Great blog post on The Economist website today about Brazil’s planned $17 billion bullet train.

Brazil has been talking about this for years but plans have yet to get off the drawing board. No one wants to take on the challenge because they don’t think it’s an economically viable project.

The Economist piece takes a while to get to the point, which is this. And I quote:

“Most of Brazil’s roads are unpaved. Some important routes—including some interstate highways—are single-lane and extremely dangerous. Half the population is not connected to the sewage system. There are few (ordinary) commuter or freight rail lines, and they are mostly in very poor condition. Urban mass transport is grossly deficient: São Paulo, a metropolis of nearly 20m souls, has a mere 71km (44 miles) of metro, plus a few overland urban rail lines, which at peak hours are all terrifyingly overcrowded. It is so easy to think of a long list of more worthwhile infrastructure projects in Brazil that it is hard to understand why this one is not dismissed out of hand.”

I’d put it more succinctly:

The plan to spend at least 34 billion reais (and probably much more) on the bullet train is a classic example of Brazil’s delusions of grandeur. Brazil has hardly any rail system and yet wants to build a high speed train link. It has hardly any submarines and yet plans to build a nuclear sub. It has just published plans for its 4G network when its 3G doesn’t work properly.

Brazil should be concentrating on walking before it can run. It has taken laudable steps to reduce inequality but there is so much more to be done to make life liveable for the poorest sectors of society and those should take precedence over Pharaonic projects like a bullet train.

Why is it doing this? Who knows. It wants to be first world. It wants to show off. It wants to show it can. It’s not because it needs it.

So why do it? Not for consumers or passengers. As The Economist suggests, the number of passengers is likely to be half the government’s estimate and prices are likely to be double.

Who benefits? That one’s easier to answer. The same corrupt kleptocrats in the political class and their bosom buddies who run the construction companies.

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