Business & Economy

Truckers strike spotlights plan to revive Chile’s railways

Santiago, Nov 24 (EFE).- “Trains for Chile,” an initiative of President Gabriel Boric’s government to revivify the rail network that was left to decay during the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship, has taken on new relevance with this week’s truckers strike in the Andean nation.

A bid by truck drivers to cripple the economy helped prepare the ground for Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s September 1973 coup against elected Socialist President Salvador Allende.

The strike that began Monday – without support from several trucking associations – is the second since Boric’s center-left administration took office in March.

And it comes as Chile’s Congress is debating a proposed 2023 budget that includes more than $1 billion for public works, some of it earmarked for railways.

“The strike that has been carried out by various groups of truckers is not against the government, it is against the citizens,” Boric said Thursday. “If they insist on doing damage to our country, we say to them that we are going to act with all the firmness the law allows us.”

“Certainly, this reaffirms the importance of the trains for Chile project we are developing,” the president said from Mexico, where he traveled for a regional conference.

In 1910, Chile had more than 8,800 km (5,500 mi) of railways, connecting Iquique in the far north to the Patagonian gateway of Puerto Montt in the south.

All that remains today of that network is around 1,000 km of serviceable track.

Chile is at least four decades behind peer countries when it comes to development of a rail system that permits “modern and high-quality connectivity,” University of Santiago researcher Sergio Gonzalez said, while hailing the Boric government’s “clear intent for restoration.”

The challenge, he told EFE, lies in persuading the public of the wisdom of making such a substantial investment amid an economic downturn, even though many Chileans have “good memories” of the time when they had a functioning rail network.

Victor Donoso, a scholar who specializes the history of rail transportation, said that the government’s plan has “vital relevance” for Chile’s development.

“The railroad will not only allow better connection of markets, but it also mitigates pollution,” he told EFE. “The first world develops by these means. Here in Chile and Latin America, conversely, we have lagged behind.” EFE ssb/dr

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