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Brazilian quickstep

Airspace between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo is among the world’s most congested. Every day 77 flights make the trip between Brazil’s cultural and financial capitals and demand is growing.

Long time coming

Yet there is no physical room for more airport capacity at either end, and the mountainous terrain makes coach and car travel unpalatable to say the least.

It currently takes six hours to travel between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro by bus or five by car. Even the plane takes two hours, once check-in time is factored in.

This makes for the clearest cut case for high speed rail that you are ever likely to see. It’s a case that has been developed by Halcrow and is now about to translate into a construction project. Tenders for a public private partnership concession for the £11.8bn scheme were invited in July.

“The case for this project is one of the strongest you will find anywhere in the world,” says Halcrow vice president Bob Brownstein.

“Today there are flights every 15 minutes taking off between Rio and São Paulo and there is no room for extra airport capacity. The travel times are comparable, the market is strong and Brazil has been very successful at PPP in highways,” he says.

The high speed railway will reduce the journey time to just 90 minutes, and with trains running every 15 minutes in each direction capacity is substantial – each train will carry 855 passengers compared with the 120 that can be crammed into planes. Initially 110 trains per day will ply the high speed route.

The 403km route, from Rio to São Paulo, with a further 107km to the final terminus in Campinas, is challenging. “All stations are in densely urban areas. There are large elevation changes. We have 91km of tunnels and 102km of bridges and viaducts,” says Brownstein. Maximum gradient on the line is 25%.

“The case for this project is one of the strongest you will find anywhere in the world”

Bob Brownstein, Halcrow

Signalling will use the European safety system ERTMS. This will allow trains running at 300km/hour to run within two and a half minutes of each other.

Technically challenging projects tend to come at a high price, and this is no different. Total cost of constructing the line itself was initially estimated at $7.3bn (£4.6bn). Including stations and rolling stock the capital costs hit £5.3bn.

The contract structure is also tough. The construction period will run for six or seven years with just a 40 or 42-year concession. The concessionaire will take on all risks, including construction, operations, demand and revenue. There is even regulation to safeguard the public interest. The winning bidder will be the one that offers to charge the lowest fares.

Brownstein is nevertheless hoping to get “at least one bid”. The key, he says, is the clear market opportunity, and the support the project has at all levels of government.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva himself launched the tender process.

Lula said he expected the railway to be in operation by 2016, when Brazil hosts the Olympic Games.

We expect that much of the infrastructure that we are developing will be ready for 2016 Olympics: we live in a country with good weather conditions, we can work in three shifts to complete the work before 2016

“We expect that much of the infrastructure will be ready for 2016 Olympics:we live in a country with good weather, we can work to complete the work before 2016”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Bids have been slow to arrive ahead of the 29 November bid deadline, nonetheless.It is understood that consortiums from six countries are eyeing the project. Their bid teams are assessing demand potential, economic feasibility, terrain and geology, and whether it is practicable to deliver the scheme in time for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Six teams were identified early on in the process - including consortiums from Spain, France, Germany, China, South Korea and Japan – that are expected in due course to team up with Brazilian contractors (see box).

The 29 November bid deadline will be followed by a preferred bidder announcement in January 2011. If the line is to open for the Olympics, expect construction work to follow soon after.

  • Investment opportunities in high speed rail in Europe, the United States and Brazil will be discussed at the World Infrastructure Summit, taking place between 29 November and 1 December in Barcelona. Go to for more information.

Potential bidders

Bidders are believed to include:

  • China – China Railway Construction Company (CRCC), China North Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry Corporation, China Investment (national wealth fund) and China Development Bank
  • France – Alstom and SNCF
  • Germany – Siemens and Transrapid/Maglev
  • Japan – Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Hitachi and Japan East Railway
  • South Korea – KRNA, KRRI, Hyundai, Samsung Engineering and SK Engineering & Construction
  • Spain – Talgo

United States High Speed rail

United States politicians are insisting that plans for a $500bn (£324bn) high speed rail network across the country remain on track despite widespread scepticism about funding (NCE 30 July).

Last week US transportation secretary Ray LaHood awarded £1.5bn in funding to states to progress their plans, including £562M for high-speed rail projects in California’s Central Valley, and £500M for the Tampa to Orlando corridor in Florida.

“President Obama’s bold vision for high-speed rail is a game-changer for transportation in the US,” said LaHood last month.

In addition, the California High Speed Rail Authority has received £122M for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for 832km of its high-speed rail corridor. The North Carolina Department of Transportation received £11M to improve rail stations between Charlotte and Raleigh.

The Ohio Department of Transportation received £9M for preliminary engineering and environmental analysis for its 3-C corridor, which connects Cincinnati through Dayton, Columbus to Cleveland. And the Maryland Department of Transportation received £6M for improvements to the rail station at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport.

The awards came after the Federal Railroad Administration received 132 applications from 32 states for High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail grant funding in August.

Application requests total more than £5.5bn more than three times that available. During the first round of awards in Autumn 2009, states submitted more than £345bn in project proposals for the initial £55bn available from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Officials have admitted that more cash is needed.

“We recognise that for this programme to be successful we do need a reliable, long-term source of funding,” Federal Railroad Administration deputy administrator Karen Rae told the American Road and Transportation Builders Association conference in Washington in July.

“But where that money will come from is something that Congress is going to have to focus on in the next one or two years.”

Halcrow’s Bob Brownstein warned that private investors would be wary of fare revenue promises.

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