Andean tunnel project proposed

10 October 2012

A plan to build the longest tunnels in the Americas right through the Andes is being imagined by South American engineers. The mountains create a costly physical barrier for nations ever-more-depended on trade with Asia, US news reports stated earlier this week.

Instead of pushing cargo over a 3,200m pass that is often blocked by snow for weeks, Argentine company, Corporacion America, have proposed a USD 3.5bn private railway known as the Aconcagua Bi-Oceanic Corridor, which would link train and trucking hubs on both sides with a 205km railway, including twin 52km tunnels. Construction would take 10 years, but once completed, it could save millions of dollars and carve days off shipping times, the reports revealed.

The initial phase would open a single tunnel and cost USD 3.5bn with a capacity of 24Mt of cargo a year. Depending on demand, the capacity could grow to 77Mt and the total price tag to USD 5.9bn by adding a second tunnel and additional rail lines on either side. As many as four mechanical excavators will be used to carve through the mountains.

The Andean consortium also includes Japan's Mitsubishi Corp., Chile's Empresas Navieras SA, Contreras Hermanos SA of Argentina and Italy's Geodata SpA. However, there is no guarantee that the consortium will win the bid. The project will be paid for privately by the consortium and through usage fees.

Currently, the only major Andean pass in the southern half of the continent is snowed in each winter. Shipping by rail between Atlantic and Pacific ports would unite the most productive regions of Chile and its South American neighbours, making trade more competitive. It is expected that the shipping cost would drop from USD 210 to USD 177 a ton for cargo that now moves between Cordoba, Argentina, and Manzanillo, Mexico, the closest major port with direct rail links to the eastern US.