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Economy, Transportation

Aratu, Transbrasil, Angra dos Reis, Paranagua, Sao Sebastiao

Sheer size, mountains, and river rapids have all been obstacles to transportation in Brazil, but the country has an expanding transport network. Roads are a key element, encouraged in the late 1950s by the implementation of a national highway plan and the creation of an automobile industry. A national highway system with Brasilia at the center links all the state capitals. There are other major interurban and interregional highways, including the Trans-Amazon Highway, an east-west artery linking isolated regions of Brazil and Peru. Dependence on motor vehicles has created serious traffic congestion in some of the major cities, especially those on sites with limited geographic access, such as Rio de Janeiro. It has also resulted in increased air pollution.

Two-thirds of the tracks on Brazil’s railway system are located in the Southeast and South. Railways have suffered because of their high costs compared to the highways and because they were built as separate lines, rather than as an integrated system. Many of these systems have variations in track gauges (the distance between the two sides of the track); this makes it impossible to run trains designed for one system on the tracks of a system built for a different gauge. In 1962 a federal agency was created to oversee the state-controlled railways. These and the railways of Sao Paulo are the largest systems. The remaining rail operations are suburban commuter systems connecting in the major cities or specialized railways carrying minerals, timber, or tourists.

Coastal shipping has also declined in the face of highway competition, but there was some modernization in shipping and ports in the late 1970s through the creation of export corridors to the ports of Rio Grande, Paranagua, and Santos, and through the construction of specialized oil and ore ports. Major ports that handle more than 10 million tons of cargo include Santos, Rio de Janeiro, and Angra dos Reis; the specialized ports of Tubarao, Sepitiba, and Sao Sebastiao in the Southeast; Paranagua and Rio Grande in the South; and Aratu and Sao Luis in the Northeast.

Brazil’s large size makes air transport important. Sixty-two airports, controlled by the state company Infraero, handle 97 percent of the air traffic. There are also many small airstrips that serve remote areas in the Amazon region. The airports of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are the two largest in South America in terms of traffic handled. Varig is the principal international and domestic airline, with Vasp and Transbrasil as the leading domestic carriers. Several sectors of the transport system—including railways, metro systems, highways, ports, and airports—are being opened to private investment as part of the government’s current privatization program.

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