Story | 11/08/2023 13:42:15 | 4 min Read time

The Pulp Express

The rebuilt and improved railroad connecting UPM’s Paso de los Toros pulp mill to the port terminal in Montevideo will create an efficient supply chain to world markets.

Rebuilding the railroad leading from Paso de los Toros to the capital is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in the history of Uruguay. The state-owned railroad is part of the Uruguayan government’s infrastructure plan, executed as a public-private partnership. The existing railroad was outdated and only partly in use, so along with the 273 km railway, also 246 level crossings, 66 railway bridges and 25 stations and passenger stops are being built.

UPM will be one of the main users of the railway, but it brings new business opportunities also to other industries in inland Uruguay as well as the possibility to develop passenger traffic. 

UPM estimates that it will be running six daily trains, each carrying 1,664 tonnes of pulp. The Montevideo pulp terminal will feature five rail tracks leading directly to the Paso de los Toros mill. Two tracks are used for pulp and one for chemicals, while the other two are available for shunting and reserve use.

But what other advantages does the new railway present to the people of Uruguay?

Gonzalo Giambruno, Director of Industrial Logistics at UPM Uruguay – with 18 years’ experience in the company – comments on the progress of the project: “As Uruguay is a producer of export goods, such as food and forestry products, we cannot afford to ignore logistics. A railway connecting the backbone of the country to the port will offer a significant boost to the competitiveness of Uruguay, enabling all exporters to move their shipments via rail.’’

A nationwide transition

The logistical infrastructure in Uruguay has not been actively maintained since the 1950s and it was almost shut down in the 2000s. A change was needed and the construction of the UPM pulp mill jumpstarted substantial investments from the Uruguayan government into logistical infrastructure, including a renovated railway connection. 

“It was basically a revolution for the logistics of Uruguay,’’ Giambruno says. 

“In March 2016 we started planning the pulp mill project and discussing the preconditions of this investment, including the railroad. The railroad is part of the so-called ‘’Big Project’’ between the government of Uruguay and UPM – this entails public and private investments into roadworks, the railway, high-voltage lines, the port of Montevideo and the Paso de los Toros pulp mill. Since the beginning the idea was that it was not going to be just about the mill, but about building a full logistical platform.’’

As the railway continues directly to the pier, it benefits both UPM and the forestry sector but also other industries that want to transport products to Montevideo.

“The development of infrastructure often brings economic growth and further investments into the public sector. It can benefit the less developed rural areas encompassed by the railway in terms of employment and economic opportunities,’’ Giambruno points out.

Safety first

“Uruguay is changing the railway from the standards of the 19th century to match the standards of the 21st century. Our railway operator will use an ETCS (European Train Control System) level 1 European standard railway and the safest highly automated railway in America,’’ Giambruno notes. 

Railway transportation is the most environmentally friendly way of transferring pulp from Paso de los Toros to the port of Montevideo – the emissions rate is eight times lower compared to trucks, six times lower than barge transportation, and three times lower than average freight trains. Trains are also less prone to accidents or malfunction. At first transportation will be handled both via train and by trucks, but the transition to fully rail-based transportation will happen gradually beginning in 2024. 

“The government and key actors related to the railway project have been active in discussing the railway with communities that it concerns. The beauty is that we are aligning the rails mainly where they have been since the 19th century and not building fully new ones through private properties and communities,’’ Giambruno adds. 

Almost there 

Construction of the railway is nearly finished. Now only the last 5 kilometres remain, as they are located in the metropolitan area which is always the most demanding part of construction.

“According to the government of Uruguay, the whole construction will be completed by the end of this year. After all signalling installations, the commissioning phase and certifications, the first UPM trains heading to Montevideo will leave the station in 2024,’’ Giambruno concludes.

Text: Joonas Kallonen

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