Brazil desperately needs new rail infrastructure and 160 years after building its first railway, the country is again turning to British engineers for help.
Britain’s relationship with Brazil’s railway began even before the very first line opened in Mau? in 1854. Brazil needed British engineers to design its new lines as well as oversee their construction.
British-built steam locomotives can still be found in Brazil, sitting as relics from the country’s early explorations into rail transport.
Brazil’s railways have been neglected for too long, that’s the view of the country’s residents, and investment is needed to revitalise the regional networks that haven’t moved passengers for 40 years.
Rio de Janeiro light rail design. Photo: MetroRio.
Last year, Brazil, which recently replaced Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy, announced it would be investing a further ?42 billion (US $66 billion) in its road and rail networks, constructing around 12,000 kilometres of new track to try and keep pace with the country’s economic growth.
The massive cash injection is creating new city metro systems, returning regional trains to South America’s largest country and seeing new rail technology being brought into commercial use in Brazil for the first time.
But Brazil faces the same problem it did more than 160 years ago. It needs a national rail network to transport goods in and out of its ports, but the technical knowledge needed to construct essential transport infrastructure doesn’t exist, so it must look to Britain and Europe – the third-largest overseas investor in Brazil.
A good example is Balfour Beatty who entered into the market through a partnership with one of Brazil’s construction giants, Camargo Corr?a. The company has now established itself in the country through work on rail links to Brazil’s mining industry in the north of the country.
“There are a lot of other companies approaching Brazil at the moment,” said Sueli Coca, mass transport lead for UK Trade and Investment (UKTI)
in S?o Paulo.
“We have other construction companies. We have Arup delivering some projects here. We also have Mott MacDonald. We have Carillion trying to explore opportunities here.”
CPTM train running through S?o Paulo. Photo: Lukaaz.
British companies are playing a major part in the planning of Brazil’s new transport infrastructure – an area Sueli says the country has struggled with in the past.
The government now believes it has got a grip of the situation with the creation of a body to oversee Brazil’s transport strategy.
British-born software company Legion
, which designs passenger simulation systems, is seeing its technology now being applied to projects around Brazil.
It is a success story that UKTI takes great pride in being a part of.
“We introduced them to the local government and said ‘this is a very innovative product, it’s interesting, what can we do to get them to start supplying to you’,” said Sueli.
“They then helped the local government draw up the tender bidding process because it was so unique even the local guys in the rail industry didn’t know how.”
David James, director of commercial and global operations at Legion, said: “We had a limited presence in Brazil prior to 2012, but we had started to get steady enquiries due to the World Cup and Olympics.
“I then approached UKTI middle of last year and we held Legion events between August and October.
“Brazil is potentially a big market for us and UKTI helped and will continue to help.
“There are sizeable rail projects underway in S?o Paulo itself, there’s talk of the high-speed rail project, which we’ve been slightly involved in, and we know there are other projects going on that will come to fruition this year.”
Having stepped up the company’s focus on Brazil last year, Legion is now looking to build, with UKTI assisted visits planned to the capital of Bras?lia and the cities of Recife and Salvador.
David added: “The UKTI team in S?o Paulo were excellent, absolutely excellent. We could not have achieved what we did, in the timescale we did, even if we spent 10 times as much as we allocated for the UKTI budget to host and assist with our events.”
From outside Brazil, the government’s focus on improving public transport links appears to be a reaction to the millions of visitors predicted to arrive between 2014 and 2016.
“There is a misconception with UK companies because most of them talk about the Olympic Games, the sports events, and in fact our problem is much worse than that unfortunately,” said Sueli.
“Although the government is putting a lot of effort towards investing in improving the systems in place or bringing new systems in, we know that this might not be enough because the economy is growing at such a percentage that although we may bring new systems on board, it’s never enough.
British D?bs & Co locomotive in S?o Paulo. Photo: Dornicke.
“Like the metro in S?o Paulo, as soon as a station or a line comes alive, it’s already overloaded, so we need new ones in place with more capacity to improve the quality of the services.”
So, where exactly is the money being spent?
Much of the investment is centered around S?o Paulo, with plans to spend billions extending the existing metro system and constructing new regional train lines to connect the city with the municipalities of Santos and Jundia?.
There are similar plans to expand Rio de Janeiro’s metro network, as well as proposals for a new light rail system to connect Rio’s city centre with the coast.
The most highly-publicised project included in Brazil’s rail plans is a high-speed link between Rio and S?o Paulo, which will include stops at three major airports. At the end of 2012, bidding finally opened for the project.
A number of Brazil’s 2014 World Cup host cities will get their very first metro systems thanks to the country’s infrastructure boom. Billions has already been pledged by the federal government to projects in Curitiba
, Porto Alegre
S?o Paulo Line 17 extension. Photo: Metro sp.
UKTI’s role within the country is to connect British companies with Brazilian partners. A key part of this is getting UK firms to make the trip across the Atlantic and see the opportunities for themselves.
Sueli said: “Visiting the market is very important.
“UK companies sometimes don’t see it as an investment, but it is a very important investment to come here to the market and meet the co-partners.
“Brazilians work like that. They have to know you in order to do business with you. This is pretty much the same for both the private sector or government bodies. Having them warmed up definitely helps.”
Aware of its status as an emerging global superpower, Brazil is aiming to have a 40,000 km rail network by 2020. Consider China, which as of 2011 had a network length of more than 90,000 km, and it is clear how much more the country has to do, and the number of opportunities there for British companies.