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Engineers to bore through Andes mountain range to speed global trade

BUENOS AIRES -- South American engineers are trying to tackle one of the continent's greatest natural challenges: the towering Andes mountain chain that creates a costly physical barrier for nations ever-more-dependent on trade with Asia.

Instead of pushing cargo over a 10,500-foot (3,200-meter) pass that is often blocked by snow for weeks, they plan to build the longest tunnels in the Americas right through the mountains. That would make billions of dollars worth of Chinese electronics, Chilean wine, Argentine food and Brazilian cars cheaper and more competitive.

The proposed US$3.5 billion private railway known as the Aconcagua Bi-Oceanic Corridor would link train and trucking hubs on both sides with a 127-mile-long (205-kilometer) railway, including twin 32-mile (52-kilometer) tunnels. Construction would take 10 years, but once completed, it could save millions of dollars and carve days off shipping times.

As it stands, the only major Andean pass in the southern half of the continent is snowed in each winter, stranding hundreds of cargo trucks in temperatures that can fall to minus 13 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25 degrees Celsius). And Pacific ports remain inaccessible to the Atlantic nation of Brazil, whose trans-Amazonian highway becomes a boggy mess even before reaching the mountains.

“There is a gigantic network of infrastructure on both sides of the mountain range with a bottleneck we must free up,” said engineer Nicolas Posse, who is directing the project for Corporacion America.

The Argentine company leads a consortium that proposed the project, and both governments have committed to it as a matter of “national interest,” creating a binational commission that is inviting bids. Initial feasibility studies have already been submitted.

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