Why So Few Railroads In Brazil?

For those of you who have visited Brazil, you may notice that the country lacks railroads-everything goes by truck-which means that the rural highways are clogged with large trucks. Brazil is becoming an export powerhouse-along with coffee, Brazil is now a huge exporter of soybeans, beef, chicken, and iron ore-all of this is carrier by road, to their main ports (Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia). Rairods are much more fuel efficient, and can carry much larger loads-why did Brazil negelect to build rail lines?
The reliance upon trucks means that Brazil’s highways are among the more dangerous in the world-accidents are common. Also, the roads are taking a beating-from overloaded trcks.
Is there any move afoot to build new rail lines in Brazil?

There are some. Vale (what used to be known as the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce) ships alot of their ore via train. I’ve seen the rails in Espirito Santo which run to the Port of Tubarao.

From what I’ve seen, Brazil’s biggest problem is the lack of infrastructure. The roads are in pretty poor condition, the railroad tracks are in poor repair, they probably haven’t really expanded the lines since the 50s.

It seems to me that the infrastructre was ignored during the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s and it wasn’t until the economic situation stabilized that they started spending money updating the infrastructure. I haven’t seen any plans to update the rails and build more but it would make sense especially along the coast where most of the population is.

A lot of the railroad infrastructure of the world comes from the railraod era, when that was the big industry for development. So countries that were booming between say, 1850 and 1914 are crisscrossed with rail. Countries that were not developing industry back then, missed the train so to speak. Hence North America and Europe have a lot of trains, Africa and Asia less so. Argentina was considered a country on the level of Europe until Peron and his ilk adjusted the economy; so it has good railroads. Brazil was not known for its industry, and much of the main development was in narrow coastal areas, so the overall incentive to develop railroads was much less. Why build a railroad from Rio to Sao Paolo if you can just load it on a boat?

The only major exception seems to be a place like China, where industry replaced God for the government and they made railroad development one of their indicators of progress. India, OTOH, seems to have started building railroads back in the 1800’s while the British were still in charge, and like China had the population to support that level of development.

I also suspect that rail development into the jungle for long distances, to small populations with limited shipping needs, is what hindered the development of railroads in places like Africa and interior Brazil. When Brazilia was built as the “future of Brazil” in the 60’s, for example, rail was passe and the future was cars and superhighways.

In central Africa, for example, I remember reading that one railroad built in the 60’s(?) needed concrete ties because termites would eat wood ones.

Juscelino Kubistchek, president of Brazil from 1956 to 1961 is responsible for the building of the capital, Brasilia, and for the auto industry.
In order to make the auto industry competitive, he started constructing highways in detriment of the railroads.
The presidents, who followed, continued the policy.

There are 2 ways railroads can get built.

As in much of the world, private investors take risks to build them expecting a long term return. This requires confidence in stable, business friendly government.

As in China, a socialistic government committed to development can build them.

Most of the us railways were built at the time when they were the Internet bubble of their day. Along with the money of investors, railroad moguls took massive handouts from the various governments.

Consider, too, the first transCanada railway. The CPR made a number of tycoons even richer, many of them not Canadian, and managed to bring down a government over bribery. The government gave away huge tracts of prime farmland and many of the insiders took advantage of their knowledge to stake claims where towns would go. In fact, I think it was Brandon which was moved when a bunch of outsiders bought the land around where the station was supposed to go.

Of course that worked for sparsely settled frontiers, where even expropriating early settlers (not to mention Indians) was probably no great moral dilemma and most land was free for the grabbing.

Just curious if anyone knows how things were done in the more settled areas of the USA, and especially in densely populated areas like Europe. Basically, I suspect it had less to do with free market and a lot to do with lobbying and other means of persuading those in power.

Finally, other than the frontier rail of the late 1800’s, most rail was built to take cargo and passengers on established routes. (Frontier rail aimed to create markets as they built) Sparsely settled, nonindustrial societies like interior Brazil or central Africa did not need railroads.

China was a special case. Yes, they were socialist. And that was important; they were totalitarian and could take what right of way they needed. But railroad was a lot simpler and more durable than building roads for heavy equipment, and railroad was more efficient. For military and economic reasons rail made sense.

Yes, we had the Credit Mobile scandal. Investors were getting rich while the guys building the railroad weren’t getting paid. There are various ways of making a project attractive to investors.

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How the Hell do you throw a railroad bridge across the Amazon?

What makes you think that’s an insurmountable problem? The Amazon is only 11 km long at its widest. There are plenty of bridges longer than this, including some over rivers and seas.


Reported your reporting. Please don’t quote spam as this just proliferates it.

Sorry, first time ya know.

I’ll try to do better next time.