Thursday, May 1, 2008

Argentina Launches High Speed Rail Project

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Major news out of South America - this week the government of Argentina and a consortium led by the French high speed train builder Alstom signed the contracts to build a high speed rail link between Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Córdoba - some of Argentina's largest cities.

Patrick Kron, Alstom’s chairman and chief executive, said construction would start before the end of the year and last for four years. Alstom, which designed and built France’s TGV, Spain’s AVE and South Korea’s KTX, is providing the rolling stock, signalling and maintenance to the Veloxia consortium, which also includes Iecsa and Emepa of Argentina and Spain’s Isolux Corsan.

The total project, financed by French bank Natixis, will cost some $3.7bn and Argentina will issue 30-year debt. Alstom’s share of the project is worth around $1.7bn. The project is five to eight times cheaper than similar ones in France or Spain, Alstom says.

Eight double-decker trains, with a capacity to hold 509 passengers each, will travel at a maximum 320 kph (200 mph), linking Buenos Aires and the city of Rosario, a major port, and the city of Córdoba.

Alstom, which says Argentina’s flat pampas are ideal terrain for a high-speed train, is aiming for 1.5m passengers a year and is confident the total will be higher. President Cristina Fernández called the project – which has been criticised as an extravagance when Argentina’s local train network urgently needs revamping – as ”a leap into modernity”.

This is not just significant because Argentina is going to beat California to having the first true high speed rail line in the Western Hemisphere. It's also important because it shows economic and fiscal difficulties don't have to stand in the way of "a leap into modernity." In late 2001 Argentina's financial system experienced total collapse, and the economy soon followed. Banks shut down, mass unemployment emerged, and the nation's standard of living plummeted. The worst is over, but Argentina has still not yet made a full recovery from the crisis even after six years. High speed rail will be a major boost for their recovery, and will provide sustainable, stable transportation - and therefore solid economic growth - for many decades to come.

Latin America's rail networks aren't in great shape, and in some cases are worse off than even the US. It's a farsighted step for Argentina, which has learned from its economic crisis that dependence on the IMF and an oil-based economy are not good ways to promote sustainable economic growth. California would do well to emulate Argentina's model.


Anonymous said...

It's remarkable that Argentina has decided to join other emerging economies, notably China and Morocco but also Turkey, Russia and even Iran(!) in pursuing high-speed rail as an alternative or supplement to highway construction.

Argentina's project has a key advantage in its flat terrain, but so do the Central and Antelope Valley sections of California's project. The really big-ticket items are tunnels, aerial structures and grade separation/noise abatement in existing metropolitan areas.

Now if only someone could persuade Nevada to drop both maglev and DesertXpress in favor of an electric HSR spur from Las Vegas via Barstow to the trunk line just south of Mojave! The Mojave desert and state of Nevada could easily deliver enough solar and hydro power to run the entire network and much more besides.

Anonymous said...

The tren bala will be quite the quantum leap from Argentina's crumbling rail infrastructure.

Brian Goldner said...

alright argentina may beat us (assuming theirs gets built first)
but...maybe we could be the first to have a transcontinental or even an international system...
imagine how dope it would be to get on a train in SF and end in mexico city..

Robert Cruickshank said...

Even a sleeper train from SF to Mexico City would be fantastic. I'd be all over that.

As to Iran, it's a telling sign when one of the world's largest oil exporters has trouble keeping its own population supplied with gas and is turning to high speed trains to connects its major cities. It's a great campaign ad - "Even Iran and Morocco are building it!"

My hope is that the Desert Xpress people and the feds can get together, get some money from CA and NV, and open the line. I've come around to the view that spending money on maglev studies is not terribly useful - Harry Reid should take the lead in making this happen instead.

Anonymous said...

@ brian goldner -

passenger rail doesn't make a whole lot of sense for distances over ~600 miles (1000km), unless you're talking about a slow train for people who are afraid of flying or can't afford an airline ticket.

If the US wants to have a first in the high speed rail, let it be operating on renewable electricity alone.

Anonymous said...

Um... High Speed 1, the London to Paris high speed rail link finishes in the western hemisphere! So Argentia would be the second...

sexy said...