After a decade of ribbon-cutting ceremonies, fanfare and repeat visits, President Mauricio Macri finally set into motion the tunnelling machine that will bore a 22.4-kilometre underground passage for the Sarmiento train line that connects the capital and Greater Buenos Aires.
The works have a budget of US$3 billion and a consortium by the name of Consorcio Nuevo Sarmiento (CNS) will carry out the works.
The project, first announced in 2006, is scheduled to be completed in the next 48 months and has been touted as increasing road safety and increased frequency for trains and up to 8,000 jobs.
CNS is comprised of Iecsa, the construction company owned by Macri’s cousin Angelo Calcaterra, Brazil’s Odebrecht, Comsa and Italian engineering company Ghella. Calcaterra, who bought Iecsa from Macri’s father in 2007, is understood to have placed his stake in the company up for sale. The contract with CNS was signed during the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration and has gone through various modifications in light of trouble at Odebrecht pertaining to the Petrobras scandal and question marks over the source of financing for the mammoth project, with at least some of it included in the 2017 Budget that has yet to receive Congressional approval.
The scale of the project, which may see its final price tag revised upwards, is vast. The tunnelling machine, named the Argentina, reportedly cost 40 million euros and requires a 15-person team of specialists to operate.
In addition to the inflow of fresh funds that Iecsa and Calcaterra can expect with the start of work, Nicolás Caputo — a long-time friend and confidant of Macri’s — has also won contracts since the president was sworn in. Only in March of this year three bids were awarded to SES SA, of which Caputo has a 50 percent stake, by the City of Buenos Aires. In a five day period approximately 300 million pesos in contracts were awarded to SES.
The announcement that the tunnelling machine was finally starting up after having been initially moved into place in 2012 included the presence of Transport Minister Guillermo Dietrich, Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal and Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Haedo has seen at least half a dozen official ceremonies in the last decade or so announcing progress in the tunnelling.
In a brief ceremony the officials played up the virtues of the Sarmiento tunnel and noted that it would improve transport links with the City and in Greater Buenos Aires as 38 barriers will be eventually be bypassed. According to official statistics, 494 people lost their lives between 2004 and 2014 in accidents at railway crossings and another 430 were injured.
The tunnel, which is expected to advance at a rate of up to 400 metres a month, will have a diameter of about 11 metres and will run 22 metres below ground. As a result of the use of the tunnel, the Sarmiento line will be limited to a single track in each direction and the tunnel itself is only accessible to electric powered locomotives and not the diesel-powered freight trains that operate in the area.
The Transport Ministry expects 2,000 jobs to be created by the works directly and for another 8,000 to be generated indirectly by way of providers of services and materials. Officials have also expressed confidence that works will not affect road traffic nor the existing Sarmiento railway in the approximately five years that it takes to complete the project.