12 February 2008

Bullet trains

This is definitively my comeback, for the time being. Remember you can check out a selection of my vacation pictures on Flickr at Vacaciones 2008. Since Flickr lets you view only your latest 200 photos (unless you pay for a Pro Account), they'll eventually "fall out" of my photostream, but I have them all linked from a private blog, which I'll reveal eventually.

Remember the "bullet train" that the national government is supposedly going to build to join Buenos Aires and Rosario at 250 km/h? Did you see Presidenta CFK defend the project of a second, Buenos Aires–Mar del Plata bullet train? What do you think of it all? A bit over the top, isn't it? More and more it sounds like the stratospheric planes that the Balding Cuckold pulled out of his ass in one of those memorably incoherent speeches of his, back in the 1990s, only this time it looks as if the trains can and will be actually built. (Whether they'll work is another matter.)

No al tren bala - No to the bullet trainAlthough the official version is that everyone's happy about the trains, some are not. I have here an open letter to Cristina K about the trains by writer and journalist Mempo Giardinelli, published in Página/12, and an article about the government's intent to create two state companies to handle the railway system. I've also got an article from La Nación, "Without power, but with bullet trains", and dozens of links to other opinion articles. Now, when Página/12 and La Nación agree that something is horribly wrong, it's usually a sign that it is, indeed, wrong.

I'll translate parts of what Giardinelli says to la Presidenta after she criticized the press harshly for their comments about the latest train project.

Madam President: Speaking as an Argentine intellectual who lives in the interior of the country, I address you as one among the million of Argentinians who voted for you last October, but also because I was one of the first to doubt, publicly, the construction of the so-called Bullet Train. […] I was one of the first journalists to emphasize the gross contradiction that such a work entails in a country as devastated, railway-wise, as ours.

… [I]n a country where railways were destroyed in a vile fashion, and where the transport system is overwhelmed, it makes no sense to execute works that will benefit only a few passengers, the wealthiest of the three largest Argentine cities. In the Spanish AVE trains, for example, the maximum capacity is 329 passengers […] and the Madrid–Sevilla ticket costs between 115 and 174 euro, […] [which] implies a cost of €0.25 per kilometer. At 4.50 pesos per euro, a trip to Rosario (300 km) [from Buenos Aires] will cost AR$324. And to Mar del Plata (400 km) AR$432.

These prices only an elite will be able to afford. And if by any chance they might be lowered, it will be through subsidies, which means we, all Argentinians, will end up paying for the trips of that small privileged elite.

… [T]he original announcement that the Retiro–Rosario bullet train would cost 1.32 billion dollars (some 4 billion pesos) led to the inevitable thought that such a massive amount of money would be invested, with advantage, in the re-enabling of branches […] with renewed railways and better regular [non-high-speed] trains…

… Right now you have announced the Buenos Aires–Mar del Plata bullet train, at a cost of US$600 million, for 300 passengers to travel in little more than 2 hours, at 250 km/h. I ask myself: wouldn't it be more reasonable and cheaper to support air transport, which as of today is in a terminal status, there being barely one or two daily flights to Mar del Plata, when years ago there were tens of them?

Respectfully, Madam, I think you're being wrongly advised. And this is because the head of your Secretariat of Transport is still Mr. Ricardo Jaime, which in my opinion and that of millions of Argentinians is the most inept official to have had a place in the administrations of your husband and your own. His work can be readily appreciated: the collapse of commercial flights, the absurd subsidies to the appalling train services, and the deficient road system that keeps this country from having transversal highways.

As much as, or even more so than the energy crisis, [the issue of] transportation is the heaviest burden on Argentina's development. It is impossible [to conduct] a serious policy of industrialization, full employment and social inclusion in a disconnected country like ours. It is impossible to fight persistent poverty when entire provinces have been and are deprived of railways and airlines, and when their roads are decrepit.
It's difficult to add something to this. Giardinelli, and he makes sure we all know it, voted for Cristina, in large part because he supports the Kirchners' policy on human rights. His letter is all the more valuable for that reason. If Néstor Kirchner hadn't shown his true colours as he ended his second year in office, I'd be agreeing in all respects with Giardinelli. As it is, it's painfully obvious that Cristina is just like her husband — she won't listen to sensible criticism, she'll react with vitriol to any accusations, and she'll stand by her cronies no matter how inefficient or corrupt they might be.

The bullet trains are not, cannot be, anything but the fruit of collusion between government and big business. The exact price of the ticket is not important; the common citizen won't be able to afford it if it's more than twice that of an interurban bus, which is sure to be the case, and that's only a third of what Giardinelli calculated. But the main point is, like he says, that all that money is a waste. It's not a question of wondering whether Argentina can support a comprehensive, well-connected national railway system — this was done before, and it worked fine, but we let it decay and crumble.


  1. Pablo -

    Even the cost estimates in the article you quoted are on the low end of some of the others that have been published. And all these estimates are of course based on European routes where there are economies of scale and good passenger numbers. Not to mention that there are also traditional (slower) trains that can be taken on similar routes for a lower cost.

    Even with a state subsidy, where is the passenger lift going to come from, since Rosario and Cordoba are not favored tourist destinations?

    I think this all part of the Kirchner administration's image building plan: Argentina as a (displaced) European nation.

    Let's call it what it really is - lipstick on a pig.


  2. But the most pressing question is, what will the new trains be called?

    Each European nation has an acronym for their high speed trains. Spain's AVE wouldn't be appropriate since there's no Española in Argentina. Although the word play is nice. Perhaps Ave Cristina ...

    All I can think of along these lines is el BARCO (get it?). But that's too predictable. Not to mention humdrum.

    The Germans were way cool in naming their ICE (InterCityExpress) trains in English. Perhaps Argentina could follow suit. Something short, catchy, memorable and easy to remember.

    Maybe Folly Under Cristina Kirchner?

    Let the names begin!


  3. More importantly is - who is going to get the lion's share of all that money. I bet it will be some groups/companies some way related to the presidental family even with distant ties. Oh well, nothing different from any other country in the world :)

  4. Anonymous07:01

    Bravo....well said and perfectly positioned. Next thing she buys will be a fleet of Concords


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.