacity to produce 500 km of long welded rail per year for use in Libya, as well as for export to Russia.
Also in 2008, China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) began laying track westward along a 625-km segment from Surt, via Al Khums and Tripoli, to Ras Ejder. The company also has been awarded an 800-km north-south segment, which will be used to transport iron ore from the southern city of Sebha to a steel mill and port at Misratah, when completed, likely this year. CRCC’s contracts are reported to total $2.6 billion.
Work on the system halted in February 2011, when the Libyan rebellion began. According to a Russian news report, RZD evacuated all of its 123 staff employees as well as 700 non-Russian workers. An RZD spokesman confirms that the company is awaiting approval from the new Libyan government to return to the project.
China, which wants to create more robust rail corridors across Asia, is offering to build a $2-billion freight rail line in Iran. If continuous railway corridors were in place and, standard-gauge track installed from end to end, containerized freight could travel from China to Europe much more rapidly by rail than it does by ship, the Chinese claim.
In September 2010, Liu Zhijun, China's railway minister, and Hamid Behbahani, Iran’s minister of roads and transportation, signed an agreement that calls for building a 569-kilometer rail line from Tehran west to Khosravi on the Iraqi border.
Starting in Iran's capital city at an elevation of 1,200 meters, the line will ascend through the Zagros Mountains, with stops at Arak (1,718 m) and Hamedan (1,759 m) before descending to Kermanshah (1,350 m) and the border town of Khosravi (390 m). This route will offer a more efficient option than trucking for products being exported to Iraq, such as agricultural products, cement, steel and batteries.
The line also will offer passenger service to many of the 5,000 Shi'ite Iranians who make pilgrimages daily to the Iraq holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
According to a May article in the Middle East Economic Digest, Iran's Roads and Transportation Ministry has invited contractors to submit bids for the new line.
In the long term, the route holds the promise of connecting with Baghdad and even Syria as part of a Middle Eastern corridor.
Iran and Iraq have never had a rail link. However, Iraq and Syria revived their freight rail link in 2009, and Jordan is currently soliciting bids to build a rail line that will connect the port of Aqaba to Baghdad.
"China is committed to building a railway network in western Iran and Turkey and Central Asia," says Niklas Swanstrom, executive director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University. "For China, this is a long term project to link the Middle East to China in a financially constructive way."