The multinational mega-project of uniting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by means of a modern railroad route across Brazil, Bolivia and Peru, has antecedents in the emblematic Panama Canal, but also in the pre-Columbian legacy of the Incas.
Known as Qhapaq Ñan, the Great Inca Road or the Andean Road System, this complex communication system of more than 6,000 kilometers and a network of roads stretching 35,000 kilometers, also reached parts of Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.
Because of its extraordinary reach and cultural value, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted Qhapaq Ñan World Heritage status in 2014.
Large infrastructure works built in different stages, especially during the so-called Inca Empire, astonished Spanish colonizers, especially given the characteristics of the vast territory, with high mountains, tropical forests, deep valleys and extensive deserts.
According to researchers, the Qhapaq Ñan extended from north to south, with bridges, paths, trails and tunnels stretching along the Andes mountain range, for the transport of people, animals and agricultural products vital for the society and its defense.
Today, the Central Bi-oceanic Railway Corridor (CBRC) megaproject is planned to run from east to west, joining Santos and Campo Grande (Brazil), Puerto Suárez, Cochabamba and La Paz (Bolivia) and Ilo (Peru).
The project, which has the full support of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), covers more than 3,000 kilometers, 1,700 of which will pass through Bolivian territory. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales described the work as the Qhapaq Ñan of the 21st century, and compared it to the Panama Canal.
During a recent visit to Sucre, Bolivia, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski agreed to work together with the Bolivian president to drive forward the strategic project and assured that Peru is open to integration with Bolivia.
The economies of the countries involved will be strengthened with the project, which includes the construction of a megaport in Ilo, southern Peru, of particular interest to Bolivia for its imports and exports since, like Paraguay, the Andean nation has no coastline.
Experts from various countries are advancing preliminary engineering, market, strategy and environmental studies, in order to begin to construct the railroad, which will eventually be a double-track railway for electric trains.
Some sources estimate that, if the schedule is met, the bi-oceanic railway could transport 10 million tons of cargo in 2021 and 24 million tons by 2055.
Experts believe that the rail corridor, which could be linked with waterways in the La Plata and Amazon River basins, will transform the geopolitical profile of South America and will be a key factor for continental integration.
News agency Prensa Latina reports that the project will imply a strategic advance in the integration of the region and will benefit six South American countries in a general sense: Bolivia, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina; with railway branches linking to the last three.
Among the important reasons for Unasur’s support for the project are that shipments departing from Puerto Santos in Brazil toward Asia must currently travel for 67 days and 13 hours, over a distance of 25,918 kilometers, through the Panama Canal.
Likewise, shipments that depart this Brazilian port headed for Asia via Cape Horn, around the southernmost tip of South America, take 58 days and must travel 22,661 kilometers.
Once the Central Bi-oceanic Railway Corridor is built, cargo transported to Shanghai (China) from Brazil, through Bolivia to the Peruvian port of Ilo, will take just 38 days to arrive, traveling a distance of 18,651 kilometers, representing significant savings.
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