Major Infrastructures Projects: Central Bi-oceanic Railway Corridor in Bolivia.

Seville, Spain.

[dropcap style=»default, circle, box, book»]I[/dropcap] am going to start a series of articles dealing with major worldwide infrastructure projectsthat have a profound effect on development in the continental regions or countries where they are carried out. I shall select those which are of specific interest due to their socio-economic impact or because they represent a technical or innovative challenge. [pullquote align=»left»]I have the good fortune to work on projects that are pivotal for the development of the countries in which they are undertaken.[/pullquote] The first of these takes place in Bolivia, a nice nation populated by friendly people where I have some great friends, a place I will tell you about some other time in more detail so that I can share the natural wonders of breath-taking magic such as the Titicaca Lake, Salar de Uyuniand those unforgettable nooks and crannies in La Paz that you can only discover when you are the guest of the locals.

Since last May I have been working on a project financed by the Inter-American Bank and under the auspice of the Deputy Transport Ministry in Bolivia, in tandem with its Railways Technical Division (UTF): dealing with Central Bi-oceanic Railway Corridor (CFBC)and its development in Bolivia and Peru. At the present time, there is a railway line in operation, though this is in poor conditions and divided into two sections: the Eastern Network which joins Santa Cruz with the Brazilian border and the Andes Network, which, running from Oruro and throughViacha-La Paz, moves towards the Pacific coast via Chile. Nonetheless, these are not interconnected. And therein lies the challenges, no more no less than cutting a path across the Andes.

Why is this project so far-reaching and complex?

  • It is a railway project that would join the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and, as such, of historical and continental importance. The current Bolivian rail network runs for 1,622kms. It is formed by the Andes and Eastern Networks, though not connected due to a lack of infrastructure in the central part of the country, from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba.
  • The Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor (CFBC) is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of Bolivia, as it will allow for the development, utilisation and industrialisation of its natural resources along with a major improvement to exporting and importing conditions.bolivia2
  • This project aims to connect both network, allowing for a sustainable transport connection between the Pacificand the Atlantic as well as providing services for the continually growing industrial sector in Bolivia and Brazil: steelworks, soya, and the forthcoming Urea plant that is being built in Bulo-Bulo.
  • This will mean more than 1000 kmsof new track and the modernisation of part of the current network, giving a total of almost 2,000 kms to work on and representing more than 5 billions$ investment, which is vastly significant for Latin America..

What are the project’s difficulties and what are the milestones?

  • As I have already mentioned, we have to cross the Andes, the mountain range running from the northern part southwards in the South American continent, reaching heights of 4,000 to 7,000 metres. And of course, as the project is largely geared towards freight transport, it is of the utmost importance to minimise the number of slopes. We must also take into account the economic limitations of a country whose per capita income levels are 10 times less than the current rate in Spain, even though we are now “the poor”


  • In this sense, an unusual effect is produced that corresponds to the dawn of the railways in the world: when in Europe we wish to cross, for example, the Alps, the alternative that has the least steep slope is the straightest, then we undertake the construction using viaducts and tunnels.If we are dealing with freight transport, then nothing is built with an incline of more than 1%. Building a tunnel can cost as much as 40 million Euros per kilometre. And this is how we built the AVE High-Speed Line in Spain(and will continue to do so though at a slower pace). An average of 10-15 millions/km.
  • In Bolivia, as in many other countries in the region, the solution avoiding steep slopes is longer, we seek out the contour lines, rising slightly or circling the mountain. The cost per kilometre is 3-5 million euros. That said, we take into account maximum slopes of between 2-3%,meaning a negative impact on services.
  • Another one of the problems we encounter is thedifferent track gauge in the different countries the rail line crosses through. This problems has haunted us in Spain for years, as the Iberian Gauge measures 1,688 whereas the international standard measurement is 1,435 mm and this creates problems for us when we cross the border. In the CFBC the tracks have a metric gauge, in other words 1,000 mm. The current network links up with Brazil and Argentina on the Eastern front and with Chile and Argentina to the west. And the plan is for it to exit via Peru, where they use international gauge. bolivia3This leads to a complex problem that the world of the railways can solve, though not in a highly satisfactory manner in terms of freight transport. However, there is enough therein for a post on its own.
  • The image of the railways must be recovered in the Country, as happens in many countries in which the railways have reached the end of their life cycle, as, in many cases, the infrastructure dates back more than a century. The project has allowed me to travel the length and breadth of the country undertaking interesting, whilst at the same time fundamental, fieldwork. As you can see in the photos below, there is a lot to be done in one you can see a station that looks like it has been culled from the excellent film by Mateo Gil BlackThorn  telling the story of the attempt to return home of Butch Cassidy crossing the Bolivian plateau (just on the other side of Bolivia from where the photos were taken is the section between Santa Cruz and the Brazilian border.

bolivia5Some curious anecdotes from the project

An excellent experience as part of this project has been meeting the current railway operators from the mixed companies involved FOSA (Eastern Railway Network) and FCA (Andes Railway Network). Excellent and abnegated professionals struggling against budgetary constraints. I would like to highlight an example of their work: the FCA workers have a series of depots where they manufacture their own rail pieces for two reasons: it works out cheaper than purchasing them from international companies as labour costs are much lower, and because these must adapt to the conditions of the Plateau.


So now it is your turn to tell me about ground-breaking or complex infrastructure projects you have been involved in.

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