China’s great railway dream: Traversing South America

November 2, 2015

PUCALLPA, Peru – A century and a half ago, thousands of impoverished Chinese migrants arrived in the United States to toil in perilous conditions on America’s first transcontinental railroad.Website Insert Our Name Tells Our Story copy

Today, China is once again playing a critical role in the proposed creation of a transcontinental railway, this time across South America, the continent’s first. But rather than provide menial labor, China is proposing to design and finance much of a state-of-the-art rail corridor.

 In visits to Brazil and Peru earlier this year, Premier Li Keqiang said China would allot $10 billion for feasibility studies and eventual construction of the railway, which would run from Brazil’s Açú Port northeast of Rio de Janeiro on the Atlantic Ocean to an undecided port on Peru’s Pacific coast. It would penetrate part of the Amazon jungle and push over the Andes Mountains.

If built, the railway would reshape the movement of people and goods in South America in a way reminiscent of history in North America, speeding Brazilian exports to China, avoiding transport through the Panama Canal and running a shorter route than crossing the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

 That’s a big “if,” however, and many people remain skeptical in both Brazil and Peru, and not just because of the recent plummet in China’s finances.

The challenges to constructing such a railway are particularly evident here in eastern Peru on the banks of the Ucayali River, one of two major tributaries to the massive Amazon River. Some 140 miles of inhospitable rainforest, crisscrossed by rivers, stretch between this city and the Brazilian city of Cruzeiro do Sul. It is widely believed that the China-backed railroad would have to traverse this segment.

Additionally, while the benefits to China and Brazil are evident – China’s appetite for Brazil’s soybeans and iron ore is ravenous – it’s less clear how it helps Peru. Most of the 1,860-mile border between Peru and Brazil is jungle, and trade between the two countries has not been important to either.

McClatchy Foreign Staff Tim Johnson and Vinod Sreeharsha have the full story by clicking here.


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