Compared to a number of other developed countries, the rail transport network in Brazil is sometimes regarded as under-developed. However, the issue is complicated, as are so many other features of this huge country. After all, Brazil has over 200 million people now and at 8.5 million square Kilometres (3.3 million square miles) it is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world in terms of land area. This enormous size provides an important context when we look at rail transport in the country.
The national rail system totals just under thirty thousand Kilometres at present, but this is made up of track with four different gauges. By far the most common though is the so-called 'narrow gauge' of 1 metre width, which makes up over three-quarters of the network. Next comes the ‘broad’ category of 1.6 M., at about 15% of total track.
Only a small part of either of these is electrified at present. The final two gauges total between them less than 600 Km and are responsible for only a very small part of traffic. It's important to note that at present the rail system is mostly freight-based. Passenger transport is mainly in major urban areas plus just a few long-distance routes. Included among these is the new high-speed (ninety minute) link between Rio and Sao Paolo. Unfortunately this will not be ready in time for Brazil's hosting of the FIFA football World Cup in 2014.
The Government has promised an investment of over US$3 billion to develop the rail network over the next couple of years, with separate provision for city metro systems. The large number of nineteenth and early twentieth century private rail companies were all brought together and nationalised in 1957 but the process was gradually reversed fifty years later. Nowadays rail travel in Brazil (for both freight and passengers) is provided by a wide range of organisations, both public and private. These include operators such as America Latina Logistica (the largest with over a Billion a year (US$) revenue), Super Via and Companhia Paulista. There have been (and still are) interesting opportunities for investment in Brazil when it comes to rail transport.
On the urban/municipal level there are quite a few 'metro' commuter (and even tram) systems throughout the Country, some of them very large scale. Obviously included are the ones in Rio de Janiero, Brasilia and Sao Paolo but also in Belo Horizonte, Recife and Porto Alegre among others. New systems are currently being built in Salvador and Fortaleza. The Sao Paolo system is by far the largest, not only in Brazil but (apart from Santiago which just beats it) also in the whole of South America. This size is no surprise as Sao Paolo is not just the biggest city area in Brazil but in the whole of the Southern hemisphere too. Improved freight and passenger networks will have an important spin-off for investment opportunities and the national economy, thereby enhancing greatly the prospects for investment in Brazil transport and people wish to invest In Brazil in general. The sector may be changing steadily but it certainly has a bright future in Brazil.