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Following the opening of Line 6 of capital Santiago's metro system and the high demand seen at the recently opened Nos-Express rail service, the Chilean authorities are exploring possibilities of reviving its historically neglected train system.
The government is planning to tender a light train project connecting the northern cities of La Serena and Coquimbo, while presidential candidates have proposed new commuter trains, metro lines and extensions to existing services. All these plans and ideas come at a time of political uncertainty and claims that the railway sector is lacking resources for new projects.
Chile will hold presidential elections on Sunday and the new government will take charge in March next year.
With so many things now happening on the Chilean rail front, BNamericas decided to speak with Denis Girault, managing director for Chile and the rest of the Southern Cone at Alstom. The French multinational is very much involved in the country´s rail sector since it provides the wagons for the Nos-Express service.
BNamericas: Do you believe this is a good moment to develop the railway industry in Chile?
Girault: Absolutely. With Line 6's inauguration there's momentum in several cities that need to strengthen and expand their transport systems, both in Santiago and the other regions. And the authorities are willing to make these projects happen, and our company, and others as well, are willing to participate and accompany this movement.
BNamericas: Passenger demand for the Nos Express service has surpassed expectations so far. How do you see the positive response from the public?
Girault: We entered the tender focused on the trains themselves, but this was a service in which we knew there would be an important social profitability, both for the Nos Express service as well as the one that will serve Rancagua. There was also an important circulation of buses in the area that showed a high density in the public transportation system.
Now we are at the client's [state railway operator EFE] disposition, and if it considers pertinent to have new wagons for the Nos Express, we will absolutely provide them since they are of standard fabrication at Alstom.
BNamericas: The programs of the presidential candidates include several projects to develop the railway system through commuter trains, new metro lines and extensions to existing services. Are you interested in participating in such projects?
Girault: Any railway transport or electric mobility proposal is highly interesting for us and the experience we had with the Valparaíso Metro and the Nos Express service serves us as a reference. We know that railway transportation is an efficient answer for the cities of Chile, which are growing.
BNamericas: EFE has claimed that there are no resources for new projects and the sector as a whole has historically lagged behind. Do you think there are still obstacles for development?
Girault: So far we haven't found obstacles of this type. In fact a tender is going to be launched soon for trains for the Corto-Laja service of Fesur. We know that there are other projects that will come out and we are prepared to participate. We are effectively interested in all projects, but there are also some that are more advanced in their respective engineering stages, and therefore seem closer to us. We have heard about the extension of the Valparaíso Metro towards La Calera, where there's an important social profitability, and we already participated in the first extension of that service to Limache. There's also word about an extension towards the coast. We're also looking into the Batuco and Melipilla projects, as we believe there are technological solutions that have been tested.
BNamericas: Do you think that Chile could also develop this type of project in more far-away regions, such as the Antofagasta light train?
Girault: We believe that light trains are a wonderful transportation method that gives not only the opportunity to transport passengers but also to re-urbanize. This has been seen in several cities, how crime rates decrease in the areas near the light rails. It is a highly adaptable system, and we believe that any city in Chile with over 300,000 inhabitants is prepared for a light train system.
In this regard we consider the La Serena-Coquimbo light railway very interesting. We're also hearing about light rail projects for Antofagasta and Temuco.
About Denis Girault
Denis Girault is in charge of the Alstom operations in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. He has 17 years of experience working with railway projects. Prior to his current position, he worked as project director for power supply and track construction in the extension of Santiago metro lines No. 2 and No.5.
About the company
Alstom Chile is a branch of French parent Alstom, which is mostly focused on the development of rail projects. It also provides rolling stock for state-run rail company EFE and its subsidiary Metro de Valparaíso, and it is the main rolling stock supplier of the Santiago metro.