Germany visits Bolivia to push South American transcontinental railway

A German trade mission has been in Bolivia this week to discuss the construction of a $10bn Atlantic-Pacific railway between Brazil and Peru, which would pass through the country.

The delegation including German transport secretary Rainer Bomba – who described the proposed line as "the project of the century" – is pushing an idea that China appears to have dropped.

The route would be somewhere between 3,700km and 5,300km long. Possible corridors are being examined by engineers and surveyors from Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia, as well as Germany and Switzerland.

If the link is ever built, it would dramatically shorten overland transport times between the Atlantic and Pacific. As well as improving economic integration in South America, it would bring the European and Asian markets closer.

Bomba has been championing the project, and the trans-Bolivian option, for some time.

In an interview with Bolivian newspaper La Razón in January last year he described the "bi-oceanic" link as "the megaproject of the century" and added that the route through Bolvia between the Brazilian port of Santos and the Peruvian port of Ilo was the best solution.

Regarding the cost – for which $10bn seems optimistic – he said the money would be raised from public and private sources, although it was too early to be more definite.

"There is a lot of money available in the world that is looking to be invested," he told La Razón.

China had estimated the cost to be approximately $60bn.

Among the businesses accompanying Bomba was engineering giant Siemens, which is a major player in international rail markets. It later told Reuters that it went along to get more information about the project, however it was "at an early stage and questions have to be clarified".

The idea of a transcontinental link has already been proposed by China. In November 2014, President Xi Jingping and his then Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala agreed to create a trilateral working group to develop the concept.

This appeared to come to a halt in September 2016, when China estimated the cost of the line at $60bn. Martin Vizcarra, Peru’s minister for transport, said $35bn of the cost would have to be found by Peru, where extensive tunnelling would be required. He said this price tag "took Lima by surprise".

Speaking about the Chinese plan, Bomba told La Razón that he did not know much about it, but that German companies offered quality, reliability and a good after-sales service.

He also suggested that Germany would transfer technology but would not bring its own personnel, a dig at China’s habit of importing its own workers and companies to carry out work in other countries.

Image: The trade delegation meeting in La Paz (Government of Bolivia)

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