Over the last years, Brazil’s economic development has lacked the support of a modern transport network, and nowadays the country is suffering bottlenecks that restrain higher growth rates. To overcome the situation, the Brazilian government is undertaking an ambitious infrastructure plan with a major focus on railways. The realisation of this plan will allow rail to become the preferred means of transport for long-distance freight links and for passengers in cities and metropolitan areas.

The number and size of the projects on the horizon are attracting a great deal of international attention. The high speed train between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo has frequently been in the news, and will probably return soon when its tender process reactivates after being delayed for the third time last year. While the popular high-speed project is a big piece of the cake at nearly 18 billion USD, it is not the biggest and most interesting investment on the agenda.

Brazil has already embarked on a greater initiative to expand and upgrade the country’s freight railway network, at an estimated cost of 50 billion USD. This freight programme has been structured in ten concessions for the construction and management of 11,000 km of tracks. The concessions will be granted to public-private partnerships (PPP), in which the engagement of foreign companies is expected for project financing and transfer of state-of-the-art technologies.

In addition to the modernisation of railway systems, the main goal of the programme is to take the first steps into a new model that would allow open access to third party train operators over the whole of Brazil’s 30,000 km freight railway network. One of the keys to achieve this goal is the adoption of a train control and communications standard for interoperability. This standard will have to accommodate different levels of traffic, providing basic requirements for authority management and monitoring of trains over low traffic lines, and a complete communications based signalling solution for high capacity connections.

Government organisations are currently studying industry best practices in other regions worldwide, with the aim to explore and compare established standards and systems. Brazil has already signed cooperation agreements with China, Russia and some European countries, giving them a strong position to participate in the railway programme. Even so, Brazilian institutions are paying particular attention to Australian railway schemes, due to the number of common requirements, beyond visible similarities in geography, climate conditions and use of natural resources.

At a technical level, both Brazil and Australia would be looking at low-cost solutions with reduced wayside equipment for remote areas; high capacity systems for dedicated pit-to-port applications; implementation of alternative train detection methods based on satellite positioning; optimisation of asset management strategies, specially for heavy haulage systems, to enhance operation efficiency and reduce maintenance cost; centralisation of interlocking and non-vital servers for remote control; and better use of green energy sources such as solar and wind power.

Overall, there is a sound framework for business opportunities between the Brazilian and the Australian railway industries, based on sharing experiences at implementing new technologies to accomplish similar objectives.