Challenge on rails

Although below the necessities, the cargo transport by railway in Brazil already counts on last-generation technologies. But it is necessary to accelerate the locomotive of infrastructure to increase the market.

The balance of the Brazilian transport matrix depends on the increase of its railway network. To do so, it is necessary—in addition to the commitment of the government in accelerating concessions—to increase legal safety of the contracts and to reduce bureaucratic and regulatory surpluses that block the evolution of the industry. According to the Associação Nacional dos Transportadores Ferroviários (ANTF – National Association of Railway Transporters), approximately 25 percent of the total Brazilian cargo is transported by railway. This percent may be risen to 35 percent.

But this increase will occur only if the transport capacity increases, mainly because the Brazilian continental dimensions are challenging and favorable for a participative modal. More than 35 percent of agricultural commodities and 90 percent of ore production are transported by railway to the ports. But contractors such as Valec, Rumo Logística and VLI had sections of works stopped and investments delayed due to the economic and politic crisis that also hit the market of railway equipment. Since most of the technologies and components are imported, the elevation of the dollar also makes difficult to invest in railways. “There was a significant reduction in sales closed in the last two years”, explains Daniel Saldanha, director from Comexport Trading.

This company is Plasser & Theurer dealer for more than 17 years and also supplies rails for the Brazilian market. From some years ago, the trading company enlarged and diversified its working area, supplying railway shafts, steel railway ties and cast parts for the railway market, supporting the concessionaires that need imported rails. “Railway concessionaires are waiting for contract renewals to invest in new equipment that will have a useful life of approximately 25 years”, says him, explaining that when the contractors find works in this area, they analyze the available fleet and plan to invest in equipment with high level of automation and on-board technology.

Fortunately, the scenario is still being improved if compared to the former year. According to Saldanha, the government’s challenge is to make the rules clearer, showing to the concessionaires the way and the time they will have the return of the investments carried out in the projects. “The State has to be a regulating and supervisory agent to allow the private sector to carry out the works according to clear rules”, thinks Saldanha. “Consistent contracts create a favorable environment for investing in railways, independently of the country’s economic situation.”

Railway concessions require improvement in the period of renovation to be adjusted to the evolutions of the regulatory model. But long-term investments need also to have long-term fixed rules, independently of the political stability of the government or of party-political ideologies. “This means that Brazilian government cannot change the rules established with the concessionaires in accordance with new contexts or administration”, warns Saldanha.

Brazil still has a lot of railways with paths designed in the nineteenth century. This makes difficult, for example, to maintain the distance between crossties and the circulation of high-load trains. This also reduces the speed and prevents the complete absorption of the technology. “It is necessary an evolution in the maintenance concept of the existing railways, considering project modeling and its consequences on wheel wear and speed reduction, in addition to what may be automatized”, details Saldanha.

There are also locomotives that are working for more than 40 years, with obsolete technology that generates higher operating costs, lower accuracy and lower productivity. For these reasons, Comexport, in partnership with Plasser, informs that it is supporting railway companies in developing projects to replace their old fleets for more modern and efficient equipment. According to Saldanha, the idea is to reduce operating and maintenance costs of the rail tracks.


On the other hand, Brazil is already using some of the main technologies and equipment available in countries that are more developed in railway transport, although in a shorter and even shy scale when compared to the United States, China and Europe. The sales and marketing manager from Progress Rail, Carlos Teixeira, informs that Brazil produces locomotives with national content above 60 percent that have traction systems in alternating current and systems of pollutant reduction that match American and European standards.

Systems of telemetry and continuous monitoring to ensure asset control and to prevent failures during operation are also reality in these locomotives. In addition, locomotives of this brand—that belongs to Caterpillar—have on-board technology for fuel economy when they are stopped with the engine running. “The diesel engine is automatically shut when the locomotive stops and is turned on again when the operator intends to move it”, explains Teixeira.

According to him, aftersales attendance includes product support engineering, technical assistance and parts supply in Brazil, as well as repair of components and/or locomotives in its own installations located in the cities of Hortolandia (SP) and Sete Lagoas (MG).