South America is a big rail market and has some especially demanding duty conditions. With huge amounts of coal, iron ore and other minerals being shipped from the interior to the ports, there are a number of railroads moving hundreds of millions of tonnes per year.
With no domestic rail producers, these networks are keen to see what the world’s best steel makers have to offer. So when Vale, who have over 2000km of track, asked British Steel to come and present our products and services at their “Workshop de Trilhos,” I jumped at the chance.
I flew into Brazil and met Luigi Carvalho Greco, one of our local agents who would assist during the conference, but also be my guide to this amazing country. Vale hosted the conference inside one of their botanic gardens, while coincidentally celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Having spent several conferences in hotels without windows, this made quite a change. The room was nestled within 250 acres of rainforest, which you had to walk through to reach the conference room. Those four days were certainly some of my most enjoyable commutes to work ever with plenty of animals to be spotted.
From the first lecture, it became clear I was going to have to brush up on my foreign language skills, as the lectures and most slides were in Portuguese. Luckily, given the engineering nature of the talks a lot of the words used had common roots with French or Spanish, meaning they are somewhat recognisable using holiday vocabulary.
Over the various talks, I slowly picked up common terminology. So for a pop quiz, see how many of these rail terms you can guess from the Brazilian Portuguese, from easy to hard.
On the final day we got our chance to showcase our products, with our slides in Portuguese, and me being ably translated by Luigi. We showcased our unique stress-free heat-treated grades, Zinoco coated rail, and technology services, and received a great response with lots of questions.
A number of key problems had been discussed over the previous days, most notably corrosion in tunnels. This meant we were able to really concentrate on the solutions to this. The focus on services also garnered a good response, with us being able to support our products during welding and their life in track.
Overall, the conference was very successful in opening up new points of contact with several companies, and while South America is a fiercely competitive market, hopefully it will be the starting point that enables us to provide rail solutions that fit with customers’ needs.