BRAZIL’s president, Mr Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has marked completion of the North-South Railway by officially opening a freight terminal at Rio Verde in the state of Goiás, on the final 1537km section to be built between Porto Nacional in Tocantins and Estrela d’Oeste in São Paulo.

“It took 30 years, but it's finally ready,” Lula told local media. “I'm very happy.”

“We are going to continue building railways so that we can have an intermodal system combining road, rail and sea, so that the country can reduce cost to Brazil of poor-quality transport.”

The 1600mm-gauge North-South Railway runs for 2257km from the port of Itaqui in the northeastern state of Maranhão to the port of Santos near the city of São Paulo in the southeast of Brazil. The line uses existing infrastructure to reach ports at both ends of the route.

Construction began in 1986, but most work was completed after 2007 following decades of limited funding for the project, which is intended to facilitate the export of agricultural products such as soya beans, maize and cotton to world markets.

Agricultural products currently represent around 21% of rail freight traffic in Brazil, substantially less than in other major food exporters such as Canada where rail has a 34% market share or Australia where it is 55%.

The North-South Railway is currently carrying around 50% of Brazil’s agricultural exports. According to the federal government, 7.8 million tonnes of soya beans, maize and bran were moved on recently completed sections in 2022 alone, driving a 25% increase in exports from the state of Goiás.

“We are bringing development to four regions of the country and allowing producers to have better conditions for exporting their products,” says federal transport minister, Mr Renan Filho.

Rumo was awarded a 30-year concession to operate the section between Estrela d'Oeste and Porto Nacional in August 2019. The federal government says that over the past four years Rumo has built three new freight terminals at São Simão, Rio Verde and Iturama, investing a total of Reais 4bn ($US 816.3m) in terminals, infrastructure and rolling stock.

While Rumo also operates the southern end of the North-South Railway from Estela d’Oeste to Santos, the section from Porto Nacional to Açailândia at the northern end is operated by VLI.

The connecting route from Açailândia to the port of Itaqui is part of the Carajás Railway (EFC) operated by mining company Vale.

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