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Controversial Amazon route of Transcontinental Railway Brazil-Peru


The Transcontinental Railway Brazil-Peru via the axis Cruzeiro do Sul - Pucallpa is a proposed railway (or alternatively highway) construction project that had subsequently been taking shape throughout the last years. Also referred to as "EF-354" in Brazil, it would establish a corridor to link Brazil with the Pacific coast and thereby among others cross a sensitive area in the Amazon rainforest, which raised concerns about its socio-ecological impacts. The project seems so far stopped after a political swing of opinion in favor of a concurring railway project through Bolivia, the Central Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor.

If realized, the Transcontinental Railway project would form the central Brazil-Peru axis through the Sierra del Divisor within the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA), a continent-wide infrastructure offensive to stimulate trade and economic integration, and one of three terrestrial connections between the Brazil and Peru. The proposed railway corridor would lead from the Peruvian port of Bayóvar, where the Brazilian company Vale operates a phosphate mine, to Pucallpa in the Peruvian Amazon, thereby passing the Andes. From there is would have to pass through the geologically, ecologically and culturally vulnerable region of the Sierra del Divisor National Park (which extends over both countries) and a number of indigenous territories to then continue to Cruzeiro do Sul in Acre, and from there all the way to the Atlantic coast (via Rondônia and Mato Grosso). The Amazon border region is currently only accessible via a poorly passable road from Cruzeiro do Sul to the locality of Boqueirão da Esperança in Serra do Divisor, while the rest of the area can only be reached via fluvial transport and trails. Thus, the opening of the central IIRSA axis would inevitably penetrate the Amazon rainforest and affect indigenous communities such as the Shipibo-Conibo, Ashaninka, Nukini, Puyanawa, Yaminawá, and Nawá. First, the connection was particularly propelled by the regional governments of Acre and Ucuyali as a highway project, which would add the missing link between the Brazilian highway BR-384 (which at the moment ends just after the city of Cruzeiro do Sul) and a recently built Peruvian highway that leads until Pucallpa. These plans, however, aroused criticism about their environmental impact and the probable advancing of the deforestation frontier, as also experienced after the opening of the BR-364 in Acre and Rondônia where cattle farming and agricultural development were massively boosted. As a consequence, in the early 2010s the railway option was more and more identified as a less destructive option and plans became suddenly concrete in 2014 when China declared its will to invest in a transcontinental railway along the Amazon corridor. China has a high interest in importing agricultural products and mineral ores from Latin America, and trade with Brazil has significantly augmented over the last years, but shipping time remains long. Thus, during the 2015 visit of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Peru, the three countries signed a memorandum of understanding about the Transcontinental Railway project and the Brazilian railway operator started an assessment of the project details, costs and socio-ecological impact, based on previous feasibility studies of the Chinese railway company CREEGC, which had proposed the route through Sierra del Divisor as the preferred option but without elaborating on environmental impacts. In a statement, Li defended the project and highlighted that it would benefit both the economy and the protection of the environment as a railway would avoid some of the problems associated with road construction. The construction start was planned for 2017 and the inauguration for 2025. [1] [2] [3] [4][5][6][7][8][9]

The Transcontinental Railway project through this corridor encountered criticism particularly from environmentalists and civil society organizations. While proponents argued that the connection would benefit rural development and facilitate transport between Brazil and Peru and cheapen trade between China and Brazil, responding to the demands of the global market, opponents feared a waste of public resources, a chaotic wave of colonization of the Amazon basin and an environmental and social tragedy. Already before, organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, the Instituto del Bien Común and GRMMRU had conducted a model study that reveals the extremely fragile biodiversity in the border area and high vulnerability of indigenous communities, making especially the highway proposal socio-ecologically unsustainable. They point to the high correlation between road construction and deforestation, as for example analyses in Brazil have shown that 80 percent of deforestation happens in proximity of a road, which has recently manifested along the Interoceánica highway. This would also increase agriculture in the area, trigger water pollution and soil erosion, and after all exacerbate global warming. It was assumed that the railway would have similar impacts as the highway as it also required the construction of roads and further facilities and therefore trigger logging and and environmental degradation. Logging invasions are already a problem in the area (which is still rich in mahagony and other noble trees that can be sold on international markets for thousands of dollars) and road access to Pucallpa, an important hub for the timber industry, would amplify this. This would also affect isolated indigenous communities in the area and confront them with disease, displacement and socio-cultural impacts on their traditional way of life. Similar concerns over the railway’s negative impact on the ecosystem and indigenous community was uttered by NGOs such as Greenpeace, SOS Amazonia, Friends of the Earth Peru, Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR), Conservación Internacional and Survival International which moreover pointed out the the plans were being made without involving the public or the affected communities. Conservation expert Marc Dourojeanni noted that improvements in fluvial transport would be the most sustainable solution and avoid negative impacts such as migration of landless people or invasions by illegal loggers and miners into the area. A Kaxinawá leader called the railway project a death threat to the communities in the region; a leader of the Nawa, a group still fighting for land demarcation in an area affected by the corridor, noted that over the last years rumors over the project have increased among the communities and Chinese companies have already inspected the area but no one has ever spoken to them. The Acrean indigenous organization OPIN additionally warned about indirect effects also on communities outside the corridor and the anthropological association SALSA sent out an appeal to the then-president Dilma Rousseff to reconsider the route, expressing severe concerns about the project on the numerous communities in the Brazil-Peru border region. [1] [2]][3][5][10][11][12] [13] [14]

In 2016, the plans to start construction along the Amazon route seemed to have slowed down after changed political situation and environmental concerns. The environment ministries of Brazil and Peru declared that they still did not have access to the Chinese feasibility study while a CREEGC representative stated that also possible geological obstacles could be overcome. Brazil’s transport ministry, which originally prioritized the project within its economic growth acceleration program, communicated in the same year that due to the government change (impeachment of president Roussef) public policy priorities were being reconsidered and that also the financing was still unclear, but nevertheless the project is being planned. The DAR research group, composed by Peruvian civil society organizations, in the meantime reaffirmed the skepticism concerning the Amazon route and proposed an alternative Southern route as the only feasible option. In the same year, Peru’s position became more hesitant after the assessment by Valec confirmed the already assumed drastic socio-ecological impacts of the project, especially the problematic choice of the route, with possible damages to sensitive ecosystems, the crossing of an indigenous reserve, and the needed infrastructure for the construction process itself, but also the enormous costs and technical complications of building the railway. Moreover, also Peru had a change in government and the new president Kuczynski (who however had to step back because of corruption in 2018) publicly expressed doubts about the project’s environmental and budgetary dimensions and the dominance of the Chinese involvement and then contemplated about rather searching for a route further south to avoid crossing the Amazon. At the same time, Bolivia, which was initially expecting to be part of the railway corridor, had lobbied for an alternative route and started to negotiate with German, Swiss and Spanish companies and politicians. A main argument for the Bolivian route - which would in the east lead to the Peruvian port of Ilo and in the west towards Santos - is that costs are expected to be significantly cheaper and that the proposed route would cause less geological and ecological problems than in the Serra do Divisor area. In 2018, Bolivia declared that it now enjoyed Brazil’s support for its alternative proposal, the Central Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor which could even make use of electric-powered trains and also involve European partners. Brazil confirmed this, stating that the Transcontinental Railway Brazil-Peru project through the Amazon is currently too expensive and unrealistic due to Peru’s environmental concerns. A memorandum of understanding was to be expected soon. However, also for this project the financing is not yet clarified and environmentalist have warned about a number of risks. First, because corridor bears similarities with the recently opened Interoceánica highway and could therefore cause a number of indirect effects, including deforestation, land use change and an increase in mining. Second, four of the five suggested routes would cross natural or indigenous reserves. Experts also noted a lack of transparency about the economic and geopolitical implications of the project and because the full assessment of the commercial, social and environmental impacts have not yet been released. [6] [7][15][16][17] [18][19][20]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Controversial Amazon route of Transcontinental Railway Brazil-Peru
State or province:Acre (BR) - Ucayali (PE)
Location of conflict:Boqueirão da Esperança / Serra do Divisor
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Land
Transport services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The Transcontinental Railway Brazil-Peru project along the Cruzeiro do Sul – Pucallpa axis, as it was planned in 2016, would form part of the central axis of the Interoceanic Corridor Brazil-Peru of the IIRSA infrastructure initiative (Iniciativa para a Integração da Infraestrutura Regional Sul-Americana; which seeks to promote South America’s economic integration and infrastructure. For the Brazilian railway part IIRSA plans are also referred to as "EF-354". The most critical section of the railway corridor would affect the Serra do Divisor National Park in Brazil, its Sierra del Divisor equivalent on the Peruvian side and the Reserva Territorial Isconahua. Sierra del Divisor is a unique, mountainous tropical region in the Amazon and so far widely untouched, but especially the Peruvian side has increasingly experienced informally established roads, illegal logging and gold mining invasions as well as the increasing plantation of coca. In 2015 it was declared as a National Park. The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co (CREEGC) has conducted the feasibility study and the Brazilian state-owned railway operator Valec the assessment report. As it was calculated by CREEGC, the railway connection would extend over 5,000 km and reduce the price of each transported ton of grain or minerals by 30 US-Dollar. While the Chinese investment was estimated to be in the range of 10 billion US-Dollar, the full finance plan was never revealed but could have been in form of a loan from China to Brazil or a public-private-partnership model. The Central Bi-Oceanic Railway Corridor (CBRC) as the currently most likely alternative project would have a total length of 3.000 kilometers and lead to the same cost reductions in exports. This route would benefit Bolivia with a corridor to the Pacific coast. [5][6] [8] [15][21]

IIRSA Description:


Level of Investment:10,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/06/2012
End of the conflict:01/08/2018
Company names or state enterprises:VALEC Engenharia, Construcoes e Ferrovias S.A. (VALEC) from Brazil
China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group Co. Ltd. (GREEGC) from China - Conducted feasability study for the Amazon railway section
Relevant government actors:Governments of Brazil, Peru, China and regional governments of Acre and Ucayali
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA)
The Nature Conservancy
Derecho Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR)
SOS Amazonia
Instituto del Bien Común
Grupo Regional de Monitoreo de Mega Proyectos de Ucayali (GRMMRU)
Friends of the Earth Peru
Conservación Internacional
Survival International
Organização dos Povos Indígenas do Acre Sul do Amazonas e Noroeste de Rondônia - OPIN

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsNumerous indigenous peoples would be affected in the Sierra del Divisor


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Negotiated alternative solution
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:A proposed alternative is to extend fluvial transport, which is considered the most socio-environmental friendly by experts such as Marc Dourojeanni.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:So far it seems that the project will not take place along the Amazon corridor although this could have to do with the high costs rather than the impact of mobilization, which was rather latent (only a few public voices and media reports). All in all, the project will not take place in the next years. This can however change again with every new government - the plans already exist and also road construction has been considered as a (cheaper) option.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Laurance, W.; Goosem, L.; Laurance, S. (2009): Impacts of roads and linear clearings on tropical forests. Trends in Evolution and Ecology (TREE) 1149, 1–11 .

Farrell, Katharine N. & Silva-Macher, Jose Carlos, 2017. "Exploring Futures for Amazonia's Sierra del Divisor: An Environmental Valuation Triadics Approach to Analyzing Ecological Economic Decision Choices in the Context of Major Shifts in Boundary Condition," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 166-179.

14. Dalby, C. (2016): The first clean mega-infrastructure project. Eniday Online. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

16. (2016): Peru: Brazil-Peru interoceanic rail project under doubt. 16.09.2016. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

2. Ríos, S. (2014): Pucallpa – Cruzeiro do Sul, la carretera de la discordia. Ideele Revista Nº 239, Online. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

5. Bedinelli, T. (2015): Un ferrocarril chino amenaza tierras vírgenes del noroeste de Brasil. El Pais Online, 03.08.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

1. Fraser, B. (2016): A railroad that crosses the Amazon could be an infeasible, expensive dream for Peru. Mongabay News, 04.02.2016. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

12. SPDA Actualidad Ambiental (2015): Marc Dourojeanni y la interconexión en la Amazonía. Video Interview. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

13. Sputnik News Brasil (2018): Bolívia comemora 'apoio total' do Brasil a projeto de corredor ferroviário bioceânico. 01.08.2018. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

15. Grey, E. (2018): The Bi-Oceanic Corridor: a new railroad to rival maritime freight?; 30.04.2018. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

6. Leal, M. (2016): A Chinese Train Could Link South America’s Atlantic and Pacific Coasts by Rail for the First Time., 15.09.2016. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

3. Johnson, H. (2015): Case Study: The Amazonian Road Decision. National Geographic Online, 10.08.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

11. Dourojeanni, M. (2015): El ferrocarril interoceánico chino y nuestra desordenada visión de desarrollo. Actualidad Ambiental, 01.06.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

19. Servindi (2012): Perú: Piden declarar insostenible carretera binacional Pucallpa – Cruzeiro do Sul. Portal Servindi, 31.10.2012. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

20. Instituto del Bien Comú (2013): Proyecto Carretera Pucallpa-Cruzeiro Do Sul no considera derechos de las poblaciones indígenas. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

10. Fernández, C. (2015): Partir la Amazonia por la mitad. Portal Ecoavant, 17.08.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

7. Leal, M. (2016): Ferrovía transcontinental debe comenzar el año próximo. 16.08.2016. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

8. Díaz, J. (2015): El riesgo ambiental del Tren Interoceánico entre Perú y Brasil. Portal Servindi, 04.06.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

17. Reuters (2018): Brazil drops railway to the Pacific for China exports, citing costs. 02.02.2018. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

21. Cannon, J. (2015): Satellites spot deforestation in almost-approved Peruvian national park. Mongabay News, 16.07.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

9. Butler, R. (2015): China defends trans-Amazon railway, says it will protect the environment. Mongabay News, 27.05.2015.

18. BBC Mundo (2016): Los intentos de Europa por subirse al tren bioceánico que China quiere construir entre Brasil y Perú. BBC Mundo Online, 16.01.2016. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

4. Fowks, J. (2015): El tren bioceánico, uno de los ejes de los acuerdos entre China-Perú. El País Online, 23.05.2015. (Online, accessed 15.08.2018)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Video Interview "Marc Dourojeanni y la interconexión en la Amazonía"

Meta information

Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update18/08/2019



The most critical section through the remote Amazon basin

The alternative railway project through Bolivia

Serra do Divisor

Sierra del Divisor

Plans for the Transatlantic Railway

The corridor would serve as a connection between China and Brazil