Author: Paul MacDonald, CEng MIEI, executive engineer/training officer, Kildare County Council National Roads Office Latin America is a key emerging region in the global economy based on its agricultural, industrial and chemical sectors. However, it has large infrastructure needs arising from the rapid urbanisation levels it currently experiences today. At the recent FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) Annual Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Nestor Roa of the Inter-American Development Bank stated that by 2025, the region’s population will have increased to 650 million – with 85% of the population resident in cities and over 140 million vehicles operating on the highway network. This will create a need for more efficient energy and transport systems in the region’s mega-cities such as Sao Paulo and Mexico City, with their populations of over 20 million people. The future infrastructure for Latin America will be designed around the concept of ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Intelligent infrastructure will be based on an emerging mix of decentralised renewable energy systems and traditional centralised power grid systems, in parallel with computer sensor systems for control of this energy supply, and urban traffic movements. The concept of intelligent control systems will ensure a higher quality of life, mobility and sustainability in large urban areas within Latin America. The innovation and knowledge capability of key stakeholders such as engineers, policy makers and financiers will be critical in planning, designing and financing sustainable infrastructure with a maximum life cycle utility and minimal construction and operational risks. The large growth in the region’s cities through internal migration is indicative of the rising expectations of the region’s population, with the Brazilian economy now the seventh-largest economy in the world. Nevertheless, the legacy of regional under-development must be addressed through investment in housing, sanitation and transport infrastructure. A key project in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, is the Olympic Village being developed for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. The hosting of the prestigious Olympic Games, following on from the World Cup in 2014, is indicative of the region’s growing capacity to deliver high quality stadium, transport and amenity infrastructure to meet the expectations of international participants. At the FIDIC Conference 2014,Torsten Kleiss of the engineering company Siemens stated that cities like Rio can become high-quality urban spaces through the delivery of integrated computer-controlled energy and transport systems. The new distributed generation concept will see ‘virtual’ renewable energy systems operate in parallel with traditional centralised grids based on hydroelectric and fossil-fuel power stations. The virtual energy model is based on computerised renewable power systems where user demand is monitored. The demand is then matched to the predicted energy supply based on the daily monitoring of wind and solar weather patterns which will determine the renewable power output in advance. In parallel with distributed generation, intelligent transport systems such as intermodal transport hubs linking private and public transport, driverless trains with greater passenger capacity and real time information systems will control traffic and address congestion problems in cities. Engineers can play a key role as technical innovators in delivering efficient energy and transport systems in Latin America, where 50% of city municipalities are operating without resource sustainability plans.

Inter-urban and city transport infrastructure

high speed railTransport infrastructure is central to ensuring safe mobility in Latin America given that by 2025, the predicted number of road fatalities in the region will be 450,000 per annum. These predicted accidents will lead to an economic loss equivalent to 2% of the region’s gross domestic product, which must be addressed through improved road safety. The region’s engineers must utilise the latest innovations such as computer technology to design transport systems which reduce road accident rates and encourage greater use of public transportation. The region is heavily reliant on air transport for journeys greater than 400 kilometres, given the lack of alternative high-quality transport options. High-speed rail may offer a viable transport alternative for journeys in the distance range of 300 to 600 kilometres. A key high-speed rail scheme being planned is the Sao Paulo to Rio De Janeiro Rail project (see right), which could offer a cost-effective transport alternative to the air transport system between the two cities. The Sao Paulo to Rio rail project would serve a combined population of 22 million people, which would make it sustainable in economic terms. The key engineering design challenges on the high-speed rail project will include:
  • the design of the vertical gradient for an elevation drop of 700 metres over 550 kilometres from the Sao Paulo plateau to Rio on the Atlantic coast;
  • the need to avoid environmental impact on the Serra des Araras forest area; and
  • the minimisation of landscape impact, given that 40% of the railtrack route will require tunnels and bridges to ensure visual integration.
High-speed rail could gradually replace air transport systems as the primary medium- distance transport mode between Latin America’s larger cities. transmilenio_03_1In terms of transport within cities, infrastructure banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank are supporting mass-transit projects to ensure urban mobility. In the city of Bogota, Colombia, the bank is funding a pilot fleet of 282 clean hybrid power and electric buses (see right). The city bus fleet will expand to 4000 vehicles by 2015, based on a US$40 million investment to ensure mobility for urban residents. In the Ecuadoran city of Quito, the Quito Metro Transport System will include for construction of 22 kilometres of metro rail track and 15 new stations, in addition to the provision of new trains to ensure efficient transport for the city. Finally in Argentina, the AUSA Road Safety and Urban Mobility Program is being implemented in the capital city Buenos Aires. The program will include for the elimination of metro-rail level crossings on key roads and implementation of intelligent signalling systems to reduce vehicle collision severity. The use of intelligent transport systems and energy-efficient vehicles will be critical for enhancing road safety and ensuring transport resource sustainability in Latin America’s cities.

Logistics transport infrastructure

[caption id="attachment_19246" align="aligncenter" width="2238"]Proposed Panama Canal Third Lock construction at the Panama Canal (copyright: Panama Canal Authority 2015)[/caption] The economic development of Latin America has reduced the region’s poverty rate from 45% to 33% in recent years. Logistic transport networks in Latin America are therefore central to regional and international trade. A new Pacific Corridor Road is being created in Central America over 3,210 kilometres between Mexico and Panama, which will transit through the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The Corridor will facilitate 95% of freight movement in Central America. The Inter-American Development Bank is providing US$1.2billion in funding for this project to support regional trade. In terms of international trade, the new Panama Canal Third Locks is planned to open in early 2016 adjacent to the existing pair of locks linking the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The new locks will provide additional capacity for cargo ships transiting the canal and can facilitate passage of the larger Post Panamax cargo ships. This critical infrastructure element will ensure that the canal will retain 60% of the cargo trade from Asia to the Atlantic region and will increase Panama’s economic output by 30%. The key engineering elements of the Third Lock project include: construction of the new larger locks at the Atlantic and Pacific entrances; dredging of the entrance depths to the locks; and widening of the navigation channels within the Gatun Lake, the central section of the Panama Canal. The Inter-American Development Bank provided $400 million of the $5.2 billion funding for the canal project. This underlines its important role in supporting a wide range of regional transport projects to support development and mobility. Engineers play an important role on these projects in mitigating project risks through their technical knowledge and ensuring cost control during the build and operational phases. The collaboration of engineers, financiers and policy makers with the necessary institutional capacity for project planning is key to realising a continental vision of transport in Latin America.

Energy/oil and gas sector

Presalt Oil Drilling Rig -off coast of Brazil-Atlantic OceanThe Brazilian Pre-salt Oil Drilling Project in the Atlantic Ocean (right) is an important resource-supply project, given that it is the only new super-field oil reservoir discovered worldwide in the last decade. The key innovative technologies being used for this project include: seismic imaging technology to determine the consistency of the sea-bed oil reservoirs; remote control robotic technology for deep-water operations; drilling technology to avoid well deformations in the sea-bed; and carbon dioxide extraction and off-shore processing technologies. The pre-salt oil reservoirs have a remaining reserve percentage of 86% and hence will continue to make an important contribution to the global energy and chemical sectors in future decades. Latin America faces significant infrastructure investment challenges in the context of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. The development of distributed generation technology and computer-controlled infrastructure represents an innovation opportunity for engineers to introduce intelligent features into city transport, energy and other engineering systems. The application of innovation by engineers will ensure greater technical certainty and predictable financial planning for future engineering projects, which will deliver sustainability and inclusive development for Latin America in the future.