Railroads a key piece in Argentina’s climate transition jigsaw

Bnamericas Published: Monday, September 12, 2022
Railroads a key piece in Argentina’s climate transition jigsaw

Trains are poised to have a key role in Argentina’s climate transition, mainly because of their lower emissions for freight transport compared with truck transport via highways.

Railroads could also help the country deal with climate emergencies such as last year’s drought, which significantly restricted shipping on the important Paraná-Paraguay waterway.  

Having to move cargo from the waterway via truck to the main ports in Buenos Aires province resulted in additional logistics costs of US$500mn, something that could have been avoided with a more robust freight rail network.

“We have information that these episodes will happen more frequently,” Rodrigo Rodríguez Tornquist, former climate change secretary for Argentina’s environment ministry, said during a rail sustainability webinar held by the Latin American railroad association (ALAF).

He also added that other alternatives to transport using combustion engines, such as electric vehicles and green hydrogen, are still in their early stages and “lack maturity” to be used on a large scale that can replace trucks for freight transport. 

During the event, Diana Bordón, environment manager for Argentine rail agency Trenes Argentinos Infraestructura, said that the current focus is to rehabilitate the existing rail network, which at one point stretched over 47,000km, but has now been reduced to only 17,965km of lines in operation.

There are 148 rail rehabilitation projects currently underway, while 43 are being tendered or being prepared for bidding processes. 

When BNamericas asked whether new rail lines are included in the government’s plans for the sector, Bordón said that while there are projects to lay new sections of track near the port of Rosario (Santa Fe province), rehabilitation works are being prioritized.

“The complexity [of building new rail lines] is related to technical aspects,” she said, mentioning that this would require additional steps such as designs for multiple alternatives, more talks with locals, expropriations, and environmental evaluations, etc. 

While the government is trying to integrate climate change aspects into its rail plans, Bordón admitted that the country lacks a climate change law that would set specific goals for greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation measures, mitigation actions and other objectives, as is the case in neighboring Chile. 

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