Landlocked, a Railway Remains Idle in Brazil

Several underused tracks of the North-South Railway near Anápolis, an industrial city in Brazil that can expand its economy as a logistics hub, thanks to the confluence of rail, road and air transport, together with its proximity to Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Several underused tracks of the North-South Railway near Anápolis, an industrial city in Brazil that can expand its economy as a logistics hub, thanks to the confluence of rail, road and air transport, together with its proximity to Brasilia. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
ANÁPOLIS, Brazil, Jan 6 2018 (IPS)

The rails have been laid – thousands of km of rails deteriorating due to lack of use, to the despair of those who believe that a country as vast as Brazil can only be developed by means of trains.

Brazil built 37,000 km of railways up to six decades ago, but their use has declined since then. Today about one- third of the network is abandoned and another third is underutilised.

This stands out in the North-South Railway (FNS). Its longest stretch, in Brazil’s geographical centre, was inaugurated in May 2014, but it still does not operate regularly in this country of 8,515,770 square km and 208 million inhabitants.

The 855-km FNS, which runs from the north-central state of Tocantins toAnápolis, 130 km from Brasilia, will be extended by an additional 682 km – a project that is in the final phase of construction and will reach Estrela D’Oeste, in the interior of São Paulo, the most developed state in Brazil.

“It’s a mess, a series of errors and bottlenecks,” according to Edson Tavares, former superintendent of the Anapolis Dry Port and transport consultant. With terminals far from the sea, the FNS depends on more railways to become viable, he told IPS.

The Dry Port is an inland port or multimodal logistics centre or terminal connected to seaports by rail.

The chosen route of the FNS includes “curves that make it necessary to cut in half the intended speed of 80 km per hour” and moves away from busy loading areas such as mines and cement factories, complained the expert, who believes it will take “much more time” for the new railway to take off.

Construction began in 1987 and suffered frequent interruptions and allegations of corruption. The first section, to the north,did not start operating until 2013, and the concession is held by VLI, a logistics company controlled by Vale, the world’s largest exporter of iron ore.

Trucks fill the streets of the Anápolis Agribusiness District, in Brazil, loading or unloading products and raw materials, next to the North-South Railway, which is practically unused, waiting for the concession to be granted to an operator in 2018. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Trucks fill the streets of the Anápolis Agribusiness District, in Brazil, loading or unloading products and raw materials, next to the North-South Railway, which is practically unused, waiting for the concession to be granted to an operator in 2018. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

This 720 km-stretch is able to operate thanks to having “right of passage” through the Carajás Railway, which reaches the Port of São Luis, through which Vale ships iron ore from the Carajás range, in the north of Brazil.

This makes it possible to transport to a port soy and other products from Tocantins, a state in the northern region of Brazil, which contrasts with the other six northern states because only nine percent of its territory is in the Amazon rainforest and the rest in the Cerrado, the Brazilian savanna.

But the southern stretch of the FNS has been left unresolved.

“With the railway operating, Anápolis will become the main logistics centre in Brazil, since it is also the kilometre zero (start) of the Belém-Brasilia highway, crossing two other national roads, and it will have an important cargo airport which in its final phase of construction”, said Vander Barbosa, secretary of Development and Agriculture in the city government.

That city in the state of Goiás also has the most important industrial district in the west-central region of Brazil, with a pharmaceutical hub of 20 companies, a car-making and engine factory run bySouth Korea’s Hyundai and food, beverage and construction materials firms.

Many of these companies produce their own heavy and bulky goods for railway transport. The Granolcompany, for example, processes soybeans and was the first of the few companies that used the new railway to sporadically export their bran.

Since its plant is right next to the rails, it can load the trains through a short pipeline that carries the bran directly to the wagons. Biodiesel is another of its products transportable through the FNS.

A plant belonging to the Granolcompany, which produces soy branand biodiesel, next to the North-South railroad, in Brazil, where a pipeline from the factory makes it possible to load the wagons directly. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

A plant belonging to the Granolcompany, which produces soy branand biodiesel, next to the North-South railroad, in Brazil, where a pipeline from the factory makes it possible to load the wagons directly. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Anapolisis also set to be a storage and shipment point of grains for much of the central-west, the region with the highest agricultural production, especially of soy, corn and cotton. For this purpose, the FNS Intermodal terminal still has plenty of available space.

The military defense equipment industry is also strong in the city, which has a strategic air base for the protection of Brasilia, 130 km away as the crow flies.

The idea that transport routes, whether roads or railways, “attract development” does not always automatically come true; “it requires other policies in an integrated manner to generate economic growth,” said Lilian Bracarense, a professor of post-graduate studies in Regional Development at the Federal University of Tocantins.

“The Central-West, North and Northeast regions of Brazil have a lack of infrastructure, but that does not always justify private investments in the sector, as occurs in the South and Southeast, where there is an established demand,” she told IPS.

“The vicious circle that without demand infrastructure is not built, and without infrastructure demand is not generated”, according to the researcher who has a PhD in transport, seems to be broken by the government decision to introduce the railway that runs across the centre of the country from north to south.

Tocantins, with a population of 1.5 million, has an agricultural production limited to about 4.5 million tons of various grains, but the state of Goiás, population 6.8 million, recorded a harvest this year of almost 22 million tons, according to the National Supply Company (Conab) attached to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The idea behind the FNS is to create loading and unloading terminals throughout Goiás, especially in Anápolis due to the importance of industry there, and to attract productive investments as well. But that is where rail transport runs into obstacles.

The city and state of Goiás is more integrated with the economy of the Brazilian Southeast, more developed and closer to the port of Santos, more than 1,000 kilometers away by road, than with the northern ports, which are all at least 1,600 km away.

As a railway without an outlet to the sea, but with an “extensive area of influence”, the North-South railway, and the Brazilian rail system in general, need three conditions to operate satisfactorily, according to José Carlos Medaglia, CEO of the Planning and Logistics Company, attached to the Transport Ministry.

“The right of passage”, which allows logistics operators and a railroad concession company to transport cargo by rail from another company, is already legal but has to be fulfilled in practice, that is the first requirement, Medaglia told IPS.

To be effective, the railways must also have “surplus”transport capacity to provide to third parties, and standardised operation, with rails, equipment, personnel and other uniform technical requirements, of the same level of quality and training, so that they can operate on the railways of other companies, he said.

“All that was unimaginable in the past in Brazil”, which has a tradition of a “vertical” railway system, where the company that holds the concession for the infrastructure is its only operator.

This does not prevent competition, said Medaglia, who added that what is needed in any case is “good regulation,” to enforce the right of passage, and investments to expand capacity and modernise the system.

This can be achieved by negotiating with the country’s five railway networks new operating conditions to extend their concessions that will expire in the coming years.

2017 Was a Year of Record-Breaking Climate Events

South Carolina National Guard clears debris from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Credit: Capt. Tammy Muckenfuss/U.S. Army

By Kelly Levin

Parts of the United States are experiencing blizzard and record low temperatures, with sharks freezing in the Atlantic and cold-snapped iguanas falling from trees in Florida.

The frigid, snowy conditions could be related to climatic changes—recent studies show that melting Arctic sea ice can disrupt the jet stream and push cold air south. Meanwhile, other parts of the world are currently experiencing warmer-than-average temperatures.

It’s reminiscent of the kinds of extremes we saw over and over last year. Across the world, extreme events hammered communities and smashed records, while scientists gained a better understanding of just how much climate change is fueling many of the disasters we’re witnessing.

We took stock of some of the most noteworthy impacts and scientific advances of 2017. One thing was clear: Climate change is creating conditions that put all of us at risk.

Texas National Guard soldiers help citizens evacuate during Hurricane Harvey. Credit: Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD/The National Guard


• Although the year-end data have yet to be released, 2017 will likely be the third-warmest year in the 138-year record (possibly even the second-warmest, according to one report). Notably, it is on track to be the warmest year without an El Niño, a weather pattern that typically boosts average global temperatures.

Extreme Events

• As of early October, there had already been 15 weather and climate disaster events in the United States with losses of more than $1 billion, tying 2016’s total and only one shy of 2011’s record number of “billion-dollar disasters.”

• California just experienced its largest-ever wildfire, causing at least 50,000 people to evacuate. This came on the heels of a wildfire in northern California only a few weeks earlier, which killed more than 40 people and destroyed at least 8,400 homes.
• Hurricanes came in rapid succession, including Hurricane Harvey (with flooding from storm surge and extreme rainfall that left nearly 800,000 people in need of assistance), Hurricane Irma (the strongest in the Atlantic since Wilma in 2005) and Hurricane Maria (the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928). Scientists are at work researching the role of climate change in these events, but have already found that human-induced climate change likely increased the chances of Harvey’s heavy rainfall by at least 3.5 times and its intensity by almost 20 percent.
• East Africa fell deeper into a humanitarian crisis due to devastating drought, compounded with conflict, with millions going hungry.
• Australia broke more than 260 heat and rainfall records and witnessed its warmest winter on record.
• The 2017 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society found that scientists are increasingly able to discern whether climate change is impacting extreme events. The report reviewed work from 116 scientists from 18 countries and found that multiple extreme events in 2016—such as the extreme heat across Asia and a marine heat wave off the coast of Alaska—could not have even been possible without human influence to the climate. Another noteworthy publication found a connection between the severity of a number of extreme events and climate impacts to the jet stream.

Sea Level Rise

• Scientists mapping Greenland’s coastal seafloor and bedrock found that 2 to 4 times as many coastal glaciers are at risk of accelerated melting than previously considered.
• In Antarctica, scientists for the first time documented widespread movement of meltwater and large-scale surface drainage systems, which could send water to areas of ice shelves already vulnerable to collapse and accelerate future ice-mass loss.

Glaciers in Disko Bay, Greenland. Credit: twiga269 ॐ FEMEN/Flickr


• Scientists determined that the extent and rate of Arctic sea ice decline is unprecedented for at least the past 1,500 years.

Graphic by NOAA, Kinnard et al., 2011

• Arctic sea ice dipped to its smallest maximum extent ever recordedduring the month of March (it has been dropping about 2.8 percent each decade since 1979). Additionally that month, there was less than one percent of older sea ice (lasting longer than four winters), which is much more resistant to melt than new ice.
• Although summer ice extent in Antarctica has been generally growing over the past years, in 2017, scientists recorded the lowest summer ice extent ever. Scientists will need several more years of data to understand whether this was due to variation alone or indicative of more systemic changes.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

• The World Meteorological Bulletin found that concentrations of carbon dioxide – 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 – were the highest in at least 800,000 years and were 45 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. The last time Earth experienced comparable concentrations of carbon dioxide was when sea level was 10-20 meters higher than today and global average temperature was 2-3°C warmer. While it’s too early to tell what 2017’s annual concentrations will be, for the first time, the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded readings exceeding 410 ppm.
• The Global Carbon Project and University of East Anglia found that 2017 experienced the highest levels of carbon pollution on record, reversing course on a flattening of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry over the past three years.

Scotland oil rig. Photo by Steven Straiton/Flickr

Ecological Disruption

• Scientists discovered that tropical forests may have reached a critical threshold — turning from a carbon sink, where they suck up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit, to a carbon source, thanks to deforestation, degradation and other land use changes.

• Permafrost temperatures were warmest on record in 2016, and preliminary data suggest they will be for 2017 as well. This warming could cause permafrost ecosystems to thaw, destabilize and release greenhouse gases locked inside.
• A study published in Nature found that ecosystems have taken longer to recover from droughts, especially in the tropics and northern high latitudes, than ever before. Recovery time is a signal of ecosystem resilience; compromised recovery could lead to widespread tree death.
• Scientists found that previous estimates of climate change’s impacts on species were highly underestimated — almost 1 in 2 threatened mammals and 1 in 4 threatened birds have already been negatively impacted by climate change in at least some part of their range.

We Need to Reverse Course

It’s clear that trends are headed in the wrong direction. But 2018 brings a fresh start, and an opportunity to learn from 2017 and the record-breaking years that came before it. May this new year bring a new resolve to reverse course and take actions that move toward a low-carbon future.